In 2009, clairvoyant prophets/supernatural spirit guides Beyoncé and Lady Gaga sang "Tape me on your videophone. I can handle you. Watch me on your videophone." I can only assume that the pop stars of the world heard those fizzy lyrics and speed-dialed their management teams to demand they be taped on videophones. The result was a never-ending slew of documentaries following the buzziest Top 40 artists of the world as they perform their biggest hits.
An alternative origin story for the onslaught of pop star documentaries in the last decade is the success of Justin Bieber's Never Say Never, which greatly exceeded expectations at the box office. Taking in over $73 million domestically, it remains the third-highest-grossing documentary in the US (behind only Fahrenheit 9/11 and March of the Penguins). It signaled to musicians that there is an appetite for behind-the-scenes footage of A-listers songwriting, recording, and touring. Since the 2011 Bieber release, nearly every major pop star has released at least one documentary, with Sheryl Crow, Machine Gun Kelly, Olivia Rodrigo, Post Malone, Shania Twain, and Jennifer Lopez adding their entries this year alone. And it seems like only a matter of time before the few holdouts (like Adele, Justin Timberlake, Xtina) debut their own films.
But having spent the last month watching hours of artists discussing how hard touring is, sharing their demos with grandparents, and revisiting their elementary schools (all of which are pivotal moments in the genre), I can say that not all pop star documentaries are created equal. For every raw peek behind the curtain comes an overproduced PR vehicle. For every genuine emotion caught on camera comes a stiff, prewritten soundbite. For every shocking story about drinking someone else's vomit comes a bland tale about competing in a talent show.
So I am here to separate the vanity projects from the artistic masterpieces in a classic BuzzFeed ranking. I'm ranking based on the entertainment value (how interesting the material is, how much new information we're getting, how many fights there are), but also on the artistic value of both the film (documentary filmmaking is, after all, an Oscarworthy craft) and the subject (are they themselves producing great art in the doc itself?).
But before we get to the ranking, a few caveats on what made this list and what did not:
1) The film had to be a documentary, at least in part. So straight-up concert recordings and visual albums do not count. Sorry, Lemonade and Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids.
2) The documentary must focus on a pop star. That term is a VERY subjective one, but I cut people predominantly known for rap, rock, and classical music. So Kanye, Metallica, Oasis, and Kenny G all will not be appearing here. Artists who are harder to define, like Machine Gun Kelly, Post Malone, and Sheryl Crow, however, do appear below.
3) I'm only covering films, not series. That means that Justin Bieber's Seasons and Demi Lovato's Dancing With the Devil don't qualify.
4) To save myself a ton of work, I also restricted this to documentaries about pop icons who have worked predominantly post-2000. So Madonna and Prince aren't here.
5) Lastly, I picked only one documentary per artist. A few people on this list have several documentaries, but I selected the one I think is most prominent and culturally relevant. So for Bieber, I went with Never Say Never over Believe.
With these stipulations, I ended up with 25 documentaries. Here they are, ranked from worst to best.