LOS ANGELES (AP) — Looking for something to watch this holiday season? While Barbenheimer is alluring2023 was a great year for documentaries – especially music documentaries, with titles ranging from the biggest names in the business to considered explorations of small independent music communities.
So pass the remote: Here are some of the Associated Press’ favorite music documentaries of the year — in no particular order — along with where to find them.
“Renaissance: The Beyoncé Movie”
Was there ever a question about placing this movie on this list? “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” chronicles the superstar’s 39-city world tour and the blood, sweat and tears that went into making the massive production happen. It’s a welcome peek behind the curtain, directed by one of music’s great perfectionists. And while Bey has been largely mysterious for the past decade—interviews are rare—here, she’s a master at giving her audience plenty of access, including a few moments with daughter Blue Ivy.
Like the AP’s Jonathan Landrum writes in his review, the movie is not included in every song; rather, “‘Renaissance’ is more about getting a glimpse into Beyoncé’s life — if only for a little.”
WHERE TO WATCH: “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” is still in theaters. Find a projection here.
“Taylor Swift: The Tour of Ages”
Those who managed to get Eras Tour concert tickets can relive the experience by watching all three hours of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour.” almost an exact replica from her blockbuster performance spanning several August shows at Southern California’s SoFi Stadium. For those who didn’t attend, this film is an opportunity to witness the magic. And for everyone, it gives viewers the best seat in the house. Just don’t expect any narrative breaks or behind-the-scenes insights. It’s the full concert on the movie screen—no more, no less.
WHERE TO WATCH: “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is still in theaters. Find a projection here. You can also rent the movie on Amazon’s Prime Video for $19.89.
A great documentary doesn’t want to be the definitive work on the subject; instead, it allows insight and, ideally, a new framework in which to understand his subject. Clocking in at a respectable 90 minutes, Showtime’s “Thriller 40” is an in-depth exploration of Michael Jackson a record that changed pop music forever, with commentary from Mary J Blige, Usher, Mark Ronson, Maxwell, will.i.am, Brooke Shields and more, and directed by influential cultural critic Nelson George.
WHERE TO WATCH: Thriller 40 airs on Paramount+ with Showtime.
“All in Business”
In 2021, the rapper Biz Marky passed away. The “Clown Prince of Hip-Hop” was just 57. He left behind an incredible legacy, celebrated for his beatboxing skills, turntable mastery and the 1989 classic “Just a Friend.” The documentary, directed by Sasha Jenkins, chronicles the life and talent of Marky, an often misunderstood New York native who brought humor to the rap game. Viewers are offered a crash course in Markie through his comedic spirit and loved ones. Any scenes depicting his final days in hospital, for example, were done using a puppet – something he would no doubt have laughed at.
WHERE TO WATCH: “All Up in the Biz” airs on Paramount+ with Showtime.
“The Elephant 6 Recording Co.”
This documentary may be the least recognizable name on this list, and that’s part of the appeal. The Elephant 6 Recording Co. is a deep dive into one of the most influential indie rock bands of the ’90s, the Southern scene that spawned bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, and Apples in Stereo. It’s a little stretched out and very weird, almost mirroring the avant-garde works of its psychedelic subjects. Consider this one, from first-time director Chad Stockflett, a welcome alternative to the pop star-focused (and produced) documentaries of the moment, and a reminder that the most innovative art and music comes from the community.
WHERE TO WATCH: “The Elephant 6 Recording Co.” is available to rent or purchase via Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video in the US Outside the US, it is available for purchase on Vimeo On Demand.
“Little Richard: I’m Everything”
Little Richard lays the groundwork for rock and roll; he is the history of music. So why isn’t he the biggest name in the genre? Despite his revolutionary talent, Richard is more often remembered solely as the mastermind behind ‘Tutti Frutti’. (Unless, of course, Elvis Presley is miscredited.) It’s an unfortunate truth about white musicians appropriating the work of black artists, which director Lisa Cortez works to highlight in the documentary “Little Richard: I’m Everything.” The film gets to the heart of Little Richard’s work, how he built his incredible personality, and all the ways the world chooses to under-celebrate him. With this film, it is impossible to continue on this path.
WHERE TO WATCH: “Little Richard: I Am Everything” airs on MAX.
SUGA: Road to D-DAY
Played while BTS members take turns performing South Korea’s Compulsory military service, Disney+’s “SUGA: Road to D-Day” follows K-pop’s most elusive talent as he travels from Seoul to Tokyo, Las Vegas and beyond for his debut solo album under the moniker Agust D. At times, it’s an extensive study of himself and his work; in others, it’s a return to the Korean rap underground sensibility that made it.
WHERE TO WATCH: “SUGA: Road to D-Day” is streaming on Disney+. While there, fans can stream “BTS Monuments: Beyond the Star,” a documentary series focused on the entire seven-member group.
Now there’s a little something – something to wake you up before you go. Netflix released “WHAM!” earlier this year, an extensive documentary about the unlikely pop music duo of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. It boasts never-before-seen footage of the pair (collected previously Michael passed away in 2016. of course), charting their explosive journey from teenagers with dreams to global icons.
WHERE TO WATCH: “Wham!” is streaming on Netflix.
“Winona Judd: Between Hell and Hallelujah”
A tragedy befell country superstar Winona Judd, who was previously featured in a new documentary, Winona Judd: Between Hell and Hallelujah. Her mother, a longtime musical collaborator and country music great Naomi Judd, died by suicide and here Winona works to rebuild her life and go on her last tour. It is certainly a story of resilience and an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of the Judd family.
WHERE TO WATCH: Wynonna Judd: Between Hell and Hallelujah airs on Paramount+.
“Revolt in Paradise: The Birthday Party”
Formerly an Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave was Nick Cave, he was in The Birthday Party, a chaotic Melbourne post-punk band born out of fluffy and fuzzy guitar pedals in the late 70s. This differed from the UK sound, where pop hooks could still be discerned over rhythmic bass lines. The birthday party favored the embittered spirit, wrote hideous songs and descended into chaos at every turn. Naturally, this makes for a compelling narrative and viewing experience: how a band’s aim to be completely obscene and dangerous led to cult classic songs about God and death. It’s also funny.
WHERE TO WATCH: “Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party” is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.