'Popstar' Isn't About Justin Bieber, At Least According To Producer Judd Apatow
If the story of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, which follows the trials and tribulations of Conner 4Real, a hip hop artist with a huge fan following (and equally huge ego) whose antics have started getting him into trouble, sounds familiar, you're not alone. Many people think that the character of Conner is a caricature of Justin Bieber — but according to producer Judd Apatow, that wasn't meant to be the case at all.
"What we were really going for is a combination of everybody," Apatow tells Bustle. "We’ve enjoyed the [documentaries] by Katy Perry, and Beyonce, and One Direction, and Bieber, and it really is just a composite of all these people."
A key difference between the Conner character and Bieber is that Conner started off as a member of a musical group, which he then left to pursue a music career, unlike Bieber, who's always flown solo. However, Apatow explains that this difference wasn't about separating Conner from the "Sorry" singer; instead, he and the Lonely Island, who star in, wrote, directed, and produced the film, wanted to represent "people who’ve had to leave bands or pop groups, and about the problems that causes in their friendships."
This theme comes up a lot in Popstar, as Conner struggles to reconcile his musical and personal past, present and future. For the filmmakers, though, there's no question that the bonds they share are strong. Apatow says that he'd been trying to get The Lonely Island to make a movie for years, but the journey wasn't an easy one, due to the trio's commitments on Saturday Night Live. Says the producer, "SNL is so much work that it doesn’t leave much time to develop scripts." Once the trio's work with the show ended, though, Apatow made his move, and found that the group was totally onboard with the idea of doing a movie with Apatow Productions.
As for what movie? That came easy. Apatow reveals that the concept for Popstar arose from his and The Lonely Island's fascination with documentaries about famous music industry figures."We all find these documentaries so funny, like, these popstars make these movies that are about themselves. They make their own documentaries where they’re basically trying to get you to love them, and they’ll show some of their flaws, but really, it’s their journey," says the producer.
In order to get their film right, Apatow explains that Popstar's creative team did a ton of prep work by watching real music documentaries, but found that the process of creating a fake music documentary posed a set of unique challenges. "It was all very difficult to pull off," the producer says, "because when they make these documentaries, they do it over several years or a lifetime, when they’re traveling all over the world. So to fake that is just a giant production."
Another challenge was recruiting all of the stars who have cameos in the film. In fact, there are so many celebrities in the movie that neither Apatow nor wife Leslie Mann thought that their own presence was needed. Jokes Apatow, "We felt like Usher had it covered for us." He admits, though, that he was starstruck by one cameo in particular: that of Ringo Starr. "[Ringo] has always been so funny, and he was a very hilarious actor himself," the producer says, "so to get to hang out with him and make some jokes was a career highlight."
Besides the onset work, there was the additional challenge of creating a movie's worth of music. The script took a year to write, and then the music an additional year, a frustrating but important process that echoes in the actual film. Apatow clearly understands how difficult the process of making music is, and Popstar highlights the many challenges of the music industry in general. But, as an entertainment industry veteran himself, Apatow has shown that he's fully supportive of those who decide to pursue their creative dreams. He even says that, if daughters Maude or Iris wanted to enter the music industry, he would encourage them. "If Maude wants to make her own Lemonade, I support it," he says with a laugh.
It's been a long journey from storyboard to screen, but Apatow seems to think it was worth it. Says the producer, "You can’t rush a movie that has this many specific jokes." Hopefully fans will agree that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping was worth the wait.