10 Music Documentaries That Show Pop Stars as You’ve Never Seen Them Before

Gaga: Five Foot Two debuts today (September 22) on Netflix, and is the latest addition to an art form that has gained in prominence over the years: the behind-the-scenes documentary giving an unvarnished look at a popstar’s life.

It tells the story of the making of Joanne, the fifth studio album by Lady Gaga, and what went on in the lead-up to her extraordinary halftime performance at this year’s Superbowl.

Its release follows a long line of revelatory pop docs, the best of which we’ve listed here.

10. Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)

LCD Soundsystem played a “last stand” in 2011, an epic, instantly legendary final show at Madison Square Garden (although, like many pop retirements, it didn’t last that long, with a reunion in 2015). This documentary captures the final concert beautifully, but also manages to be much more than that by examining super-producer James Murphy‘s decision to go out on top, not to mention the comedown and uncertainty that follows the greatest high of his career.

Watch: Netflix

9. Katy Perry: Part of Me (2012)

This could very easily have just been a puff piece about the “Firework” pop star, and to a certain extent it is, with sugary-sweet scenes that are as garish and multi-colored as some of her wigs. Allowances are made, however, for things not going to plan — and not go to plan they do, especially if you’re married to a certain Russell Brand.

Watch: Netflix | Google Play

8. Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002)

Chances are you’ve not heard of The Funk Brothers, although you’ve almost certainly heard their music. That’s because they were the house band of Motown throughout the 1960s, playing on hits such as “My Girl” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” but weren’t credited by the record label’s founder Berry Gordy until 1970. This documentary goes some way to redress that balance.

Watch: Google Play

7. No Distance Left to Run (2009)

This Grammy-nominated film documented the band’s reunion after seven years apart and an acrimonious split (is there any other kind?) that saw Graham Coxon walk out on the band as they recorded 2003’s Think Tank. The interviews are unexpectedly revealing, and the live footage stands as a reminder why they should bother getting back together in the first place.

Watch: Google Play

6. Nas: Time is Illmatic (2014)

Documentaries about the making of an album often focus on the art only. Spike Lee‘s Bad 25, for instance, did little to reveal anything about the artist behind that mega-album. This documentary, however, released on the 20th anniversary of the album often cited as the greatest hip hop album ever made, Nas‘s 1994 opus Illmatic, goes further than that, delving into both Nas and his background — in particular his relationship with jazz trumpeter father Olu Dara — as well as the social and political issues he tackled on his debut record.

Watch: Netflix

5. Heima (2006)

Let’s face it: Icelandic rockers Sigur Rós can come across as taking themselves very seriously indeed, but Jonsi and pals are revealed to be warm, self-deprecating and kinda nerdy in this documentary. Part concert film, part travelog, it’s set against a backdrop of archive footage and some spectacular shots of Iceland’s stark landscape.

Watch: Vimeo

4. The Making of Thriller (1983)

Behind-the-scenes films about Michael Jackson tend to fixate on the controversies surrounding his private life, for obvious reasons. This short documentary therefore is rare, in that it lets Michael talk for himself, and shows him at his sublime, mercurial best, as he films the music video that catapulted him into superduperstardom.

Watch: YouTube

3. George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)

Martin Scorsese has made films about The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, but it’s this sprawling, two-part, three and a half hour documentary about George Harrison that’s worth a mention here. Covering both his pre- and post-Beatles career, what emerges is an absorbing, well-rounded portrait of the so-called “quiet Beatle,” and in particular his devotion to faith and spirituality.

Watch: Netflix

2. Stop Making Sense (1984)

Widely regarded as one of the greatest concert films ever, director Jonathan Demme‘s classic recording of a Talking Heads concert at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater manages to capture the unbelievable energy on stage, providing a huge shot of joy into the arm of even the most cynical critic.

Watch: Google

1. Truth or Dare (1991)

We wouldn’t expect anything less, but Madonna lays everything out in this classic behind-the-scenes documentary — from love affairs going wrong to fractious family relationships, and even her ill-disguised contempt for other celebrities. She’s outrageous. A force of nature. The film is ultimately a testament to Madge’s enduring appeal: not charm, but a voracious, awe-inspiring appetite for self-revelation and promotion. Oh, and the music’s great, natch.

Watch: Netflix

Which of these popumentaries has made in onto your watch list? 

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