Pop-Cultured: The power of music docs


(Design by Malithi Gunawardena | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Palak Jayswal, Arts Editor


What is it about documentaries that pull people in? For most people, watching documentaries is a way of learning more about a certain topic, movement, person or idea. Like biographies, what makes documentaries so poignant is the insider look they offer to those who watch them. While there are countless sub-genres of documentaries, the one that best exemplifies this behind-the-scenes feeling is cherished by fans everywhere — yes, the great musician documentaries.

In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in musician biopic films, from “Bohemian Rhapsody” — which follows the electric rock band, Queen — to “Rocketman” — which chronicles the man, the myth and the legend that is Elton John. While these biopics are worthwhile and entertaining in their own ways — a nod to the brilliant acting of Rami Malek and Taron Egerton — they don’t have the same feel documentaries do.

There’s a certain level of authenticity or reverence of the craft and the journey a certain artist goes through that can’t be replicated in an acting situation. Musician documentaries not only create a bridge between fans and the artist themselves but provide a real, unreplicable experience. So often in popular culture, the narrative is taken out of the hands of those who are in the limelight. Documentaries, music and art alike, allow for artists to regain some of that control. 


Documentaries Impact, Impress and Invigorate

“Miss Americana” debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is the most recent musician documentary to show fans the artist behind their favorite music. It’s no secret Taylor Swift has a reputation — no, not referring to her album — but Swift takes control of that reputation, one that’s been tarnished, twisted and tangled. More than that, the documentary follows Swift’s process in making her most honest and personal album to date. It gives fans an insight into her life, her views and what a day in the life of Swift entails. 

“Chasing Happiness,” a documentary capturing the reformation of the 2000’s boy band Jonas Brothers, offers fans a very real look into how the band falls apart and how they came back together. In scenes that are brutally honest, fans learn about the fractures between the brothers themselves and how long it took them to fix it. The documentary is an interesting watch for those who may not be immediate fans of the band too — the film shows the entirety of their story from beginning to end and their newfound beginning. As “Chasing Happiness” showcases, reforming a band is no easy feat. 

In the same vein, musician documentaries are never strictly about one subject. It wouldn’t be a good documentary without concert footage, behind-the-stage looks or glimpses into a musician’s writing process. These scenes, ideas and insights are not only humanizing but humbling. Artists want to connect with fans in a way that stems beyond their chosen art form. Arguably, the best musician documentaries leave fans looking at the artists in a different, more refreshing light. “This Is Us” chronicles the world-renowned rise to fame of boy band One Direction, but it also shows how each of the five members grew up, came to love music and what their careers and the other boys mean to them. In comparison, “Never Say Never,” a 2011 Justin Bieber documentary, shows how he handled stardom on his own at the same age. Bieber’s recent docuseries, “Justin Bieber: Seasons,” shows this same idea years later.


Let the Film Roll

As an avid music fan, there’s nothing more interesting or refreshing than hearing what an artist has to say. I’m not talking about their music — though it may be brilliant — but more about their thoughts on their lifestyle and larger issues. The musicians I cherish and continue to follow are not those that hide behind tabloid headlines or good managers, but those who are willing to be vulnerable and honest with their fans — through their music or through their actions. 

So I say, let the film roll. I hope musicians continue to create these documentaries, to share with fans what their lives are like. While it’s fun to learn about the artist, these documentaries also show fans how to be better fans. Mobbing, stalking and trolling are becoming subjects which are more openly discussed. In her heart-breaking documentary, “Odd One Out,” Little Mix member Jesy Nelson shows just how criticism and trolling can destroy an artist.

Here’s to the artists we love, the lives they live and the documentaries which showcase them. Being an artist is one of, if not the, most vulnerable professions in this life — and our support can make or break that vulnerability.


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