The return of music documentaries: are they showing their true colours?

Words: Lavinia Petrucci | Subbing: Marija Tomsone

Documentaries have been a tool for music artists to express themselves in ways they can’t with press interviews. In the past few years we have seen some quality ones come out such as Amy or What Happened, Miss Simone? and fun ones like Katy Perry’s Part of Me.

But with three major documentaries of this genre being released in the last month, a true come back is upon us.


Demi Lovato’s Simply Complicated gives an insight of the singer’s life without forgetting to promote her new album. She seems to open up about everything, from being bullied in school to the first time she ever tried cocaine. It does not seem like a casual documentary in which the viewers are invisible, probably because trying to fit her entire life in an hour and 18 minutes meant that there was no time to waste. What is particular about Demi exposing her past problems on camera is that this is not her first documentary about it. In 2012 Demi Lovato: Stay Strong aired on MTV; it was supposed to document her recovery with her personal struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. However, in the new You Tube Original documentary that she co-produced, Demi says that she was on cocaine while filming the first one. Saying this at the beginning of the documentary could have brought up some trust problems about what we would have heard next, but the fans reactions was everything but that given that everyone seemed to appreciate her honesty.


Lady Gaga’s Five Foot Two was released on Netflix from September 22nd. The director’s approach is completely different from Demi’s one. We are almost a fly on the wall here and the fact that there aren’t one on one interviews with family members or best friends makes it more intimate, maybe too much. There are more than a few scenes about her constant struggle with chronic pain and fibromyalgia. Even when talking about Joanne, the aunt she never met who is the reason behind her latest album title, she tries to create an emotional moment with her grandmother but her reaction is not what Gaga expected so it gets slightly awkward. She takes pride in her frankness, from talking about Madonna not saying how she feels directly to her face to her broken engagement with Taylor Kinney and her other relationships that failed due to her career.  In the first minutes, she said: “I’m Italian and from New York…so if I got a problem with somebody, I’m gonna tell you to your face”, but when it comes to her career the only aspects mentioned are the positive ones. It was interesting to see her preparation for her Super Bowl Halftime performance, which was certainly the highlight of her artistic path. But if it would have been fair to show her talking about the lows of her career as well, like the ARTPOP flop and Joanne itself maybe not doing as well as she may have wanted.


George Michael: Freedom aired on Channel 4 on October 16, it was extremely different from the other documentaries in many ways, also because at the beginning Kate Moss tells us that George was putting his finishing touches to it days before he passed away.

What is really missing from the shots is the singer himself; we get parts of old interviews given to MTV or others which seems odd considering this wasn’t a documentary from E! Entertainment but co-directed by George. There would not be any evidence of his contribution if it wasn’t for the voiceover. The Daily Mirror reported that he was done with the voiceover before his death, but what stands out from the final credits after all the numerous guests stars is “Simon Rutter as George Michael.” He might be the man inside the house that can be seen through the window but it is never specified. What is also suspicious is the fact that only the vinyl given to Stevie Wonder was autographed and the guest stars seem very emotional when talking about him. So, if they interviewed most of them after his death, how were they going to fill the rest of the minutes without them?

It’s safe to say that with the amount of parts of performances and music videos this documentary is clearly aimed at fans; you won’t really discover something new about his drug addiction or troubles with the law. Except for a clip from 2012 of his Symphonica Tour, the past 15 years of his life are never explored in any way.

From Pink dropping a short documentary on Apple Music now that she released a new album to Chris Brown trying to save his reputation with the Netflix documentary made available this October, it is important to remember that most of the time these are part of the promotional strategy so we should watch them with a critical eye.

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