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Beyoncé to Katy Perry: The Most Memorable Pop Music Documentaries

Get schooled in 'Homecoming,' enjoy some 3D effects in 'Part of Me,' and so much more.

Allison Bowsher
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Katy Perry and Beyoncé

Paramount Pictures/Netflix

Before there was social media offering glimpses into the daily lives of the world's biggest superstars, music documentaries gave fans unprecedented access to their favorite musicians. Like Instagram stories and TikTok videos, documentaries are still a highly curated and edited look behind the curtain, but in many cases, they contain moments of vulnerability that aren't always found in Facebook reels or TV interviews.

Musicians from every genre have opened their doors, both literally and figuratively, to documentary crews. Country trio The Chicks, previously known as The Dixie Chicks, covered their fall and eventual return to the charts in Shut Up & Sing. Netflix recently released the three-part documentary Jeen-Yuhsabout the life of rapper Kanye West. Countless rock bands have been the inspiration for their own feature films, from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, as well as more current acts including Oasis. And Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, best known for his work with The Roots, won an Oscar this year for Best Documentary for his ode to soul music in Summer of Soul.

Pop music, too, has had its turn on the big screen. Madonna help reinvent the music documentary format with her revealing 1991 film Truth or Dare, which spent a decade as the highest grossing documentary of all time. Another pop star who is no stranger to breaking records is Katy Perry, whose documentary Part of Me celebrates its 10th anniversary on July 5.

To celebrate Perry's upcoming milestone, we're looking back at some of the most memorable pop music documentaries of the past 20 years, listed by Metascore.


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'Homecoming'

Netflix

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé

Metascore: 93
Best for: Beyhive card holders and anyone who wants an education on Beyoncé and Black excellence
Where to watch: Netflix
Runtime: 137 minutes

Good things come to those who wait and that was the case with Beyoncé's delayed headlining spot at Coachella 2018. After giving birth to twins, Beyoncé got back to work putting together an elaborate, daring, and inspiring set that included the reunion of Destiny's Child, cameos from Bey's husband Jay-Z and sister Solange Knowles, and a celebration of historically Black colleges and universities. Marching bands, step and majorette performances, and HBCU-inspired costumes were the backdrop to the Coachella performance footage, with a set list that encapsulated Beyoncé's incredible career thus far. Rehearsal footage and home videos rounded out the documentary, which explored the struggles and triumphs of motherhood and womanhood, while also celebrating the Black experience.

"Homecoming, in all its inspiring and self-mythologising glory, doesn't just cement her legacy as a musical force who is proudly and defiantly black and female, but as a woman eager to ensure that others like her will follow in her footsteps, too." — Adam White, The Telegraph


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'Amy'

A24

Amy

Metascore: 85
Best for: Those who want an in-depth look into the life of an artist who left us far too soon
Where to watch:

, fuboTVGoogle Play, iTunes, ,
Runtime: 128 minutes

The 2015 documentary Amy does nothing to lessen the devastating blow of losing singer Amy Winehouse at age 27. If anything, director Asif Kapadia's moving portrait of a young woman who was both a gifted musician and an artist burdened with the suffocating weight of addiction intensifies the pain felt by her fans, friends, and family. The life of the six-time Grammy winner unfolds on screen in the unfiltered documentary, which uses home footage and interviews to paint a portrait of Winehouse's shy and humble nature, a juxtaposition to the wild child addict that at times has threatened to overshadow her legacy as a gifted artist.

"This is the Amy Winehouse few of us ever got to witness, radiating cheeky self-confidence and finding joy in sharing her considerable gifts." — Susan Wloszczyna, RogerEbert.com


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'Excuse Me, I Love You'

Netflix

Ariana Grande: Excuse Me, I Love You

Metascore: 70
Best for: Pop fans who like concert films with a few moments of behind-the-scenes commentary
Where to watch: Netflix
Runtime: 97 minutes

Ariana Grande's 2020 Excuse Me, I Love is more of a concert film with a sprinkling of documentary-style moments as opposed to the other way around. Considering the movie was made using concert footage recorded only two years after the devastating bombing at Grande's 2017 concert in Manchester, the celebratory feel of the performance-centric film can be interpreted not as a phoned-in doc, but as an example of the pop star's incredible resilience and dedication to her fans.

"Though the majority of the movie focuses on this singer's powerhouse vocals during her 2019 Sweetener World Tour, there are glimpses into Grande's offstage life that are a refreshing contrast to her glam persona." — Chris Azzopardi, The New York Times


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'The World's a Little Blurry'

Apple TV+

Billie Eilish: The World's A Little Blurry

Metascore: 70
Best for: Fans of Billie Eilish who want an in-depth look at the life and recording process of the young artist
Where to watch: Apple TV
Runtime: 135 minutes

The goal of a documentary is to make viewers feel like they are seeing the subject in their most natural state, a feat that is achieved in Billie Eilish: The World's A Little Blurry. Eilish's success is celebrated in the film, which showcases some massive career milestones, including the release of her debut album and her Coachella set. Even with her superstar status, Eilish remains a relatable teenager who experiences heartbreak and self-doubt, as well as the joy of passing her driver's test and meeting her idol, Justin Bieber. Eilish's normalcy is clearly explained in the lengthy doc, which like the singer's real-life, heavily features her supportive and grounding family.

"Although the film runs long, it's hard to point out any scene that could be cut, because every moment adds to the collage that is Billie Eilish's world." — Natalia Barr, Consequence


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'Light Up the Sky'

Netflix

Blackpink: Light Up the Sky

Metascore: 66
Best for: K-Pop fans and those who want to know what they're missing
Where to watch: Netflix
Runtime: 79 minutes

For those new to the world of K-Pop, Blackpink: Light Up The Sky offers a crash course in the musical genre that has become an international sensation. The hugely successful four-piece BlackPink is the focus of their own 2020 documentary, which gives viewers an insider look into the band's intense years as trainees with YG Entertainment and their non-showbiz upbringings both inside and outside of South Korea. If you're looking for a film about in-group fighting, this movie has none. Fiercely loyal and supportive, the women champion each other throughout the doc, while also getting candid about the demands of their teen years spent training as dancers and singers and the difficulties of living in the public eye and away from home.

"Blackpink: Light Up the Sky manages to offer a welcome reminder that even for K-pop's reigning queens, all that glitters isn't always gold." — Brian Lowry, CNN


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'Halftime'

Netflix

Halftime: Jennifer Lopez

Metascore: 66
Best for: Fans of Jennifer Lopez as an actor, a dancer, and a singer
Where to watch: Netflix
Runtime: 95 minutes

As the title suggests, Lopez's 2022 Netflix documentary Halftime centers on her record-breaking performance at the 2020 Super Bowl, but it's much more than rehearsal footage and costume changes. The triple threat allows the camera access to her inner circle, including her family, glam squad, and creative team, which helps to show the incredible amount of work that went into Lopez starring in and producing 2019's Hustlers, as well as putting together her career retrospective Halftime performance, which included an important humanitarian message. The doc also gives an overview of Lopez's prolific career, one that has been plagued by sexism and racism, and often unfairly overshadowed by the artist's high-profile romances.

"You know someone is a major star when they can seem to stop time just by walking across a room in a certain way, and Halftime proves that Lopez is certainly one of that select group." — Dan Callahan, The Wrap


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'Miss Americana'

Netflix

Miss Americana

Metascore: 65
Best for: Music fans who have been waiting to see Taylor Swift unfiltered
Where to watch: Netflix
Runtime: 86 minutes

As one of the biggest musicians in the world, Swift has endured no shortage of criticism, from tabloids judging her dating life and inner friend circle, to think pieces on her refusal to get political. Swift takes on these topics and more in her revealing 2020 documentary Miss Americana, which catches the country-turned-pop star at a crossroads in her personal and professional life. Approaching her 30th birthday, Swift makes the decision to, as she says, remove the muzzle she placed on herself and use her platform to champion social justice causes, including LGBTQ+ rights. Directed by Emmy-winner Lana Wilson, Swift opens up in a way fans have never seen, discussing her struggles with an eating disorder and her bouts of depression, dealing with the pain of her mother's cancer diagnosis, and showing the joy that comes with embracing one's true self. 

"What's ultimately very endearing about Swift is her intelligence and self-awareness, qualities that also make her music compelling, sophisticated and capable of appealing both to adolescent kids and hipster musicologists." — Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter


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'Five Foot Two'

Netflix

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Metascore: 63
Best for: Anyone who wants an unguarded and unfiltered look inside the life of Lady Gaga
Where to watch: Netflix
Runtime: 100 minutes

Like Lopez's Halftime, Lady Gaga's Five Foot Two uses her Super Bowl performance as one of the central events in her 2017 documentary, which also takes a deep dive into the singer, dancer, and actor's personal life. Five Foot Two touches on Gaga's New York upbringing, her years of training, and her close relationship with her family (many of whom make appearances in the film). Chronicling the writing and recording of her deeply personal album Joanne, named for her late aunt, Five Foot Two goes beyond the stage and recording studio to showcase the mental, emotional and physical toll being Lady Gaga takes on the woman born Stefani Germanotta. Gaga's struggle with chronic pain is told in a visceral format, with viewers likely leaving the film with a newfound respect for Mother Monster.

"A riveting piece of work." — Daniel D'Addario, Time


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'Part of Me'

Paramount Pictures

Katy Perry: Part of Me

Metascore: 57
Best for: Music fans who want to see an artist remake herself into the person she was meant to be
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 93 minutes

Perry is known for her brightly colored, often outrageous costumes and set designs, two things on full display in her 2012 Part of Me documentary. But beyond the happy-go-lucky aesthetic of the pop star's California Dreams Tour is a portrait of an artist who has defied the odds. First, as a Christian singer who reinvented herself as a secular artist after being dropped from her label, and later as a bubble gum pop artist who proved herself as a serious singer and songwriter. Perry's resilience is highlighted throughout the film, especially in scenes showing the singer pushing through pain to smile, sing and dance for fans while enduring the devastating end of her marriage to Russell Brand.

"As it stands, her music gets under your skin and makes you feel good — and the movie makes you feel good about Katy Perry." — Mick LaSalle, San Fransico Chronicle


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'Never Say Never'

Paramount Pictures

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

Metascore: 52
Best for: People who love the sound of teenagers screaming as much as they like catchy pop hooks
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 106 minutes

Beliebers and the public are already hip to the singer's rags-to-riches backstory and YouTube discovery, which is told using home footage and new interviews in Jon M. Chu's 2012 film, but the doc still earns a spot on our list because of its impact on the genre. Grossing $99 million worldwide, the film and its use of 3D visuals influenced future pop docs, including Katy Perry: Part of Me and One Direction: This Is Us. Bieber's more recent documentaries, specifically his YouTube series Seasons, delve much further into the singer's personal life, including his health issues, substance abuse, his marriage, and his struggle with fame, topics that obviously weren't relevant or appropriate for a then-16-year-old. Still, Never Say Never is a valuable time capsule that acts as a reminder of the incredible success and in turn, the incredible amount of pressure that was placed on a young artist.

"As much a legitimate documentary as it is a 3D concert film and teen girl squeal-delivery device, the film possesses surprising moments of candor on the toil of teenage superstardom." — Andrew Barker, Variety