Is authenticity, or at least audacity, the enemy of commercial art? And is authenticity just a moment away from selling out, as soon as someone asks it to?
I’m not quite sure of what I’d have to say myself, but I’m curious as hell what Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping thinks, because it seems to have made one of the most authentic…or audacious rappers out there into its ostensible antagonist.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film (which, judging by box office numbers, is most of you), if the film has an antagonist besides Conner4real’s (Andy Samberg) hubris, it’s young upstart rapper Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd). He’s a rapper (pictured above) with a wide-eyed stare, a scratchy voice, a penchant for shocking lyrics, and a self-declared throne as the prank king.
And for those of you who aren’t hip to the young people, Tyler the Creator is a rapper made famous with the Odd Future collective. He’s got a wide-eyed stare, a scratchy voice, a penchant for shocking lyrics, and heads up a prank show on Adult Swim called Loiter Squad.
This is the song “Hunter The Hungry Is Gon’ Eat” from the Popstar soundtrack that plays repeatedly through the film as Hunter the Hungry’s biggest hit.
And here’s a track off Tyler the Creator’s album Wolf entitled “Domo 23.”
And just for good measure, a few lyrics to look at, if you don’t feel like listening to those tracks.
Stomping through the forest like a retarded Tyrannosaurus/Hunter eating beefcakes in the back a Ford Taurus
Hunter the Hungry, “Hunter the Hungry Gon’ Eat”
I’m a fucking walking paradox, no I’m not/Threesomes with a fucking triceratops, Reptar/Rapping as I’m mocking deaf rock stars/Wearing synthetic wigs made of Anwar’s dreadlocks
Tyler the Creator, “Yonkers”
Whether you’ve bought the direct parody aspects or not, I think it’s clear enough that there’s been some very marked influence on the character by Tyler the Creator.
Which is really strange to me. It isn’t like Tyler is some incredibly well-known pop figure that this film parodying the world of Justin Bieber simply couldn’t miss. Their worlds don’t honestly collide and so it’s a deliberate choice to dip down into that pool and pull him into the world.
That strangeness doubles when you make Hunter an antagonist of the picture. Not the villain, he doesn’t have the sole responsibility for the bad things that happen to Conner. But he does deliberately (possibly) hurt Conner’s career for his own gain and is eventually given a come-uppance like any comedy antagonist would be, being humiliated for finally selling out just when Conner rediscovers who he is.
So again, why have Hunter the Hungry in the film? It isn’t vital to the satire and it injects a weird bit of optics, having the film vilify a young and talented black man for trying to succeed over three white dudes who the film makes no bones about not being particularly great at what they do.
Let’s start at the most basic level. It’s clear the film narratively felt the need to challenge Conner, and it wanted to challenge him with a representative of a form of popular music that had grown to supplant the slick and clean pop-rap that Conner had done, which was the grungier and edgier rap that Hunter does.
So, why have Hunter parody Tyler the Creator rather than Future or someone like that? Tyler does have a very specific collection of ticks and a very specific aesthetic, and it honestly could be as simple as that. Popstar runs on its ability to pinpoint its parody and build a world of specificity, and Tyler is a very specific person. His youth doesn’t hurt either, allowing him to feel like a young upstart to any pop star on their second album.
But there’s again, no reason they couldn’t have used others more representative of popular rap like Future or 2 Chainz.
Go in a little deeper and get into the idea of cinematic perspective, which is enormously important in documentaries and mockumentaries. Essentially, where is Popstar coming from?
Initially, it seems to be a little more objective than we would expect. It’s not a puff piece for Conner and is willing to show his flaws and his bad moments. He’s a drunk and his album fails during the course of the film.
But it can still only show what it shows and it still relies on us following Conner through the journey. That absolutely means that the film requires us to identify with Conner as hero and to be against what threatens his place. Moreover, it means that the dynamic of the world can only be presented through the filter that Conner gives us.
So, Tyler the Creator and therefore Hunter the Hungry initially represents something that Conner could never be. Someone unflinchingly authentic, and willing to go places Conner (and pop music) would never go because they fear not being loved.
Tyler represents such an undiluted music world that it’s absolutely the point that not only do we see how the pop world sees him, as someone trying to muscle in on their territory, but also how the pop world uses authentic artists, appropriating them, and then how it can very often spit them back out when it removed the original authenticity.
Essentially, the reason Popstar parodies Tyler the Creator is because Hunter is The Lonely Island’s most clever statement on the nature of pop stardom. Hunter’s corruption is essentially a microcosm of the way they see the pop music world treating anyone different. That it demands homogeny, and cuts what’s different out of anyone who is.