Best music documentaries in 2020: Blackpink, Taylor Swift, and Shawn Mendes amongst many others

Best music documentaries in 2020: Blackpink, Taylor Swift, and Shawn Mendes amongst many others

Music to my ears

Text: Emily Heng

The year is 2013. Beyoncé delivered one heck of a Superbowl halftime performance; 30 Rock aired its final episode; and I'd just spent $13.50 on a ticket to One Direction: This is Us, aka my first brush with musical documentaries. The genre, at that point, was still relatively untouched upon — sure, you had your fair share of probing interviews with legends such as The Beatles and Amy Winehouse, but nothing quite on the scale of a full-on docu-feature.

Part concert, part autobiography, the appeal of these tell-all films lies largely in how it provides an unvarnished look at the lives of the rich and famous. Gaga: Five Feet Two addressed her beef with pop icon, Madonna; Bey's Homecoming chronicled her challenging post-pregnancy diet; while Katy Perry's breakup — and subsequent breakdown — with Russell Brand was documented on Katy Perry: Part of Me.

The recent influx of these flicks, however, does bring to mind the question: which titles are worth streaming, and which should be skipped? As with all theatrical works, some are definitively better than others. I've ranked all the recent releases in order of entertainment value, authenticity, and the amount of tea-spillage involved. Your crib-sheet, below.

Miss Americana

Maybe I'm not the most impartial party seeing my personal fascination with T.Swift — and yet I found Miss Americana stood out for me as it served less of an showcase of her work, and more of a character study of who Taylor Swift is as a person. In the film's opening scene, Swift candidly declares that her "entire moral code is a need to be thought of as good." What comes next is an intimate reveal of how that transcends into all aspects of her life, from the controversy featuring Kim K and Kanye to the eating disorder that ravaged her body for years.

Swift proves surprisingly introspective throughout the full 85-minute duration, finally divulging upon long-withheld information in the vein of her political leanings and dating life. All of this is interspersed with quiet, melancholic moments where she gives her friends manicures and eats with her cats at the dining table. The overall effect is a haunting portrait of one of the decade's biggest stars. A triumph on the part of director, Lana Wilson, indeed.

Stream it on Netflix now.


Chasing Happiness: Jonas Brothers

Die-hard fans of the squeaky-clean Disney trio are sure to relish in the gems excavated from this Amazon Prime feature. From the real reason behind the band's dissolution to the lowdown on Kevin's (short-lived) reality show, not much was kept under wraps with regard to their catapult to fame. At times campy, at times heartfelt, the piece succeeded in how it captured the complications and trials of mixing work with family. Also, never-before-seen footage of Sophie Turner and Priyanka Chopra. What's not to like?

Stream it on Amazon Prime now.


Gaga: Five Foot Two

Filming took place right as Gaga was on the cusp of releasing Joanne — her most understated and, hence, unconventional album yet. This culminates in a raw, unfiltered look at her anxieties regarding the album's performance, mitigated by her struggles with chronic body pain as well as her breakup with Taylor Kinney. Glamorous shots of Gaga in full-gear play a stark contrast to her bare face as she strolls into a Wallmart the day Joanne is released; a quiet reveal of who the star really is beneath the glitz, glamour, and flash.

Stream it on Netflix now.


Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé

I'd put Bey's Homecoming higher on the list if we'd gotten a better look of the elusive star under her professionalism. But alas, Homecoming was centered more around the staging of her Coachella performance and the work that goes into crafting such a stage presence. In that vein, the film felt like a tribute to her ambition; a closer look of what she has sacrificed and hustled for to get where she is today. The quotes from notable figures — and Bey's regular sources of inspiration — such as Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison were a nice touch, though.

Stream it on Netflix now.


Blackpink: Light Up the Sky

Perhaps it is because the film only had a 79-minute duration — of which was split into four parts which delved into each respective member's history and personality — but there was hardly any meat to Blackpink's biographical piece. We don't learn much beyond the international passports each member holds, with a large part of the film spent on clichéd platitudes about fame and seizing what they have. As with most K-Pop productions, Blackpink: Light Up the Sky is slickly choreographed and polished —  which goes against just about everything I'm looking for in a musical documentary. Ah, well.

Stream it on Netflix.


Shawn Mendes: In Wonder

Granted, this is only dropping 4 December this year, but the trailer has already intrigued me so much that I just have to talk about it. How is that every song Mendes has written is about Cabello, when they only started dating in 2019?! Why is that he is in a white tank top in just about every shot of this trailer? And for the love of God, how many times does he call himself normal in two minutes and 34 seconds? The holiday season can't come soon enough.

Stream it on Netflix.