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Superstar

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!


38 Comments

  1. ThomYorke wrote:

    I’ve long been a fierce defender of Superstar, and I’m happy to see it surface on your site this afternoon!

    Lyrically, there may be no better song that grabs the bulls by the horn directly addresses the paradox that is River Cuomo’s simultaneous fear of fame and desire to be a rock star. I LOVE these lyrics, and for a “post pinkerton” song, it stands out of the bunch as as raw and introspective as anything he wrote about himself on Pinkerton itself. Less poetic? Sure, but fun as hell nonetheless.

    Combine that with the raw energy charged up guitar distortion this was being played with in the SS2K era, and you’ve got a formula for a kick ass weezer tune.

    I know you pointed out that you feel this is less forgettable than its 22Sk peers, but it deserves more than that. It’s a great song. It’s a fantastic 2 minute rock song with genuine meaning and a fun rocking riff. What more do you want? Not all great songs have to be absolutely epic to be in a category of extremely worthwhile weezer songs.

    (I’d also argue there was plenty of potential from MANY SS2K tunes, but that’s for another discussion)

    Simply put, this song continues to stand in my top 15 songs post 2000. I think it would have made a killer album track (assuming they kept the quality of the original version) and I miss hearing it at shows. It’s so easy to squeeze in to a set list at just under 2 minutes, I don’t see why they don’t.

    The song is too great a combination of interesting lyrics and raw energy to leave off any of my =w= playlists.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  2. tsarczar wrote:

    ^^^ yeah, what he said…

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  3. Art Vandelay wrote:

    I find this one equally as boring as the rest of its kind. It just sounds like a riff, half a verse, and half a chorus tacked together. Tossed off. Do not like.

    The version portrayed in the youtube video has enough energy to have a little bit of charm to it, but if it were any other band, you could never convince me to give a shit about it.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  4. Melack wrote:

    One of the more interesting and unique SS2K songs.

    Which unfort doesn’t mean that much.

    I like the energy and the vocal performance and that’s about it.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  5. Soyrev wrote:

    Boy, comments are slow-going on this one…

    I understand why some folks (like Thom and Tsar) might really like this song, but I’m more on the Art/Melack side of the fence. There are nice things about it, but nothing that would ever make me purposely seek it out. This video is pretty cool, but without the visual component, this song has a hard time keeping my attention.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  6. OOS wrote:

    Energy’s good, riff’s kind of neat, and overall I would say that this is one of the better SS2K songs, but still not great.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  7. HMC wrote:

    Like many, many post-Pinkerton-era songs, this one has the foundations of a great song, but the lyrics are sorely underdeveloped and the singing lacking in conviction. That video of them playing it in concert is pretty sweet, though.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  8. ThomYorke wrote:

    That’s kind of funny – I’ve always thought this song is sung with MORE conviction than most of their work.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 8:41 pm | Permalink
  9. clore wrote:

    I agree completely with what Art had to say.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 10:54 pm | Permalink
  10. ThomYorke wrote:

    As much as I enjoy the song as is, I think a fleshed guitar solo in the vein of the YGYLTMS el scortcho version could have really added a lot to it.

    How many of you were around for the hiatus? I think that has a lot to do with how SS2k is viewed by people. Superstar was one of the first songs I heard upon their comeback, and I was thrilled, man. I was hoping this would kick off the album. On the heels of Pinkerton, Superstar really makes a lot of sense.

    Imagine expecting to hear this, and firing up the Green album to hear a giant glossy Don’t Let Go. Now, I love me some Green album today, but the day I bought that record I was expecting something more along the lines of Superstar. Maybe that’s created a bias of some kind for me, I don’t know, but what I do know is that I like Superstar a lot for reasons I already listed in my previous post.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 6:41 am | Permalink
  11. Walfred wrote:

    SS2K and the post-Maladroit demos could kill this blog! Soy will have to stay strong like bull to get through all of it.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  12. OhWeezer96 wrote:

    Yea, what Art said. Forgettable at best. Loved SS2K when it came out, but in retrospect i was just clinging to hollow “new music excitement”. Nah, the only songs that don’t feel “samey” to me, and ONLY to me, im sure, are My Brain and O Girl. Dammit why couldn’t those both of been a Green b-side, easily eliminating O Lisa or Sugar Booger. Ugh.

    great to see 2 new blogs in a week Soy! Keep it up!

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  13. sandwiches wrote:

    i agree with Art Vandalay on this one…

    also i always thought the line was “and smoke a doobie to get loose” not “dueced” but i havent listened to this song closely in probably 8 years so i could be wrong.

    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 9:51 pm | Permalink
  14. OOS wrote:

    I never get through this song entirely. I usually listen and enjoy it up to the first chorus then loose interest and go to the next song.

    Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  15. tsarczar wrote:

    i understand how some people don’t like it, but forgettable? The lyrics are a progression from pinkerton, not a departure. The melody was fun, not polished like green would be. If properly fleshed out, this could have been an album song, for sure. Like Thom said, this song was VERY popular among the fans after the hiatus, enough so that karl posted lyrics to it on the website. i dunno, maybe i’m looking at it from old eyes…

    Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  16. Soyrev wrote:

    Walfred: It gets hard sometimes. Really hard.

    Sandwiches: I thought it was “loose” at first too (makes more sense), but I checked it out again and there’s definitely a D sound in there.

    OOS: That sums it up well for me. I’m like, “Oh word, Superstar,” I kinda get into it for maybe a minute before it completely loses its flavor.

    Tsar: “Progression from Pinkerton” — progression sounds too much like “progress,” which it certainly is not. Yes, the lyrics are personal, but so are those of “Heart Songs” (granted, “Superstar” is a MUCH better song than that dreck, but for the sake of making a point).

    I can see how this would have a big positive reaction from fans early on — but like I and others have mentioned, it wears thin quick. No surprise that by 2009 hardly anyone can be moved to give a shit.

    Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  17. MyNameIsJason wrote:

    Superstar is kinda cool.

    Makes a GREAT listen in the shower. If you haven’t tried this – do it. so badass.

    But it’s not much more than badass. The lyrics are cool and I guess there’s some potential there, but I can’t really put my finger on the one thing that they lack, and they lack it big time.

    Still, a cool little tune, though.

    Sunday, April 12, 2009 at 10:25 pm | Permalink
  18. sulkygirl wrote:

    Heres the deal, Thomyorke and tsarczar are right, the rest are of you are so wrong. Superstar, Mad Kow, Slob, hash Pipe, Dope Nose,Too Late to Try, On THe Edge, My Brain, The Sister song..that is one brutal album NOW, nevermind if you threw a bit of production at it. Remember , they were just demos, but they sounded intense, Alas, the powers to be at the record co. said no, Rivers spat his dummy out, and out came The Grreen album,still classic, but its Rivers giving them what they want , while giving nothing away. Rant over.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 2:42 am | Permalink
  19. Soyrev wrote:

    I think as far as SS2K goes, with a lot of development and some beneficial work done in the studio, “O Girl” (perfect as it is, actually), “Mad Kow,” “My Brain,” “Sister Song” (needs a lyrical rewrite), and “Too Late To Try” could have been really good album cuts (or at least great b-sides). As for “Hash Pipe” I think that came out pretty perfectly on Green so no change there.

    Green is not a classic, but with the best tracks on that (2-4, “O Girlfriend”) mixed in with the best SS2K songs and good production w/ a bit of room to breathe, could’ve been a classic. And if you wanna go pre-2000, then album 3 could’ve definitely been as good (maybe better) than Blue or even Pinkerton.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  20. OOS wrote:

    I still don’t get how Green turned out so badly, I mean even taking JUST the emotionless formulaic pop songs that Rivers was writing at the time you still could’ve made an album about 10x better.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  21. blueguy wrote:

    i was around in 2000 and i didn’t like the song then.

    although i forgave the band for similar crap (i kinda liked modern dukes, sister song, etc.) at the time this one never did it for me.

    and yes, the video on the blog is the best performance of the song we have. it almost made me like it, but i think it’s because i hadn’t heard it in so long.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink
  22. Soyrev wrote:

    I think the song works in this video because there’s a visual component. Whenever it’s just the song, it pretty much always fails to hold my attention.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  23. WAITINGANDWAITING wrote:

    I think at the time green came out, (though I was about 13 at the time), it was a nu-metal scene that was popular and a song with a heavy riff like superstar would not be enough to differentiate Weezer from that crowd. The reason green was so successful was that it was so unusual to hear at the time, though correct me if i’m wrong.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 2:02 am | Permalink
  24. sandwiches wrote:

    im too lazy to check youtube, but is this performance from the same show that they did that insanely awesome performance of Tired of Sex? I know it was bowl cut era and in japan. THAT is one of the best performances i’ve ever seen of weezer, if anyone knows the video i’m talking about.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 8:05 am | Permalink
  25. sandwiches wrote:

    just checked. definitely the same show. They were really on that day.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 8:14 am | Permalink
  26. Soyrev wrote:

    Is the entire show in circulation? I’ve only seen those two videos…Would love to see the whole set.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink
  27. Sacamus wrote:

    I love that video, Rivers’ scream at the end is priceless.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink
  28. ThomYorke wrote:

    I’ve never seen the entire show if it does exist on video. God damn this was a great live era for the band! I’m lucky enough to have caught one the of the first pre-green Outloud gigs, which were amazing, but even those shows might be a tad less intense than the bowl-cut SS2k era.

    Soy, I bet if Superstar had a better solo and more of a bridge it would hold your attention more. A3 Could have been a brutal SS2k hard-rocking affair, or something more along the lines of the now famous HOMiE project. All it would have taken was more effort on their part to really flesh out what they’d already written.

    Either way, as the old knight from Indiana Jones would say: The band chose…poooorly.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  29. HokieWeez wrote:

    I really dig the chorus of this song but that’s about it. As has been stated it’s overall yet another undercooked effort typical of the era but I think the chorus redeems it somewhat.

    Could have been a solid song, but as usual with the weezers excessive tinkering made it far worse rather than improving it.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  30. OOS wrote:

    They could’ve gone in several different directions with Green, all of which would’ve been better than the current one. They could’ve gone for a nice, succinct pop album, and use tracks like O Girl, My Brain, and Fun Time. They could’ve gone for a winter-y album ala Pinkerton, with songs like 1000 Years, Baby, Longtime Sunshine, Wanda, and Rosemary. They could’ve gone hard rock with stuff like Superstar, Little Sister, and Too Late To Try. Seriously, how did we get the current album?

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  31. tsarczar wrote:

    Thom, it’s hopeless. The Philistines have made their decision.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  32. ThomYorke wrote:

    Well said, OOS. It’s certainly a mystery considering all that precluded what eventually became Green.

    TSRCZAR, I guess I’ll just have to be in the minority on this one.

    Friday, April 17, 2009 at 8:21 am | Permalink
  33. Sick Nick wrote:

    Like ThomYorke said I was around for the hiatus and comeback and these songs hold a place in my heart for what they meant back then. These days I can see how clearly flawed the SS2k songs are but I stand by ‘Superstar’, ‘Slob’ and ‘My Brain’ all still being gems of the era and would have made for great variety on TGA.

    Monday, April 20, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  34. Burgess wrote:

    MAN, the live recordings of this from 2000 are so much better than the 2002 versions. I know that’s typical, but sheesh. I can’t believe how much the heart of the song was lost in 2 years.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  35. Soyrev wrote:

    I was tempted to give this both “The Grand Playlist” and “The Very Worst” for its respective versions, but wound up keeping a middle course…But I agree. “Superstar” 2002 is some potent bile.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink
  36. Burgess wrote:

    Sometimes you just have to let a song be what it is. But I guess “Superstar 2002” never made it to an album, so I can’t really fault Weezer for playing around with it. I think a good recording of the original ’00 version would have sat well on an album with Hash Pipe, though.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  37. Soyrev wrote:

    It definitely could have fit in with Brian Bell’s original description of Album #3 (circa 2000), “Helmet meets A Hard Day’s Night” — along with “Hash Pipe” and “O Girl!”

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  38. Burgess wrote:

    I’m sure I’ve posted this somewhere already, but it really perplexed me at the time that they dumped all of the SS2K songs save for “Hash Pipe,” then release “Hash Pipe” as the single only to have it hit huge. Then they dug up ANOTHER SS2K song for the next album, and again it was the lead single. Although, this time they fucked with it more by adding the Flintstones vocals and such, and it didn’t do as well. Clearly, they were thinking about going back to the well a third time in the 2002 demo period, only this time they were messing with the songs even more!

    I bet an album of the 2000 songs, recorded with the energy and un-messed-withness of “Hash Pipe,” would’ve been really cool. But as time went on they got further and further from the band they were in 2000 and had a harder time getting those songs right.

    Monday, May 10, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

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