On May 24, 2021, “Madonna: Truth or Dare” — the documentary that follows the pop star’s iconic and contentious 1990 “Blonde Ambition” tour — turns 30! In honor of the film’s anniversary, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at the best music documentaries. Keep reading for more recommendations…
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By 18, Billie Eilish had taken the music industry by storm. Her debut album was the most commercially successful release of 2019, and in 2020, she became the youngest person to be nominated for, and to win, awards in all four general-field categories — album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist, as well as the only woman to win the big four awards in the same night. So it’s no surprise that she has a documentary of her very own. Released in 2021, “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” chronicles the Los Angeles native’s experience crafting and completing her first album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” while giving audiences an inside look into her life at home.
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When we think “iconic music documentary,” this is what immediately comes to mind. Beyonce’s known to give 110% to everything she does — and her highly anticipated 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival performance was no exception. “HΘMΣCΘMING” — which debuted on Netflix in 2019 — gives fans an in-depth look into Bey’s creative process and the work she put into developing the acclaimed live show at the annual music fest. Showcasing “the emotional road from creative concept to a cultural movement,” the concert film was a smash hit — it won the honor for best music film at the 2019 Grammy Awards.
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Taylor Swift’s documentary film “Miss Americana,” which made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, chronicles the acclaimed and often scrutinized singer-songwriter’s career. Filmed over several years, fans are given a candid and emotional look into Taylor’s life, including the personal turmoil she experienced during her 2018 “Reputation” stadium tour. In 2020, “Miss Americana” was named one of the best five documentaries of the year by the National Board of Review.
If you’re anything like us, you probably jumped for joy upon hearing that the Jonas Brothers were (finally!) reuniting. And when you found out they were releasing their own documentary to commemorate their reunion? Well, same. In 2019, Nick, Joe and Kevin released “Chasing Happiness,” a music documentary that charts their New Jersey upbringing, rise to fame, subsequent disbandment and eventual reunion.
In 2021, HBO Max released “Tina,” an intimate documentary focusing on the illustrious life and career of one of the industry’s brightest and most successful stars. With appearances from renowned names including Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett and Le’Juene Fletcher, the film — which made its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival — received positive reviews for its portrayal of Tina as a beacon of resilience.
Released in 2017, “Gaga: Five Foot Two” follows the international superstar’s journey as she records her fifth studio album, “Joanne,” and prepares for her Super Bowl LI halftime show performance. The film, which made its debut at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, earned an MTV Movie & TV Award for best music documentary. Fun fact: The album’s title track went on to earn a Grammy for best pop solo performance — Gaga’s second-ever honor at the award show.
Before he was a married man, Justin Bieber was a teen with front-swept hair! In 2011, the Canadian pop star released the documentary “Never Say Never,” which charts his rise to fame and chronicles his life as he prepares for a sold-out show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The movie, which was directed by “Crazy Rich Asians” and “In the Heights” filmmaker Jon M. Chu, became the highest grossing music concert film since 1984, earning $99 million on a $13 million budget.
Shawn Mendes is another beloved Canadian crooner who turned into an international sensation. “Shawn Mendes: In Wonder,” which debuted on Netflix in 2020, follows the singer-songwriter’s life on and off the stage. The film, which acts as a prelude to his fourth studio album, “Wonder,” also delves into Shawn’s struggles with anxiety and depression.
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love Nirvana drummer-turned-Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl? The 2011 rockumentary “Foo Fighters: Back and Forth” charts the band’s origins, history and experiences as they record their highly anticipated seventh studio album, “Wasting Light.” The James Moll-directed film proved to be a major critical success — it went on to take home a 2012 Grammy Award for best long-form music video.
What makes 2015’s “Amy” — a posthumously released documentary about late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse — spectacular is the way in which it uses archival footage to tell a compelling narrative about her early life, promising career, struggles with addiction and eventual death. In addition to earning an impressive $23.7 million at the box office, “Amy” — which made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival — earned a best music film award at the Grammys and a best documentary feature Oscar at the Academy Awards.
In 2020, Apple TV+ released “Beastie Boys Story,” a documentary adapted from the memoir “Beastie Boys Book” that was directed, written and produced by frequent Beastie Boys music video collaborator Spike Jonze. The doc, which was filmed in the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, saw surviving original members Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz reuniting with the filmmaker after more than 20 years.
As many fangirls can attest, “One Direction: This Is Us” — a 3D documentary concert movie — was practically a cultural reset. The doc, which made its debut in 2013, takes a look at the band’s endeavors during their tour and highlights what it’s like to be a member of one of the world’s biggest music phenomenons.
2005’s “No Direction Home” centers on acclaimed singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and charts his musical evolution from folk singer to illustrious rock star.Incorporating interviews with some of Bob’s closest companions as well as footage of him in the 1960s, the Martin Scorsese-directed documentary recounts the lively history of one of music’s most talented living legends.
Deemed one of the most entertaining documentaries ever created by Entertainment Weekly, 1970’s “Woodstock” chronicles the historic countercultural music festival that was held in Bethel, New York in August 1969. The documentary, which was edited by seven individuals including its director, Michael Wadleigh, and Martin Scorsese, took home the 1971 Academy Award for best documentary feature. That same year, it also earned Oscar nominations for best film editing and best sound mixing.
“Katy Perry: Part of Me” is a 3D documentary concert film that was released in 2013. In addition to charting her rise to stardom, the film also includes personal interviews, clips that showcase her upbringing, hints at her unraveling marriage to Russell Brand and segments of her live performances. The movie earned $32.7 million on a $13 million budget.
Released in 2019, “David Foster: Off the Record” chronicles the personal and professional life of musician-producer David Foster by way of interviews with his family, famous musicians who’ve previously worked with him (including Lionel Richie, Michael Bublé and Celine Dion) and archival footage. The documentary made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Written and directed by filmmaker Alex Winter, “Zappa” candidly explores the late Frank Zappa’s contentious professional life as well as his personal life through the use of archival clips. The documentary, which was released in 2020, also includes appearances from those who knew Frank well including widow Gail Zappa and close collaborators like Ray White, Scott Thunes and Bunk Gardner.
2019’s “Travis Scott: Look Mom I Can Fly” chronicles the rapper’s career — from coming up in the industry in 2014 to completing and preparing for the release of his third studio album, “Astroworld.” Combined with archival footage, the film — which has a roster of producers that includes on-off love Kylie Jenner — takes audiences on the rapper’s tumultuous but gratifying journey.
“Artifact,” which made its debut at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, is a documentary that was directed by Jared Leto under his pseudonym, Bartholomew Cubbins. The film revolves around aspects of the music business and highlights the legal dispute that arose between Jared’s rock band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and the record label EMI.
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