If you’re like me, and I think you are if you clicked on this article, then you’re ravenous for music documentaries on Netflix. I’ve got you covered here with my top five. Keep in mind that these are only the ones I’ve watched and no way indicative of all the documentaries out there. They’re all also available to binge as of May 2021.
5. Blackpink: Light Up the Sky
Blackpink: Light up the Sky is a good blend of the weight of fame, the relationships that have built these young women, and the music that catapulted them to stardom.
In my ignorance, I didn’t know that there were places where people go to train to be a popstar, and it was fascinating to get a peak behind that million dollar machine. But it was also a little anxiety inducing for me, in that I know that industry and people that surround these women see them as money makers instead of humans. It was difficult to separate that from the scenes of them being 14 and 15 and all alone as they navigated the training, but it didn’t ultimately take away from how interesting they all are as individuals.
Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa are all wonderfully different, wildly creative and expressive, and I like that the documentary took time to get to know each of them without trying to impress upon us some giggly girl group lens that we might have gotten in the 90s or early naughts. They were shown in their realism and in their determination to be known for their music, and I enjoyed finding out who each of them were and hope their futures are just as bright as their wonderful talent.
4. Miss Americana
Miss Americana did a lot to show who Taylor Swift is from the perspective of Taylor Swift.
With someone so famous, and with so many stories and members of the media eager to tear her down, it’s easy to get lost in the half truths and the lies meant to divert from the reality of her person-hood. It’s easy to forget that she was a teenager when Kayne decided to hijack her win or that she was unprotected when a man decided to assault her in full view of the cameras. People are really good at turning women into the enemy of the people if that woman shows even the most mild of backbones, and this documentary showed not only that but her journey to reclaim her voice and her power.
I don’t think she has a perfect history, and she’s certainly made some choices that lacked cultural perspective, but this documentary showed me that she’s trying to do better – even standing up to her team, including her father about something she felt passionate about politically.
The documentary also made me realize how much she loves what she does, how passionate she is about her music, and the way she tries to focus on the art of making things despite the toxicity of the press and the truth that no woman can exist in peace when it comes to her body, her presentation, or her romantic choices. I think that she did a good job here of showing the realities of that life, the cost fame has had on her, and the ultimate realization that she doesn’t need to depend on the fucked up opinions of others in order to live happily.
3. The Black Godfather
The Black Godfather taught me about one of the most pivotal producers of the twentieth century Mr. Clarence Avant, and by pivotal I mean that he’s a man who helped shaped popular culture as we know it.
Clarence is a talented producer and has a fox-like intelligence that means he’s always two steps ahead and laughing lovingly about the fact that you aren’t. The documentary covers his life, his failures, his triumphs, and his ultimate shift into the man who knows everyone and who is always asking how he can help people who are up and coming.
He’s the man you talk to when you want to run for office as a Black politician or if you’re in a bind and need someone has the connections to get you out of it. That kind of power has been built through decades of working hard, seeing talent, and fostering young minds to be the next powerful voice in politics and entertainment. It was fascinating to get to know a man I’m sad to say I knew nothing about before I started the documentary, but one who has shaped so much of our present culture and sensibilities.
2. Dolly Parton: Here I Am
Dolly Parton: Here I Am explores the life of the legend. There’s a certain level of cult status around Dolly these days. She’s so many things, has done so many things, has redefined herself several times over, but always with that same signature look that is just so Dolly no one else could even come close to pulling it off. Even this documentary has an air of countrified royal mythos to it, but that’s just Dolly, too. It’s a little hard to get to know her even when she’s being her most real, and she’s all the more fascinating for it.
It was interesting to see people talk about her and to have her own words be reinforced with archived footage. It showed how the mythos of Dolly was built, what made her and sustains her, and the things that she valued most in the beats of her career toward being the Queen of Country.
Quincy shows us the life of another one of the pivotal producers in music of the twentieth century: Quincy Jones.
Quincy Jones has had the life you read about in books or dream about when you first fall in love with the idea of working in music. He’s worked with Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and even produced The Color Purple. The documentary does an excellent job of distilling decades worth of these triumphs and lows all while showcasing the man as he exists now – working hard, still being creative, and doing his best to still shake up the industry.
Perhaps because his daughter, Rashida Jones, has a large part in the documentary’s production, the entire thing feels like family, like a conversation, like the passing down of history to better understand the present. It’s interesting, and if you watch any documentary about the music that shaped the previous century, it needs to be this one.
What other music documentaries would you recommend? Share with us in the comments below!