Ranking 25 Pop Star Documentaries From Worst To Best

·37 min read
Graphic with multiple pop stars

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.

Photo illustration: Hartley Mellick; Everett Collection (Netflix, Paramount Pictures, Apple TV+, Christie Goodwin / Sony Pictures Releasing), Getty Images (Gilbert Carrasquillo, Kevin Mazur)

Honorable mention: Homecoming (2019) — Beyoncé:

Beyoncé stands at the top of bleachers

Okay, let's address the elephant in the room right away. Homecoming is the best film on this list. It is an immaculate recording of Queen B's 2018 Coachella-headlining set (commonly known as Beychella), with behind-the-scenes interstitial footage detailing the event's planning. Beychella is unequivocally the greatest concert ever performed. I will not be hearing arguments otherwise. If you wander into the comments talking about Queen performing at Live Aid, you can respectfully GTFO. The sheer scope of the instrumentation, the choreography, the concept, and the costuming alone sends this into the stratosphere. Add to that the fact that Beyoncé is performing INTENSE choreography while delivering pitch-perfect live vocals for two straight hours (with one sip of water before the last song), and that makes it a god-tier feat. No one else has combined these skills on this level (and for only two performances, no less). Factor in the Jay-Z, Solange, and Destiny's Child cameos, and Woodstock looks like a middle school talent show by comparison.

All that aside, this is predominantly a concert film. We get the entire set front to back, with some documentary interludes, and while many of the entries on this list feature concert footage, none gives us a show in its entirety. It feels unfair, then, to compare a film that is great primarily because it is filming an epic concert with documentaries that are aiming to do much more than just showcase a single event. Obviously, not including Homecoming would leave a gaping hole in this list, but also, it's a one-of-a-kind experience, and so I've opted to include a different Beyoncé doc in the ranking proper.

Parkwood Entertainment / Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

25.Driving Home 2 U (2022) — Olivia Rodrigo:

Olivia Rodrigo sticks her tongue out

Poor Olivia Rodrigo is just really out of her depth here. The 19-year-old has only been in the limelight since her breakout role on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series in late 2019, and she didn't release music until 2020. Disney obviously rushed this documentary into production after her album Sour blew up, but there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for the film. This is all the more true as the drama between her and fellow cast member Joshua Bassett, the supposed inspiration for the album, is not addressed in the documentary. (GIVE US THE TEA, OLIVIA!) The documentary, which barely crawls past the hour-and-15-minute mark, is padded with music videos for her album (which was itself rushed into production and only lasts 34 minutes) but still feels devoid of purpose. Rodrigo is obviously a rising star with plenty of great work ahead of her. At the barest of minimums, she should have waited to make a documentary following her first tour, because this could have been a two-minute clip that played in between episodes on the Disney Channel and covered all the salient information.


24.777 Documentary... 7Countries7Days7Shows (2013) — Rihanna:

Rihanna serves a drink at an afterparty

If you didn't know Rihanna had a documentary, that's probably for the best. Despite its subject being one of the most interesting pop stars around, the documentary manages to be a complete snoozefest. In 2012, to promote her new album Unapologetic, Rihanna embarked on a seven-day tour to perform seven concerts in a week, each in a different country. This bonkers feat of travel involved the pop star chartering a Delta Boeing 777 and cramming it with hundreds of fans, journalists, and industry insiders, dragging them along from LA to Mexico City to Toronto to Stockholm to Paris to Berlin to London to New York. With lost luggage, no sleep, Rihanna forcing passengers to do tequila shots, and a Big Brother Australia winner streaking through the aisles, the tour was by far the most unhinged bit of pop star shenanigans on this list. What starts like a dream trip quickly becomes misery bordering on Fyre Festival — and yet, this mayhem is squandered in this documentary. Partly due to a general lack of Rihanna, partly due to not wanting to make the pop star look bad, and partly due to footage quality akin to a '90s home video, the doc looks cheap and never gets at the interesting bits of the endeavor. Instead, we get some blurry concert footage, interviews with rogue members of the press, and lots of shots of people in airplane chairs. The documentary originally aired on Fox in 2013 and has relatively little cultural cachet. Hopefully, a bigger and better Rihanna documentary is in the works, as she's undergone quite the image transformation in the last decade.

Watch it on YouTube.

Kevin Mazur / WireImage

23.Alone Together (2021) — Charli XCX:

Charli XCX listens to her phone on headphones

If I were ranking these docs by how much I loved the pop star, this one would be MUCH higher, but unfortunately, Charli XCX's doc is a COVID doc (whomp, whomp). The documentary, which is largely filmed by Charli and her roommates, follows the singer as she creates her album How I'm Feeling Now during early quarantine with the help of her fans. Because of the technical and time constraints (the album was released on May 15, 2020, just two months after lockdown started) and the general sheen of COVID-fueled misery, the film feels small and sad. Charli definitely isn't using the doc as a vanity PR vehicle (as Olivia Rodrigo and plenty of artists to come are), and we see her raw in some of her lowest moments, but it feels less like a peek behind the curtain and more like a reminder of how everyone was unraveling in 2020. SO MANY ZOOM CALLS. I'm getting PTSD just thinking about it.

Greenwich Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection

22.Miley: The Movement (2013) — Miley Cyrus:

Miley Cyrus twerks on Robin Thicke

If you have ever spent too much time with a know-it-all, self-absorbed high schooler who thinks they're the hottest shit on planet Earth, then you understand viscerally the experience of watching this Miley Cyrus documentary. To be fair, I think that Cyrus has probably grown into a much more grounded, lovely human since 2013, but boy, oh boy, is she insufferable here. The documentary follows her in the lead-up to the release of her album Bangerz, which includes her post-Disney image rebrand and culminates in her controversial MTV Video Music Awards performance with Robin Thicke. Cyrus seems desperate to prove to the world (and herself) that she is a megastar, and so she spends her confessional time pontificating on how she is "starting a movement" (of what variety, it is hard to say), is the Britney Spears of a new generation (although the real Britney Spears, who appears here, seems a bit confused by her), and only wears cool vintage clothes she bought while shopping with Pharrell. She name-drops up the wazoo. She does a slightly problematic Shakira impression. She frequently says that if the album doesn't hit No. 1 on iTunes, then it is a failure. She praises Dr. Luke and performs the controversial "Blurred Lines" with Thicke, which is a hard sit in our post-#MeToo world. I'm not docking points for pop stars doing things that haven't aged well (that would be a very different list), but watching this hastily made documentary is an unpleasant experience because of how desperate and misguided the whole endeavor is. The songs from Bangerz are incredible bops, but unfortunately for Cyrus, in her quest to prove herself as a serious artist, she mostly just proved how young she was.

Watch it on YouTube.

Andrew H. Walker / WireImage

21.Runaway (2022) — Post Malone:

Post Malone performs on his Runway tour

If we are looking for a baseline music documentary, this is it. Runaway, which covers the genre-defying artist's 2019–20 tour of the same name, is giving the bare minimum. It follows Post Malone to various stops on the road. We see him do some songwriting, some recording, and some singing, but nothing particularly remarkable happens aside from him playing an obscene amount of beer pong. And compared with the concert setups we see in the docs higher up this list, Postie's are pretty bare-bones. He's singing on a smoky stage, but there are no backup dancers, choreography, or set changes. Just some fog machines and him occasionally spitting beer into the audience. The film gets a pickup at the end when we see his interactions with Ozzy Osbourne (who appears on "Take What You Want"), but aside from that, it's just kinda boring. We will reach plenty of higher highs and lower lows on this list, but Runway taps out here due to its sheer unremarkability.

Rick Kern / Getty Images

20.Miss Americana (2020) — Taylor Swift:

Taylor Swift gets ready for a show

With one notable exception, every documentary on this list was made, to some degree, with the involvement of the star at its center. And that means that each of these docs is, to some degree, a PR vehicle in which the star attempts to convey some sort of message they feel the world at large has overlooked. I would argue that in most cases, the harder the pop star is trying to drive home a narrative, the worse the documentary is. By attempting to make themselves look better, they turn out a sanitized, plastic version of themselves, which often leads to a less compelling (and somewhat shoehorned) narrative. The docs at the top of this list are the ones with the least varnish and the most unflattering, realistic views of their subjects, while docs that feel overproduced rank lower. This is something I'll be bringing up frequently as we move along, but I'm introducing the concept here because...

Taylor Swift is a mastermind when it comes to marketing narratives, and in this documentary, she is throwing her full weight into an image rebrand that comes off as a bit hollow, especially in hindsight. Post her World Snake Day cancellation, her media hiatus, and her return with the salty Reputation era, Swift was in need of a narrative revamp, and so, a behind-the-scenes look into her life (with various scenes on one of her two now-infamous private jets) seemed like the perfect place to "set the record straight," if you will. In the documentary, we see the toll negative public opinion took on her, how she attempts to bounce back with both Reputation and Lover, and her struggles to be an outspoken feminist voice in a largely male-controlled industry. Unfortunately, the whole thing comes across as a bit stagy, a PR vehicle engineered in a lab to sway the public at large back to her side.

And to be fair, the doc, which received generally positive reviews, especially from her fans, did its job. Looking back, however, the whole things feels even more self-serving, especially as the film's core message — that she's not afraid to enter the political space and throw her weight around — seems to have been an overpromise. While she haphazardly staked her claim as an LGBTQ ally in her "You Need to Calm Down" video, she has yet to make a statement regarding the barrage of 2022 anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping the nation. Nor has she made moves to support the right to abortion outside of retweeting Michelle Obama. She spent more energy recently defending her songwriting credits. And this isn't a ranking that takes politics into account, but Swift literally released a whole new song for the doc about being political, so I think it's applicable here. The documentary itself is very watchable, but it feels more like opportunistic brand management, with just enough sincerity to engender sympathy, than it does an honest look into her life and career.

But Taylor, please feel free to climb out from under your giant umbrella to prove me wrong. Your fans (who are largely LGBTQ and/or have the capacity for pregnancy) would love some support. This has been a real cruel summer.

Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

19.Chasing Happiness (2019) — Jonas Brothers:

The Jonas Brothers sit on steps together

I'm not sure if this Jonas Brothers documentary is necessarily insincere, but it is certainly stagy as hell. The film follows the brothers in the lead-up to the release of their comeback album Happiness Begins and also details the band's formation and disintegration back in the early 2010s. While they get into plenty of juicy details regarding their breakup and their father's ejection from his pastoral role because the band wasn't Christian enough, the whole thing, again, feels very scripted. The confessionals and voiceover moments all feel prewritten, or perhaps it's just that the three are awkward and stilted on camera? This awkwardness is compounded by various producer-prompted conversations and setups, like when the brothers play a drinking game that involves them asking each other intrusive questions about the band's breakup. While many of these docs have a fly-on-the-wall quality, Happiness Begins feels as if it had a shot list before filming even began, and the Jo Bros were just poked and prodded with unnatural questions until they delivered the dialogue needed.

Amazon / Courtesy Everett Collection

18.In Wonder (2020) — Shawn Mendes:

Shawn Mendes plays the piano

As with the Olivia Rodrigo and Post Malone docs, there doesn't seem to be much of a reason for this one. It follows Shawn Mendes on the 104-show tour for his self-titled third album (truly deranged how many shows this man does). We get a peek into him songwriting, his relationship with Camila Cabello, and, of course, his rise from Vine star to global icon. While certainly less is happening here than in the Jo Bros or T. Swift documentary, this feels much less varnished, and watching Mendes for 90 minutes is fascinating. Although unquestionably a sweetheart, he comes across as a very odd individual (at one point, he states that he wishes he could just "smoke a joint and eat beef jerky"), and his grappling with fame and anxiety seems genuine. The film, which is directed by music video creator Grant Singer, is also one of the more artistic in this lineup. The score is beautiful, and the camerawork is functioning in a more lyrical space. Trying not to constantly think about Benny Drama's Shawn Mendes impersonation, however, is a barrier to entry.

Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

17.Excuse Me, I Love You (2020) — Ariana Grande:

Ariana Grande performs at a concert

This Ariana Grande documentary has the exact same setup as the Post Malone documentary in that it is numbers from her Sweetener World Tour intercut with behind-the-scenes footage. Grande slots in higher on the list for three reasons. First, her tour footage is endlessly more interesting than the likes of Rihanna, Post Malone, and Shawn Mendes. She's got great crawling-on-a-table choreo and backup dancers whirling around her. Second, her offstage personality is endearing, and it's fun to watch her freak out upon receiving a message from Mariah Carey and titter around stadium locker room corridors. Lastly, she spends a good five minutes talking about her love of horror films, in particular Midsommar. If that isn't pandering to this writer, then I don't know what is. I would love a slightly more comprehensive doc on Grande, because she's been in the biz for years, but this one will tide me over.

Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

16.I Am Britney Jean (2013) — Britney Spears:

Britney Spears writes while looking at her laptop

While there have been several documentaries about Godney recently (Framing Britney Spears, Britney vs. Spears), the last documentary she was actually involved in the making of was this 2013 E! special about the lead-up to her Piece of Me Vegas residency. Post–all the drama surrounding her mental health and conservatorship, it's odd (and a bit unnerving) to go back and watch Spears learn choreography, approve costumes, and debut her Britney Jean album in relative normalcy. Clearly, there were plenty of nefarious goings-on behind the scenes, which makes you question the validity of all these docs, but the one unquestionable thing is what a sweetheart Spears is. You can very clearly see why she is a star, but also how she has been taken advantage of by members of her team. The film is a bizarre time capsule and feels fairly standard as a doc, but her personality is infectious, and her work ethic is meticulous. Wishing nothing but the best to her, and very excited if the Elton John collab is actually coming.

Not currently available to stream.

World of Wonder / E! Entertainment

15.Not Just a Girl (2022) — Shania Twain:

Shania Twain wears a cowboy hat

Many of the docs on this list, by virtue of following an artist at the midpoint of their career (or infancy, in the case of Olivia Rodrigo), are limited in scope. Shania Twain, however, falls on the higher end of the qualifying age range for this post, and so her documentary serves as much more of a career retrospective. For a historic career and eventful life (her parents died in a car crash, and she raised her younger siblings, got married to her producer six months after meeting him, and lost her singing voice due to Lyme disease), the doc is surprisingly bland. We trot through the milestones without much fanfare, and despite plenty of narration from Twain, I never felt that we got to know her aside from her being a nice lady with a nice voice who likes leopard print and being a mom. The whole project is based on the idea that Twain is a feminist icon, but it goes out of its way numerous times to claim she wasn't an "angry feminist," as if that would have been a bad thing. It also conveniently leaves out the most juicy piece of Twain's life: that she and her best friend basically swapped husbands after the woman had an affair with Twain's first husband. As someone not intimately acquainted with the pop-country star's life, I was entertained enough, but the whole thing lacked substance. I have, however, listened to "That Don't Impress Me Much" about 40 times since I saw the doc, so if the goal was to bump streaming numbers, consider this a success.

Melissa Renwick / Getty Images

14.Halftime (2022) — Jennifer Lopez:

Jennifer Lopez rehearses a dance move

The J.Lo doc, which opened the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, is a combination of the career retrospective (à la Not Just a Girl) and the "prepping for a concert"–style doc (à la I Am Britney Jean), so there is PLENTY of content here. We see Lopez's rise to fame as a dancer, actor, and then singer. We watch how the tabloids infiltrated her high-profile relationships. And we watch her as she prepares for her controversial and awe-inspiring Super Bowl halftime performance. Most interesting to me, however, was the Hustlers saga, as Lopez turned in a career-best performance in the stripper drama and endured a grueling awards season, only to be snubbed for an Oscar nomination (when she arguably should have won the trophy). The doc's goal was obviously to showcase Lopez as a supremely talented workaholic rather than just a vapid, pretty face, as she is often portrayed, and it mostly succeeds. The whole thing feels VERY polished, though, and J.Lo's interviews feel heavily workshopped. There was also definitely an alternative cut of this film that included her previous beau A-Rod, who has been scrubbed from the entire documentary despite presumably being present for many of the moments captured. It's that level of editing finesse that makes me wonder what non–highly glossed (and more interesting) sides of Lopez we're missing. It's not quite so propagandist as the T. Swift doc, and there is more substance here than in the Shania Twain one, but it's missing the vulnerability we'll see higher on the list.

Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

13.Never Say Never (2011) — Justin Bieber:

Justin Bieber performs at a concert

This documentary, and the two that follow it, form a lighthearted trio of touring romps. None of them have aims much higher than showcasing their pop star as having fun while traveling the country performing, but that's okay. Not every doc needs to be saddled with an "X changed music forever" narrative. While there had certainly been concert films and music documentaries prior to Bieber's Never Say Never, the film's explosive in-theater run sent plenty of other stars scrambling to replicate the format. We get some light origin story about Bieber busking on the streets of Canada and his fateful pairing with Swiftie nemesis Scooter Braun, but mostly, this is just the Biebs with his shaggy mop of hair doing cute things on tour (while tween girls scream and cry). I would, however, like to quibble with the documentary's main assertion: that selling out Madison Square Garden is a tremendous achievement. As one of the smallest arenas in one of the largest markets, MSG is incredibly easy to sell out. It's an expensive and highly sought-after booking, but if you're performing there, you're probably selling out. Biebs had nothing to worry about (aside from, of course, which purple article of clothing he'd be wearing while singing "Eenie Meenie").

Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

12.This Is Us (2013) — One Direction:

One Direction performs at a concert

One Direction saw the Bieber doc and said, "Copy paste." This is the same documentary. Swap in Simon Cowell for Scooter Braun. Swap in Harry Styles's quaff for Bieber's. Swap in the UK for Canada. Keep all the hyperventilating, weeping, nearly vomiting 14-year-old girls dragging their parents to the concerts. The reason this is ranked one slot higher is that One Direction (or at least Styles and Niall Horan) are endlessly more charismatic than the Biebs. Watching Styles return to the bakery he worked at and hug all his grandmotherly coworkers is the serotonin boost you need. Watching the five boys play pranks on one another and race golf carts backstage is swoonworthy. As with Never Say Never, this is doing nothing revolutionary, but it is an enjoyable romp and a reminder that "Kiss You" is an underappreciated bop.

Sony Pictures Releasing / Courtesy Everett Collection

11.Part of Me (2012) — Katy Perry:

Katy Perry performs with background dancers

Rounding out our good-time trio is Katy Perry's entry into the list. By virtue of being older and slightly more established than Justin Bieber or One Direction, she provides the documentarians with a bit more content to work with. Yes, we get her cotton candy, pop princess California Dreams Tour (in which she iconically forces her sister to dress up as Kathy Beth Terry in the "Last Friday Night" number). But we also delve into her upbringing and roots as a Christian singer, as well as her marriage to and divorce from Russell Brand. Perry, for better or worse, has also always been an artist to let it all hang out a bit more than the likes of J.Lo or T. Swift, so the whole thing feels a bit more raw and helter-skelter (in a good way). Watching Perry perform at her peak, touring for objectively one of the best pop albums of all time, made me mournful of her fall from grace. This documentary left me hungry for a comeback from the now-acclaimed pizza thrower. While problematic in the past and a bit awkward, she brings a sugary joy to pop music, and there is a whipped cream brazier–shaped hole in the pop music landscape that only she can fill. Let's bring back Katy Perry! Prove that it is, in fact, never really over.

Dale Robinette / Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

10.Songwriter (2018) — Ed Sheeran:

Foy Vance and Ed Sheeran play guitars together

I feel that I owe it to you, my loyal readers, to be honest. Back in 2017, I was clearly going through something, to the point where I listened to "Castle on the Hill" by Ed Sheeran enough to make it my top song of the year on Spotify. To add insult to injury, when Spotify decided to confront me with "My Decade Wrapped" in 2020, not one, but TWO Ed Sheeran songs were in my top five songs (I had apparently been injecting "Shape of You" into my veins steadily for three years as well). As a gay man, I find this to be a source of deep embarrassment. Why wasn't I diligent enough in my listening to Lady Gaga?

I confess this to inform you that I should not be trusted to deal with Ed Sheeran (the funniest part of Yesterday) without bias. Clearly, this Englishman has some kind of sonic grip on me. His aptly titled documentary mainly focuses on him writing the (Matthew Huff Spotify Wrapped–topping) songs from his album Divide. While some of these other docs dabble in their focus on the songwriting craft, this is basically just 90 minutes of watching Sheeran & Co. warble their way to the creation of what I clearly believe to be the most listenable album of the 2010s. I was oddly mesmerized by watching the process, and charmed by baby pictures of Sheeran that pop up in the mix as well. Why is he a songwriter? "I wasn't good at anything else," he says. We stan an honest, nerdy ginger king.

So, yes. I've somehow convinced myself to rank it this high. And yes, during the week Beyoncé and Maggie Rogers both released masterful albums, I have been listening to a song in which Sheeran sings in Spanish instead because I was influenced by this doc. I will continue to live in shame (but sort of a head-bopping shame).

Abramorama / Courtesy Everett Collection

9.Life Is But a Dream (2013) — Beyoncé:

Beyoncé holds Blue Ivy as a baby

Queen B's more renowned, acclaimed doc, Homecoming, was addressed earlier in the post as an honorable mention, so for the actual list, I watched her earlier HBO documentary. Pre–surprise Beyoncé drop, pre-Lemonade, pre-Beychella, and of course, pre-"Pure/Honey," Life Is But a Dream is the first of Bey's own visual projects, as she directed the documentary and filmed much of it herself on her laptop and with a camcorder (watching the usually regal Bey wander around, recording on a webcam, is a treat). While obviously polished, the documentary feels intimate, especially as far as Beyoncé is concerned, and candidly examines her journey to motherhood. We see her initial pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage before the climactic arrival of iconic shade giver Blue Ivy. While Bey is obviously (Sasha) fierce onstage, I think she's a fairly reserved, serious, earnest individual in real life, and that comes across here. This is not at all gritty or exceptionally enlightening, but it doesn't feel fake, and it is a pleasure to watch an artist of her caliber do absolutely anything. I do wish she had addressed her Nintendo DS ads, though, as they remain my favorite part of Beyoncé lore.


8.All I Know So Far (2021) — Pink:

Pink performs on a stage

In some ways, Pink's documentary is similar to Beyoncé's. Both focus predominantly on motherhood. Both focus on artists well into their historic careers performing career-retrospective concerts. Both include incredible vocal performances. Pink's documentary, which follows her on her 2018 Beautiful Trauma world tour, just feels a smidge more candid. The cameras follow Pink and her family through a variety of hotel suites and concert venues as she prepares for back-to-back shows at Wembley Stadium. We get to see the strong IDGAF identity she's known for as a performer and manager, but also the vulnerable cracks as she interacts with her husband and children. Having watched hours of concert footage in prep for this article, I do think Pink's aerial acrobatics are some of the most impressive concert feats, and watching her rehearse for those is mesmerizing. If I had to hang out with anyone on this list, Pink would be the obvious choice, as she seems the most low-key and relatable. There isn't a ton of drama here, and we don't get into her early career much (which I think is a missed opportunity), but this feels real and grounded, and who doesn't like watching a celebrity get slingshot across a soccer arena?

Andrew Macpherson / Amazon Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

7.Life in Pink (2022) — Machine Gun Kelly:

Machine Gun Kelly stands outside a house

Shocking that this documentary is not about Pink, given the name, and is actually about Mr. Megan Fox, the rapper/rock star/slightly pop star MGK. While MGK might not be an obvious choice for this list, he is giving some Avril Lavigne energy to me, and on Wikipedia is listed as "pop rap" and "pop punk," so he has been included. If I were dividing these documentaries into classes, we would have finally arrived at the A level. MGK has lived a very interesting life (from growing up without a mom in lower-class Cleveland to becoming a freestyle rapper to his high-profile relationship with Megan Fox) and is a very interesting human (his dark edge is countered in the doc by his doting relationship with his daughter). MGK is not afraid to let his demons out in this doc (something we haven't seen much of on this list up until now) and is candid about his mental health. We watch him prepare his album Tickets to My Downfall and his tour and, of course, attend his daughter's high school volleyball game. There isn't as much Megan Fox here as I'd like, but I think that's somewhat understandable. By baring his soul, MGK makes himself an extremely sympathetic narrator, and I'm rooting for him to succeed, to the point where I went and downloaded his albums on Spotify. But he did also plan a concert in 72 hours, which feels RIDICULOUS, given the amount of effort J.Lo put into her halftime show alone, so perhaps that's a place for growth.

Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection

6.Sheryl (2022) — Sheryl Crow:

Sheryl Crow performs at the Capitol

Sheryl Crow is taking the good bits from several of the lower-tier docs and combining them into something incredibly watchable. As with Shania and J.Lo, we're getting a full career retrospective (she started as a backup singer for Michael Jackson, she dated Lance Armstrong before his downfall, she survived breast cancer), but it somehow feels less like a glossy, Hollywoodized pat on the back and more like a candid retelling. As with Pink, we're getting to see the frank, no-nonsense personality (with both docs discussing how much lesbians love them), but we get to see Crow (and her great hair) on more than just one tour. As with many of these docs, we're getting a "They fought against the industry" type of outsider narrative, but with Crow, it feels more earned and less like self-delusion. She comes across as a talented workhorse whose little-engine-that-could energy slowly got her to the top despite obstacles. My knowledge of Crow going into the doc was slim, but I left with an appreciation for her and her music. While loving the craft is a throughline on most of these docs, Crow seems to actually know what she's doing (and does it well), while also remaining profoundly un-annoying. A lot of these celebs seem insufferable, and Crow just wants to play her 500 vintage guitars in the loft above her horse barn and record music for lesbians and then be left alone.

Imagecatcher News Service / Corbis via Getty Images

5.Simply Complicated (2017) — Demi Lovato:

Demi Lovato sits on a couch

Demi Lovato is #SimplyComplicated and is a consistently changing/learning/growing/exploring individual. So while this documentary is certainly a must-watch for its juicy content, it does feel incomplete. This is her second doc, following Stay Strong, a documentary about sobriety that she admits in Simply Complicated to being high while filming. Because this doc was recorded during a six-year span of sobriety for Lovato and focuses on the release of their comeback album Tell Me You Love Me, it is very candid about their previous struggles and doesn't go out of its way to soften blows. This is not an ego project but, rather, one that showcases the brutal landscape of being a child star in Hollywood and the many pitfalls that come with it. Shortly after its release, however, Lovato relapsed, and so later released her docuseries Dancing With the Devil, which is not eligible for this list but is a great companion piece. Like MGK, Lovato is working to overcome the struggles of her life, and that is a winding journey without a satisfying endpoint (something that is realistic but frustrating from a documentarian's perspective). But you can't help rooting for the scrappy belter while watching this doc, and if Lovato releases a new documentary every three years until I rot in my grave, I will watch them all.


4.Five Foot Two (2017) — Lady Gaga:

Lady Gaga crouches behind a chair

Mother Monster is giving unfiltered chaos here. If she has an agenda in this documentary aside from proving that she cares a lot about her art (something I don't think was ever in doubt), I'm unsure of what it is. The documentary follows Gaga around for a year as she releases Joanne, preps for her iconic, zip-lining Super Bowl halftime performance (a doc move J.Lo utilized as well), and wears a collection of cowboy hats. Unlike many of these vanity projects, however, that leave us with a highly curated version of the pop star, Gaga's doc is perfectly comfortable with showing the new Harley Quinn, warts and all. She hits Mark Ronson's car. She takes her top off during casual meetings with her management team. She struggles with fibromyalgia and smokes weed. She speaks sometimes incoherently about her unbridled, purely earnest artistic endeavors. And in what she clearly hopes will be an emotional moment, she shares a demo of her song "Joanne" with her grandmother (Joanne was Gaga's aunt who had passed away), only to be met with a fairly understated reaction. Can you imagine Taylor or J.Lo or even Beyoncé keeping that scene in? Never. Gaga is easily one of the most talented musicians on this list. She's a gifted vocalist. She can dance with the best of them. She gives herself fully over to her art. And all that comes across in the documentary, but we also get a clear picture of Gaga as an eccentric, sometimes overly emotional being who seems devoid of self-consciousness. This is the gold standard that pop docs should aspire to. (I should also say for the record that Gaga is MY pop star. Love you, Mama!)

Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

3.Show 'Em What You're Made Of (2015) — Backstreet Boys:

Backstreet Boys perform on Good Morning America

(Backstreet) Boy, oh boy! The real dark horse in this documentary showdown is this film detailing the comeback of the heartthrob boy band with their 2013 album In a World Like This. As an NSYNC boy (I still have a crush on JC), I was not intimately acquainted with this quintet, but this documentary is JUICY. First, we have the drama that comes by way of five big egos being tied together again for a new album and tour, and while they are trying to reconcile, tension is HIGH. Nick Carter screaming at Brian Littrell because he can't sing as well as he used to due to a MEDICAL CONDITION is the drama Real Housewives wishes it could deliver. Second, the way the band was formed, at the hands of con artist Lou Pearlman, brings its own batch of mesmerizing tales. Third, there is an active desperation on display here that is unlike anything present in the other docs on this list. To watch five middle-aged men claw the music industry in search of their former glory is transfixing, and while part of you has empathy for them, you also can't help but feel some Schadenfreude in watching privileged white men squirm. There is a melancholic examination of aging and nostalgia here that isn't present in the Shania Twain and Sheryl Crow docs, even though they were contemporaries. The construction of the doc, which revisits the hometowns of the members, is obviously staged, but unlike the Jonas Brothers doc, where the three seem stiff and self-conscious on camera, this concept works because the Backstreet Boys (especially Nick) seem unfazed by the setup. For whatever reason, this doc flew under the radar when it came out, but it is a great popcorn-munching watch (although maybe not during the scene where they talk about drinking vomit on a dare).

Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

2.The World's a Little Blurry (2021) — Billie Eilish:

Finneas O'Connell and Billie Eilish perform together

On paper, a Billie Eilish documentary shouldn't work. She's only a teenager here, and as we saw with the Olivia Rodrigo and Miley Cyrus docs, making a film about someone so early in their career often means a dearth of content. The reason Eilish's film is so effective, however, is that it traces her rise to fame in real time, something that is unique in these career retrospectives and let's-plan-a-concert films. From early writing and recording sessions in her brother's bedroom to her obsessive love for Justin Bieber to her driver's test, we see Eilish as a very normal young person falling into extreme fame. She's candid about her struggles with self-harm, with her Tourette's syndrome, and with the mental health spiral that came about when she had to stop dancing because of a leg injury. Instead of looking back at the early days of a career with glossy nostalgia, we get to watch as she plays her early concerts, tearfully hugs Bieber, and has no idea who the hell Orlando Bloom is when he talks to her. There is a reason this was shortlisted for an Oscar last year, and that's because it's a compelling piece of filmmaking. And while the doc didn't win, Eilish did take home an Oscar for her song in No Time to Die. She's halfway to an EGOT. Let's get the woman in a revival of Funny Girl stat.

Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

1.Amy (2015) — Amy Winehouse:

Amy Winehouse sings at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards

I mean, let's be real. Amy was always going to top this list. The documentary won the Oscar, for Chrissake, and plenty of the films on this list would be lucky to have received a single vote. The documentary profiles the rise to fame and tragic death of pop/jazz singer Amy Winehouse, with candid looks at her substance abuse, toxic relationships, and eating disorder. This is the only documentary on the list not to directly involve the star (because sadly, she died prior to its creation), but without the ego of the subject involved in the editing process, the film is allowed to venture into realms it most certainly would not have reached had Winehouse been alive. And while the documentary has the structure of a Greek tragedy, with viewers bracing for the horrible ending we know is coming, the film still manages to showcase much of the joy and talent that made Winehouse such a star in the first place. Her technical prowess, her love of Tony Bennett, and her (sometimes misplaced) loyalty are all on full display. They make the finale all the more gut-wrenching, but they deliver Winehouse to the audience as a fully formed human in a way that only the Billie Eilish and Lady Gaga documentaries get close to. This film also calls into question the entire apparatus of fame and the mental health concerns it brings, moving beyond the scope of one pop star to that of the entire music industry, again putting this doc in a class all its own. This is not only the best pop star documentary on this list but also one of the best documentaries in recent history, and a fitting tribute to the legacy of one of the most talented musicians of our era.

Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic

The National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy.

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