Netflix acquired rapper Kanye ‘Ye’ West’s documentary, jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, for a staggering $30 million. The doc is said to contain footage from over twenty years of his life and will provide perhaps the most brutal and raw depiction of the icon we’ve ever witnessed. Created by Coodie and Chike, aka Clarence Simmons and Chike Ozah, in their third collaboration with West, the documentary features archival footage and other domestic videos besides interviews to show the life and persona of the rapper and trace his career trajectory: from producer to icon.
Although Ye has not been an active part of the documentary, he has taken an interest in controlling the editing process. He even took to Instagram to talk about how he “must get final edit and approval” before its release on Netflix to “be in charge of [my own] image”. However, the filmmakers talked about how it was essential to keep things “from the perspective of a filmmaker” to make the project “authentic”. With the premiere due to arrive this week on Netflix, here are five other classic music docs that deserve your attention.
Music has always provided a safe space for its audience. The medium has been particularly comforting during the recent pandemic, with the tunes and beats providing an escape from reality. 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 about how they found their music. It is fascinating to know how some of them channelled the darkness that resided in their hearts to make something so positive and influential that it would change the lives of people for 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.
5 music documentaries to watch on Netflix before Kanye West’s:
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 actual archival footage comprising Lennon, Ono, and others close to the couple during the creative development process.
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.
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 from being just a creative idea to a cultural phenomenon.
Often referred to as Beychella, Beyoncé had created a defining moment in the music industry’s history wherein her powerful and euphoric performance showed her 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.
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 and intimate 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 evolved 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.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Liz Garbus, 2015)
Having received a tribute performance by John legend and 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 community. Garbus uses unseen archival footage in the documentary and interviews with people who knew Simone closely, making the documentary a compelling watch.
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.
The documentary helps show how difficult it is for pop stars to maintain their facade and shows Gaga’s admirable dedication to her career and 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 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.