“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind, but which mankind cannot comprehend.” — Beethoven
Music has been a significant part of all our lives, especially during such unprecedented times when the world is at a loss and uncertainty looms large with a bleak future. We are eternally grateful to the musicians who have helped us find peace and solace within ourselves and are continuing to do so. Whether it is classical music comprising symphonies and stringed quartets or retro-pop tracks, disco music or just lo-fi hip hop, humans have always found peace and respite in music to help find clarity amidst the pervading darkness.
Musicians, singers, opers and more cannot be thanked enough for their contribution. Each of them has their individual stories to tell about how they found their own music. It is extremely fascinating to know how some of them channelled the darkness that resided in their hearts to make something so positive and influential that would change the lives of people in the generations to come.
While most of their lives have been elusive, enshrouded in mystery, some directors and producers have taken it upon themselves to re-tell the stories of such people with passion and vigour and help the world comprehend the music better. Demystifying the one behind the lovely tunes has helped one find the truth in the music they listen to.
Netflix has a wide range of documentaries that they are proud of. Music biopics and documentaries form an integral part of Netflix’s collection and have been enjoyed by all. There is a little bit of something for all music aficionados, whether they prefer pop, R&B, jazz or classical.
Here are the 10 best music documentaries streaming on Netflix now:
10 best music documentaries on Netflix right now
10. Keith Richards: Under the Influence (Morgan Neville, 2015)
Keith Richards, a legend of rock and roll and filled with the frenzy and madness induced by drugs, sex, music and more, is the centre of attention in the documentary that traces the origin of him finding his calling. A prominent member of Rolling Stones, Richards’ evolution is shown in the film as well as footage from various legendary recordings (with Tom Waits) are included in the film.
While music lovers will be enthralled by the detailed documentary, one wishes it were longer and more fleshy. From showing Richards’ encounters with music icons to other aspects of his life including song-writing, recording and more, the documentary sets in the feeling of nostalgia about the bygone times while highlighting the wonderful escape Richards found in his music. It is a must-watch for all.
9. Gaga: Five Foot Two (Chris Moukarbel, 2017)
This documentary provides an unfiltered insight into the life of Lady Gaga as she tours with her entourage and prepares for her concerts, trying to put on her best self for her fans. A beloved provocateur, Lady Gaga is not all about glitz, glam and madness and suffers from chronic illnesses as well.
The documentary helps show how difficult it is for pop stars to maintain their facade and shows Gaga’s admirable dedication to her career as well as other personal insights, including her infamous feud with Madonna.
While we wish the documentary had more of the footage of her performing on-stage, it is an honest and sincere insight into the struggles and pressure in the life of a pop star. Her meltdowns humanise her and show a new side to Gaga which is actually pretty captivating, juxtaposed to her uber-confident on-stage persona. It helps show the difference between a simple woman and a superstar as she tries to navigate herself through various challenges lying in her path, finding solace in music.
8. What Happened, Miss Simone? (Liz Garbus, 2015)
Having received a tribute performance by John legend as well as a nomination at the Academy, the documentary is based on the extraordinary life of Nina Simone who was known as the High Priestess of Soul.
An American singer turned civil rights activist, Simone was known for her spiritedness and fierce courage as she tried to reclaim her artistic agency amidst the violent era of 1960s America. It shows how the singer used her voice to do so and had the unabashed bravery of leaving her home, career and country before moving to Liberia to dedicate herself to the cause of the marginalised.
Fascinating and illustrious, Simone’s relentless drive for a better society helped her create a positive influence using music and her social activism. She is filled with rage, depression and a longing for a better society. Garbus uses unseen archival footage in the documentary along with interviews with people who knew Simone closely, making the documentary a compelling watch.
7. I Called Him Morgan (Kasper Collin, 2016)
This Swedish-produced documentary took seven years to develop with three years for editing. It is based on the life of a jazz musician named Lee Morgan who was shot dead by his wife while he was performing. The unexpected homicide sent tremors of shock and horror throughout the jazz community, haunting their friends and family. The documentary focuses on the relationship between Morgan and his wife Helen who bonded over their love for jazz and music.
Collin does a wonderful job representing their love for jazz as well as each other. With stunning visuals and mood-defining aesthetics, the documentary is Collin’s love letter to retro New York City and jazz. Well-paced and heartrending, it is a narrative of reverence, love, loss and pain on American soil, complemented by the wonderful tune of black classical music or jazz.
6. BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky (Caroline Suh, 2020)
K-Pop is a global phenomenon with groups such as BTS, Blackpink, Seventeen and more taking the world by storm. With stunning visuals, a wide variety of music and choreographed performances, K-Pop is gradually taking over the world.
Blackpink is one such girl group comprising 4 members, Lisa, Rosé, Jisoo and Jennie, who have become the highest-grossing K-Pop girl group. The documentary takes a look at their meteoric rise to success, the kind of effort, hard work and dedication that was required of them during their trainee days as well as now and how their individual characters bring in a sort of uniqueness to the group.
“Blackpink in your area” is now absolutely true as Netflix has released this documentary that gives us an insight into the phenomenon that has swept all over the world. Adam Del Deo, the VP at Netflix Documentary features could not stop gushing about Blackpink’s dedication as well as Caroline Suh’s innate and delicate handling of their story. “Director Caroline Suh’s trusted relationship with Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa offers organic and honest moments that give viewers an authentic inside look into the lives of Blackpink, as well as the dedication and gruelling preparation each member puts into every hit song, history-making performance and sold-out arena tour.”
5. Miles Davis: Birth of Cool (Chris Perkel, 2019)
Revolving around the life of the legendary jazz icon and trumpet player Miles Davis, known for his groundbreaking achievements, the documentary helps deconstruct the life of this complex, “larger than life” figure via various interviews, pictures, footage and audio clips including recordings as well as close conversations with his peers, friends, family and scholars.
For those who want to understand what was so special about this legendary icon, the documentary is a must-watch as it portrays how admirable he was as a personality. Giving a chronological recap of his life, the documentary traces how his music evolves over the years with his creative and innovative approach, which helped him produce seminal bodies of work.
The documentary does not discount the various troubles that he had that is contrasted to the beauty in his music, demystifying and humanising the icon who is flawed yet gifted at the same time.
4. Miss Americana (Lana Wilson, 2020)
Based on the life and fruitful career of Taylor Swift, the American singing sensation, the film focuses on her journey to stardom within the highly competitive male-dominated music industry, showing how she battled various obstacles in form of family ailments, insecurities, personal demons, lack of privacy as well as sexual assault to get here.
Not only is it an insight into her personal life but also a social commentary that portrays the birth of her political sensibility regarding feminism, LGBTQ+ rights and more.
Although the documentary has been criticised for being seemingly “staged” and “opaque”, it chronologically portrays various events in the singer’s life. The documentary helps humanise the star and shows her life that is as flawed and as troubled as ours, beset with obstacles. Raw and sincere, Miss Americana is indeed awe-inspiring.
3. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Martin Scorsese, 2005)
Bob Dylan is one of the most influential and revolutionary musicians in history. Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, the documentary traces the legendary journey of Dylan from his humble Minnesota roots to his Greenwich coffee house days to the obstacle-ridden climb to stardom. A biographical narrative, Scorsese dramatizes Dylan’s life using raw and sincere material.
The documentary abounds in various interviews and conversations as well as film footage that gives intimate details into the singer’s life. The title of the film had been derived from Dylan’s single ‘Like a Rolling Stone’.
Scorsese gives a beautiful insight into his life that is raw, sincere, perceptive yet elusive; Dylan remains engulfed in a thick fog of mystery that is almost impenetrable and makes him the enigmatic and popular sensation that he is. An amazing filmmaker gives an amazing slice of life story about an amazing singer who is a defining figure in American History.
2. John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky (Michael Epstein, 2017)
John Lennon, one-fourth of the global culture-defining phenomenon The Beatles, was celebrated for the iconic Imagine album following his departure from the band. The documentary tells the unknown story about the development of the album which was a result of the collaboration between the creative geniuses of Lennon and Yoko Ono both professionally and personally
The documentary features real archival footage comprising Lennon, Ono and others close to the couple during the creative process of developing the album.
It features various unheard interviews, audio and video clips as well as the first-ever audio demo of the song. It shows Lennon at his peak, making music that emanates from his distinguished worldview as well as Oko’s immense influence on him, upholding the beauty of the life they shared together.
1. Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé (Beyoncé, Ed Burke, 2019)
Beyoncé is a pop-culture phenomenon. Often referred to as Queen Bey, her empowering music and gracious presence is adored by millions. She was the first black woman to have headlined the Coachella festival in 2018 where she paid tribute to the historicity of Black culture. The film provides a closer and more intimate look into the performance and the emotional evolution of the performance from being just a creative idea to a cultural phenomenon.
Often referred to as Beychella, Beyoncé had created a defining moment in the history of the music industry wherein her powerful and euphoric performance showed her as triumphant, glowing and fierce while packing in a political message relevant to the black people. By incorporating quotes and sayings from Black intellectuals as well as bringing in various other Black singers to share the stage with her, this wonderful singer helped the world celebrate and revel in the beauty of Black culture; Beychella helped reclaim the agency for the entire Black community and was one of the most definitive and historically relevant moments in pop music.