When was the last time you paid for music? Be honest, I won’t judge. The music industry’s devolved into a shell game of social media and music-bogarding streaming services, one which labels and artists are tripping over themselves to figure out first. Popstar approaches an amorphous music industry with the same crooked smile Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest sported for This Is Spinal Tap; both films revel in the vapid nature of music celebrity, but Popstar’s timely takedown is even more fierce.
The film is a mockumentary chronicling the rise, fall, and second rise of fictional pop rapper Connor4Real (Andy Samberg). He started off as one-third of The Style Boyz before blowing up to the point where real world music icons like Pharrell, Nas, DJ Khaled, and more consider him a god. Popstar is sharp satire because The Lonely Island (two-thirds Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone directed from their screenplay with Samberg) did their homework on Never Say Never-style concert docs and they have a genuine understanding of a social media-saturated culture one or two spots removed from ill-advised refrigerator sponsorship deals.
Samberg and fellow Lonely Islanders Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone proved themselves the only comedy rappers worth listening to not named Weird Al Yankovic back when they were still rapping about dicks in boxes on SNL, something they might not have thought when they were scrapping together home videos in 2001. They’ve had plenty of predecessors when it comes to the musical mockumentary, and I picked five of my favorites:
This Is Spinal Tap
Widely considered to be ground zero for the music mockumentary, Rob Reiner & Christopher Guest’s odyssey about a talented but clueless British metal band is still generating throat-sticking laughs 32 years later. Everything goes to 11 after this.
Before pop stars like Bieber were swagger jacking rappers, gangsta rap took the country by storm. N.W.A. in particular was the target of this Chris Rock comedy about a rap group who pose as felons and fly to the top of the charts. As much a condemnation on a society willing to demonize gangsta rap music as it is on gangsta rap itself, CB4 knows exactly when to put its foot in its mouth.
Fear Of A Black Hat
In many ways, Black Hat mixes the relatively crazy edge of CB4 with the technical in-jokes of Spinal Tap. Rusty Cundieff’s directorial debut followed another N.W.A. pastiche (N*ggaz With Hats) as they were being studied by a sociology student. A dry but funny take that would eventually lead Cundieff to work on Chappelle’s Show.
I’m Still Here
Remember that time actor Joaquin Phoenix said he’d quit acting and become a rapper? Remember how it turned out to be an Andy Kaufman-esque publicity stunt to promote Phoenix and director Casey Affleck’s satirical mockumentary I’m Still Here? I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this man’s commitment, but this is still an eye-opening flick.
Steamin’ + Dreamin’: The Grandmaster Cash Story
This Irish mockumentary flew under almost everyone’s radars (including ours until a quick screening yesterday. Grandmaster Cash is the fake MC in question, struggling to make it on an international scale against his rival Dr. Feekinstein, but he’s got his work cut out for him.