As I’ve mentioned before, few songs really stand out from the Summer Songs 2000 era. Even nearly a decade after the songs debuted to the public, it’s a little hard to tell them all apart sometimes. Lyrics overlap, certain sections of songs sound so nondescript that they could fit in just about anywhere, and the general mediocrity of the material discourages frequent listens, making them even harder to differentiate (or care). Time has mostly forgotten these songs, and although a few could’ve been worth salvaging, there’s little tragedy in that.
“Superstar” is one of the few that sticks out in memory, if only because it really takes the pop punk sensibility of the era to its furthest extreme. On the official live SS2K “album” version, the guitars have a bit of a hard rock snarl to them (a la “Hash Pipe“), and Rivers Cuomo’s vocal performance is perhaps his most self-consciously affected: it very much sounds like he’s trying to be someone else here, perhaps a Green Day or a Blink182. It doesn’t work so well in my opinion, and grates more than anything else — especially when Cuomo strains for notes that he can’t quite seem to reach in this weird persona voice he’s adopted.
But the lyrics, speaking of, are an interesting variation on Cuomo’s reliable brand of self-deprecation: it’s a critique of his ability to be a proper frontman. Which makes for an interesting little lyrical paradox, because on the one hand, he’s kicking himself (“All I can do is sing / And I don’t do that so well” — perhaps all too fitting for this song), but on the other hand, he’s acknowledging the fact that he *is* a rock star. Which is also a bit of a paradox because this is a song from an era when Cuomo had every right to yearn for fame and commercial success again — things from which he had been, by this point, nearly five years removed — when another five years later, after Cuomo’s Green Album gambit paid off platinum, he again rehashed the “I wanna be famous” cliche with “Beverly Hills.” But that’s besides the point.
The lyrics don’t tackle their subject matter in a particularly memorable way, but I do appreciate how unique they are in Weezer’s vast repertoire. “There used to be a better kind of rock and rollin’ superstar,” Cuomo begins the song, and references to “summoning things from hell” makes it clear that he’s longing for the metal heroes of his childhood. Cuomo, by comparison, describes himself as “just a regular white guy who’s afraid to rock.” And while there are certainly some counterpoints that could be cited, it’s a statement that rings pretty true at times: to wit, Cuomo’s performances of “Say It Ain’t So” on Letterman and any number of other instances. It’s easy to forget in this Red Album era of stage theatrics, rambling banter and knee-pad shenanigans, but back in the ’90s, Cuomo was generally (and genuinely) a pretty reserved performer. So it’s fitting that Cuomo chooses to sing a song about wanting to be somebody else in a style and voice that sounds more than just a little forced — intentionally or not.
Still, like most SS2K songs, this performance of “Superstar” brims with passion and energy, and you get the feeling that Cuomo really does mean what he’s singing here. There’s a proto-Green solo that essentially works as another verse as sung by Cuomo’s guitar, and after a subtle build to the song’s implosive conclusion, it’s all over in typically concise early ’00s fashion. Not remarkable, a little bit disposable, but worth keeping around as the interesting anomaly that it is.
Strangely, the song’s story doesn’t end here. The summer of 2000 came and went, and for the most part, these songs were completely forgotten — all but “Hash Pipe” got the Green Album snub — but “Superstar” perplexingly resurfaced during Weezer’s early 2002 tour of Europe. I have a 3/24/02 UK bootleg from a Brixton Academy gig that is very much of the Maladroit mindest: the band turns up the metal on the guitars; Cuomo sings more in his natural voice (which debatably works even less) and transforms the solo into a raunchy but mostly aimless rawk out; and Brian Bell piles on the unimaginative “echo” backup vocal lines that, like on most other songs from the era, do little for the arrangement other than to clutter things up.
The devolution continued during the band’s abortive Early Album 5 sessions. The July 7th ’02 version makes the guitars sound even *more* metallic (sounds like barbed wire going through a distortion pedal, and not in a good way), adds some obnoxious palm mutes, a pointless piano and total cheeseball synth lines. The whole thing sounds kind of like vomit, and Cuomo’s lyrical adjustments only add to the nausea: “I guess that I could drink a beer / And smoke a doobie to get deuced (?) / But that depletes my energy / And screws up all my business moves.” And then, unbelievably, in the chorus: “I gotta make it stonecold straight (so well!) / Gotta live up to my name (from hell!) / I’m just a regular white guy who’s afraid to rock.” Fucking WHAT!? This might just be me speaking in the moment here, but I really don’t think this band has ever committed to tape a less coherent, shittier set of lyrics than what’s sung on this version of “Superstar.” And my lord, that solo is such bottom barrel dreck…Was Cuomo being influenced by his then-friendship with Fred Durst or something? What the hell could possibly explain what happened here?
For the sake of being thorough: the band did a final take of this song two weeks later, which wisely dropped the piano and buried that awful synth pretty deep in the mix, but more or less retained the gross vibe and depravity of its predecessor. The band wisely forgot this song shortly thereafter, and scrapped these sessions entirely — I’d like to imagine that playbacks of this supremely bastardized “Superstar” are what convinced the band to hang it up.
In the interest of leaving us with a less putrid taste in our mouths, this video should make for some decent Listerine. It’s a 2000 performance at the huge Summer Sonic fest in Japan (the very lucrative offer that convinced Weezer to reunite, no less), and it’s a pretty sharp performance. Cuomo’s in full-on bowlcut mode, Bell is strutting around and rocking out like the kind of musician the song is about, and Welsh and Wilson keep the song’s rolling rhythm on lock. Lookit all those freakin’ people!