In 2009, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, the visionary icons of our time, harmoniously sang the enchanting words, “Tape me on your videophone. I can handle you. Watch me on your videophone.” It’s hard to resist the belief that the pop stars of the world heard those effervescent lyrics and hurriedly dialed their management teams to demand a place on videophones. What followed was an unceasing influx of documentaries that captured the essence of the world’s most sensational Top 40 artists as they graced us with their chart-topping hits.
While one could attribute the rise of pop star documentaries in the last decade to the phenomenal success of Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never,” there is more to this tale. This unexpected box office triumph, raking in over $73 million domestically, solidified its place as the third-highest-grossing documentary in the US—trailing only “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “March of the Penguins.” Bieber’s documentary signaled a thirst for behind-the-scenes footage, revealing the songwriting, recording, and touring processes of A-list musicians. Since then, nearly every major pop star has treated fans to at least one captivating documentary. This year alone, notable names like Sheryl Crow, Machine Gun Kelly, Olivia Rodrigo, Post Malone, Shania Twain, and Jennifer Lopez have added their fascinating entries, while Selena Gomez’s documentary recently debuted on Apple TV+. We can only anticipate the future releases from the remaining holdouts such as Adele, Justin Timberlake, and Xtina.
Nonetheless, not all pop star documentaries are created equal. After spending countless hours engrossed in the lives of these artists—observing them wrestle with the challenges of touring, sharing their musical creations with grandparents, and revisiting their humble beginnings (all pivotal moments within the genre)—I can safely say that some documentaries transcend mere vanity projects to become artistic masterpieces. However, for each raw glimpse behind the curtain, there exists an overproduced public relations endeavor. With every genuine emotion captured on camera, we encounter a scripted soundbite devoid of authenticity. And while we may gasp at the shocking tales of consuming someone else’s vomit, we also endure mundane anecdotes concerning talent show competitions.
Hence, I embark on the noble endeavor of distinguishing between vanity and artistry through a classic BuzzFeed ranking. This ranking is based not only on entertainment value but also on the artistic merit of both the film itself—acknowledging documentary filmmaking as an Oscar-worthy craft—and the subject’s own artistic contributions within the documentary. Before we delve into the ranking, it is essential to establish some criteria for inclusion and exclusion:
The film must qualify as a documentary, at least in part. Therefore, straight-up concert recordings and visual albums, sorry “Lemonade” and “Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids,” do not make the cut.
The focus of the documentary must be on a pop star. While the definition of a pop star is subjective, I have excluded individuals primarily associated with rap, rock, and classical music. Kanye, Metallica, Oasis, and Kenny G shall not appear here. However, artists with a more elusive categorization, like Machine Gun Kelly, Post Malone, and Sheryl Crow, are present within our ranking.
This article will only cover films and not documentary series. Consequently, Justin Bieber’s “Seasons” and Demi Lovato’s “Dancing With the Devil” do not meet the requirements.
For practical reasons, I limited the selection to documentaries about pop icons who have predominantly emerged post-2000. Therefore, you won’t find Madonna or Prince on this list.
Lastly, to prevent an overwhelming number of entries, I have chosen only one documentary per artist. Although some artists have multiple documentaries to their name, I have selected what I deem to be the most prominent and culturally significant. For instance, when considering Justin Bieber, I decided on “Never Say Never” over “Believe.”
Adhering to these parameters, I present to you a comprehensive ranking of 26 remarkable pop star documentaries, ranging from the least compelling to the absolute best. Brace yourself for an exciting journey into the lives of the brightest stars in the musical galaxy.
To explore the world of pop star documentaries and discover more captivating stories, click here: 5 WS