The Beatles have The White Album. Jay-Z has the The Black Album. Lonely Island has The Wack Album.
“We were just like every great band or recording artist [who] has their seminal album, where they’re officially grown up, where they’re congealed in culture, really,” Andy Samberg, one third of the comedy rap group, told The Daily Beast. “We were like, how can we do our fake version of that?”
While it remains to be seen if The Wack Album, the third album from the group known for songs like “I Just Had Sex” and “Dick in a Box,” will have the cultural importance of those seminal Fab Four or H.O.V.A. works, it comes at a very important point in Samberg’s career. The former Saturday Night Live cast member left the sketch show in 2012, taking with him the opportunity to debut new Lonely Island songs on air. The SNL platform put Samberg and group mates Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer on the map. The success or failure of The Wack Album—the first Lonely Island release since Samberg’s departure—may then be the biggest test yet of Samberg’s post-SNL popularity.
“Nothing compares to having 5 million people see your song at once and then putting it online and seeing the word spread,” Schaffer said. “We’ve been finding the audience. It might just take a little longer.”
Lonely Island rocketed to popularity in 2005 when SNL aired their song “Lazy Sunday” as part of its Digital Shorts series. The music video went viral almost instantly and, in addition to introducing the public to Lonely Island’s music, made Samberg one of SNL’s most popular cast members.
Follow-ups “Iran So Far,” “Jizz in My Pants,” and “Shy Ronnie” all went viral, too, adhering to the same formula that made “Lazy Sunday” a hit—nonsensical, silly lyrics set to a very serious hip-hop track. “We have real hip-hop producers and electronic music producers making these tracks,” Taccone said. “It’s part of the joke in a lot of ways for us—like if we’re making fun of a real pop song then we want it to sound like a real pop song.”
“People always say our music is funny and it kind of sounds real,” Samberg said. “It’s a bonus, I think.”
How real? “Dick in a Box,” which features Justin Timberlake, won the 2007 Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics. “I’m on a Boat,” which aired on SNL in 2009, was nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the Grammys. The likes of Adam Levine, Rihanna, T-Pain, and Lady Gaga have all agreed to sing on the band’s tracks. The Wack Album adds Solange, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Pharrell Williams to that stable of guest performers.
Not bad for a group that, as Samberg says, “doesn’t consider ourselves rappers.” Taccone prefers the term “frappers”—fake rappers.
The group was able to air one of the album’s new songs on SNL before the end of the most recent season—“YOLO,” featuring Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar—but when they released “Semicolon,” which mocked the popularity of “hashtag rap,” earlier this month, they didn’t have that opportunity. Studio 8H is closed for the summer. “It’s slightly different,” Samberg said of releasing new songs with the help of SNL to spread the word. “It was also just really fun to have them on there.”
When an actor leaves SNL, every career move he makes is looked at through a magnifying glass, with pundits analyzing whether a project’s success or failure indicates that the star made a mistake by jumping ship. In other words, will he be the next Will Ferrell, who became, for a time, one of Hollywood’s most bankable comedy stars after leaving the show? Or will he be the next Horatio Sanz, who’s done… not much at all?
For Samberg, the jury is very much still out. His first post-SNL role was in the Adam Sandler movie That’s My Boy. In addition to being ravaged by critics, the comedy also happened to be one of Sandler’s worst-performing films at the box office. Still, That’s My Boy was very much billed as an Adam Sandler Movie, and its flop was largely put on his shoulders, not Samberg’s. He also confusingly starred in the BBC sitcom Cuckoo, an unusual career choice and one that’s hard to use as a gauge of his marketability—it didn’t even air in the U.S.
Then there’s the case of Celeste and Jesse Forever, a romantic comedy written by and co-starring Rashida Jones that, despite garnering reviews strong enough to make some think it would be an indie breakout hit, only grossed a $3 million. Again, it wouldn’t be entirely fair to call the film’s failure an indication of Samberg’s lack of star potential. The tiny film was never going to be, nor was it planned to be, a massive box-office hit.
Even the release of The Wack Album isn’t the perfect barometer for predicting how Samberg’s post-SNL career will fare. He’s certainly the most recognizable member of Lonely Island (though Taccone’s role on Girls certainly helped raise his profile), but he’s not its singular attraction. The success or failure of The Wack Album without SNL to promote it will speak to the importance of SNL to Lonely Island’s popularity more than it will to that of Samberg.
The magnifying glass, then, looks ahead to the fall, when Samberg will debut as the star of new Fox comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He plays a goof-off New York City cop in the show, which will air before New Girl on Tuesday nights. Splitsider calls it “far and away the most promising new comedy of the season.”
If, however, the show doesn’t take off, he still has plenty of ideas for Lonely Island to fall back on. “Bill Clinton on sax,” he said of his dream guest artist. “Celine Dion would be fucking epic.”