Who is the greatest music video director of the YouTube era? Is it Nabil? Hiro Murai? Grimes? Grant Singer? Melina Matsoukas? Collin Tilley? Emily Kai Bock? Director X? All of them are masters of the form, as are several others I haven’t mentioned. Yet how many of their powerful images are still lingering in the public consciousness? How many were there in the first place, escaping beyond music blogs into genuine notoriety? Have any of them left enough of a stamp on the zeitgeist to qualify? Maybe, maybe not.
We’d have an easier time with this question if we approached it from the musician side, looking for artists whose visual body of work has continually seared images into the cultural memory. Beyoncé is obviously the frontrunner here, having many times delivered towering creative statements that double as meme mother lodes. There are only a handful of other artists who approach her status in that regard, mostly her fellow pop icons — because unless you’re OK Go, you pretty much have to be a pop icon to have that kind of cultural reach. And while no one is matching Bey’s social impact, in terms of generating music videos that seep into America’s DNA, she does have at least some competition: namely three dorky white guys who could arguably share the best director crown as well.
As you’ve probably discerned, I’m talking about the Lonely Island, aka Saturday Night Live alums Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer. These are the guys who put YouTube on the map with “Lazy Sunday,” who sealed Justin Timberlake’s status as an all-around entertainer with “Dick In A Box,” who earned T-Pain a Grammy nomination for his self-parodying turn on “I’m On A Boat.” And now, after dozens of video shorts, three full-length albums, and one non-musical feature film (2007’s cult-beloved commercial failure Hot Rod), they’re releasing a music-centric movie called Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.
In the age of Justin Bieber, Macklemore, and Kanye West, pop music has never been riper for satire, which means there’s never been a better time for the Lonely Island to do their thing. By pushing the industry’s most absurd elements to their logical extremes, the trio turned overblown, sophomoric music spoofs into an art form. That form happens to involve extremely short bursts of inspiration — gags that get in, mercilessly hammer you with the punchline, and get out again in under three minutes. Brevity, they once told a reporter, became their obsession: “A comedy song really has no business being longer than about two and a half minutes. With a comedy record, that’s about as much as the audience can stand.”
Their rightful fear of overstaying their welcome is one of the reasons the trio’s SNL Digital Shorts were often so potent, and it’s why their albums always tend to lose steam halfway through. Not only does the LP format rob the Lonely Island of the visual component that often elevates their material to ridiculous/majestic new heights — and which made them an inescapable part of American ephemera, hence my claim that they belong in the great-directors conversation — it also takes away that sense of genius that accompanies their finest ideas. They are quick-hit maximalists, and the kind of euphoric laughter spasms they strive for typically cannot be sustained over the course of an hour-plus. Like the blockbuster pop and rap stars they’re usually parodying, the Lonely Island are a singles act, and like those rap and pop stars, their albums tend to suffer from bloat.
Thus, once the initial excitement from the trailer wears off, the thought of these guys stretching out their shtick over a whole movie is intimidating. Theoretically, a music-oriented mockumentary should solve one of the above-mentioned problems by bringing visuals back into their tool kit. But it also threatens to test viewers’ patience, same as any Lonely Island album. And while reviewers have been split about how well they pulled it off on screen, the film’s soundtrack album drives an even harder bargain. I haven’t seen Popstar yet, but I’ve spent a couple days with its companion album. I found it at first delightful and then obnoxious. The usual drawbacks of a Lonely Island album are compounded by the disjointed tendencies of a movie soundtrack. It’s not exactly too much of a good thing — more like a handful of good things surrounded by way too much.
Many of those good things are smartly loaded at the front of the tracklist. The majority of the songs here are by Andy Samberg’s Bieber-esque white pop-rapper character Conner4Real, whose hits include “I’m So Humble,” an Adam Levine duet in which Conner asserts that his belly is full from swallowing his pride so much and proves his humility with examples such as, “Your mom’s old/ I’ll ask if she’s your sister.” There’s also the P!nk collab “Equal Rights,” a parody of Macklemore’s “Same Love” in which Conner’s support for marriage equality is overshadowed by his constant refrain of “I’m not gay.” (It’s even more one-note than most Lonely Island tracks, but it’s also executed flawlessly, with plentiful ad libs along the lines of “Titties!” and “Sports!”) The Akon-featuring “Should I Move” is all about Conner’s excruciating decision about whether to uproot from one mansion to another, a question that requires both prayers to God and a piña colada-filled trip to Majorca before he decides to buy one home and keep the other for his dogs. And on “Bin Laden,” Conner details a sexual encounter with a zealous patriot who begs him to “fuck me like the US military fucked Bin Laden,” a classic Lonely Island joke in that it goes way over the top but they still manage to sell it.
Those are some of the highest highs. And although the Popstar soundtrack offers other tracks that will elicit chuckles — among them the Twenty One Pilots-reminiscent Linkin Park collab “Things In My Jeep,” the rasta-style crack cocaine anthem “Legalize It,” and “Mona Lisa,” on which Conner proclaims the famous painting to be “an overrated piece of shit” and “the original basic bitch” — much of the last two-thirds of the 28-track run time feels inessential. Even when they tap into something hilarious again, there’s a wearying effect to such sustained exposure. It’s like hanging out for a little too long with some genuinely funny guys who don’t know when to chill. (Also, why isn’t Seal’s solo showcase funnier?)
Again, part of the problem might be that this is a movie soundtrack, and therefore the songs may require context from the film that I don’t yet have. Either way, this is not like Hamilton or Frozen, soundtracks that stand alone as great music whether or not you’re familiar with the narrative. Popstar fails on those terms, but it could have succeeded if they’d just pared down the tracklist a bit rather than padding out the genius with so much mediocrity. On the other hand, maybe the project’s overlong indulgence is part of the parody, in which case, once again the Lonely Island have completely nailed it.
The Billboard charts continue to look like Drake featuring Drake, with Views atop the Billboard 200 and “One Dance” ruling the Hot 100.
Billboard reports that Views tallied a whopping 189,000 equivalent units in its fourth week on the chart — which is way more than most #1 albums sell in their first week — largely on the strength of 111,000 streaming equivalent albums (SEA). That’s bad news for Ariana Grande, whose Dangerous Woman has to settle for a #2 debut despite a strong 175,000 equivalent units (and 129,000 in pure sales). And it’s even worse news for Blake Shelton, whose If I’m Honest recorded an impressive 170,000 units and 153,000 in pure sales, which means if the chart was based exclusively on traditional album sales he would have entered at #1. Instead, Shelton debuts at #3.
Classic rockers account for the other three top-10 debuts: Eric Clapton’s I Still Do enters at #6 with 46,000 units and 44,000 in sales, becoming Clapton’s 16th top-10 album. Bob Dylan’s Fallen Angels begins at #7 with 42,000 units, almost all via sales. And Tom Petty’s Mudcrutch debuts at #10 with 33,000 units/32,000 sales for 2.
Over on the Hot 100, Drake’s Kyla- and WizKid-featuring “One Dance,” Desiigner’s “Panda,” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” hold at #1, #2, and #3. Fifth Harmony and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Work From Home” climbs to a new peak of #4, which Billboard says is also a career high for both artists. The Chainsmokers and Daya’s “Don’t Let Me Down” hits a new peak of #5, also a career high for both artists. Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” bounds back to the top 10, ascending to a new peak of #8. And Rihanna’s “Needed Me” hits #9, also a new peak, followed by her former #1 smash “Work” at #10.
Clean Bandit – “Tears” (Feat. Louisa Johnson)
I can’t decide if this sounds too much like “Rather Be” or not enough like “Rather Be,” but it’s just not giving me that “Rather Be” spark. “Tears” may yet grow on me, but I’m afraid Clean Bandit might turn out to be one-hit wonders.
Holychild x Kate Nash – “Rotten Teeth”
LA duo Holychild and British singer Kate Nash have both been hit-or-miss throughout their careers, but this one falls on the hit side for me, if only just barely.
Dagny – “Backbeat”
Norway’s latest pop export is not reinventing the wheel here, but “Backbeat” sure is a pristinely designed and functional wheel.
Grace Lightman – “Faultless”
Here’s some post-Lynch, post-Lana pop I can get fully behind. Good find by Idolator.
Nick Jonas – “Lush Life” (Zara Larsson Cover)
This cover is pretty bland, but Larsson is a force to be reckoned with, and now she’s ascended to the point where other young pop stars are covering her songs. Her original “Lush Life” video has 209 million YouTube views! I’ll be writing about her soon.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris have reportedly broken up. [People]
- Ed Sheeran has promised to eat the most disgusting food in Japan (live sea snails with fermented beans) if people raise enough money for Red Nose Day charity. [Twitter]
- Nick Jonas once got great career advice from Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter. [EW]
- Adele paused a recent concert to tell a fan to stop recording it: “Can you take your tripod down? This isn’t a DVD, this is a real show. I’d really like you to enjoy my show because there’s lots of people outside that couldn’t come in.” [YouTube]
- Ellie Goulding argued with a fan who told her not to criticize Donald Trump on Twitter. [BBC]
- Cops were called to a wild Memorial Day party at Drake’s house. It was out of controlla. [TMZ]
- A remix of Drake’s #1 hit “One Dance” featuring Justin Bieber was debuted at a Formula 1 party in Monaco. [Complex]
- Bieber will also feature on Major Lazer’s upcoming single “Cold Water” along with MØ. [iTunes]
- A snippet of a new Kanye West verse has emerged from Big Sean’s studio sessions. [Rap-Up]
- Wiz Khalifa has sued his ex-manager and label for over $1M, seeking to end a “360 agreement” he naively signed when he was 16. [Variety]
- The Paterson, NJ school district is investigating who approved the shooting of Fetty Wap’s new video at Eastside High, since it features drug references and a stripper. [NJ.com]
- Desiigner snapped his prom night. [Instagram]