Popstar and the Pop Star PSA

Movies Features The Lonely Island
Popstar and the Pop Star PSA

England’s Glastonbury Festival became something of a Roe v. Wade confessional hot spot this year. Various artists used their sets to vent their rightful frustrations in the wake of the monumental Supreme Court ruling rolling back abortion rights in the United States. Lily Allen crooned a duet of “Fuck You” with pop star Olivia Rodrigo, directed at the Supreme Court. Phoebe Bridgers led her crowd in a chant of “Fuck the Supreme Court,” with Lorde expressing a similar sentiment during her own show. Megan Thee Stallion (who has a degree focused on health administration) shared disappointment in particular with her home state of Texas. Elsewhere, artists such as Halsey, Fiona Apple and P!nk, made their public ire heard in tandem with their Britain-bound colleagues. But it was my chuckling at Kendrick Lamar’s decree of “Godspeed for women’s rights” during his time at Glastonbury that first conjured up the image of Conner4Real in my mind. It sounds like something that Conner4Real could have actually said—even though he isn’t real.

Conner Friel AKA “Conner4Real” is a fictional rapper and pop artist played by Andy Samberg in the Lonely Island’s 2016 mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. The film works as a satirical takedown of the popstar documentary: The recycled formula, the clichés, the talking head interviews, the general lack of practical insight into or interrogation of its larger-than-life subject that offers a hollow pseudo-intimacy that only enhances mythology.

There is one sequence in particular, however, that reminded me of this present moment as I read about Lamar’s timely words via a trending Twitter moment. Conner debuts a video for a Macklemore-like song off his new album Connquest in support of gay rights called “Equal Rights” (which coincidentally features P!nk’s vocals on the track).

The tone-deaf song purporting allyship is anything but a selfless call for equal rights for gay people (which the latter had already acquired by that point, rendering his gesture even more useless). “Equal Rights” becomes one domino in a handful, the fall of each which sets the course for Conner’s impending cultural nosedive and, of course—as is customary for the real documentaries this film pokes fun at—his ultimate redemption.

The track and equally hilarious music video completely focus on Conner, while gay people are an afterthought. His professions of acceptance and images of himself intruding on a gay wedding are accompanied by assurances, over and over, that such championing of the LGBTQ community is not indicative of him also being gay (he literally repeats “Not gay” alongside various “hetero” exclamations of “Titties,” “Sports,” and “Predator!”; outside of the in-universe context of the film it is a fantastic song). The joke with “Equal Rights” is that, as is the case with many actual celebrities, the positioning of Conner’s progressive ideology is just about himself rather than the people he’s attempting to support. His song about gay rights is really about gaining the public’s good graces and proving how altruistic he is—and also how straight he is. His “love is love” proclamations, even if inherently true, are completely empty posturing. (For reference, see the song he’s directly parodying, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Mary Lambert’s “Same Love.”)

There was something very similarly silly, something very Conner4Real-esque, about Kendrick Lamar’s “Godspeed for women’s rights” (the use of the word “Godspeed” got me in particular). It’s not to say that the overturning of Roe is not, obviously, an enormously regressive, dehumanizing and consequential piece in our worryingly Christo-fascist puzzle of a country, an action that people of prominence are allowed to be vocal about. And it’s not to dismiss celebrities as citizens in this country who could be affected by these laws, or who don’t actually care about the well-being of others. That all said, if a rich celebrity happens to live in a state that has outlawed abortion, their experience differs wildly from the average person in that they have the means to simply leave and go get one. They have privilege and access; they’re higher up on the economic and social food chain. They can get what they want very easily, and they won’t face nearly the same obstacles as the poor or working-class person trapped in an anti-abortion state.

Still, as was recently discussed at Buzzfeed, an artist’s political outspokenness can be not just controversial but a self-damaging act of defiance. This is how it once was for The Chicks, who were once blacklisted by their industry for their infamous outcry against former president George W. Bush, and whose influence can be felt on newer artists’ comfort levels towards publicly disparaging sacred institutions. As the article points out, Taylor Swift, who was once discouraged from speaking about politics in order to avoid the fate of The Chicks, now feels comfortable enough rebuking the Supreme Court’s decision on Twitter. Though The Chicks paved the way for female artists to get political with less fear of professional suicide, they have always worked in an industry that suppresses them from being rightfully angry at what’s happening around them under the threat of both career and fan retribution.

That ties into what makes Popstar’s “Equal Rights” song so funny and so evergreen, beyond the fact that, as Ringo Starr amusingly points out at the video’s conclusion, there was really nothing Conner needed to defend for gay people in the first place. For Conner, as a straight man with no skin in the game, his failed act of political outspokenness was an attempt to rehabilitate his image. The difference between female pop artists and male pop artists is that the latter’s statements carry curdled rage—Lamar’s, on the other hand, rings more like an added declaration of assurance that he’s done his part. He’s made headlines that he did something “powerful.”

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh; statements from influential figures can be impactful and raise awareness…though I have to wonder what these pop stars are going to do to assist in the situation beyond shouting out to their sea of fans that they agree that the bad ruling is a bad ruling. Will they allocate funds to people in need of help accessing abortions? It’s already been reported that Lizzo and Rage Against the Machine have donated ample sums to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood, though, isn’t who actually needs it. As many have helpfully explained already, it’s smaller, local clinics that are going to need all the help we can give them.

At the end of the day, as reticent as I am to admit it, celebrities are human beings like you or me. The overturning of Roe is a hefty blow dealt towards the way this country views and interacts with all people who can get pregnant, regardless of their fame. Celebrities have the capability to do good, have done good in the past and are, perhaps, sometimes even well-meaning people. But when I ventured onto my Twitter explore page and saw that every other trending moment was about how one celebrity or another had said something about Roe, regardless of gender, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all a little silly. Maybe it matters in the grand scheme of things, but as a woman of little note and little consequence, I can’t say I really care that much what celebrities have to say about this. Above all, I couldn’t shake the image of Conner4Real, fantasizing about what he might be saying about this present moment if he could. I have a feeling it would be something along the lines of “Godspeed for women’s rights.”

Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.

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