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What to stream: 'The Boy from Medellin' and other great music documentaries

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service on

Published in Entertainment News

This Friday, May 7, “The Boy from Medellín,” a documentary about the Colombian reggaeton superstar J Balvin drops on Amazon Prime Video. Directed by acclaimed documentarian Matthew Heineman, the film chronicles the week leading up to Balvin’s first solo performance at the stadium in Medellín, a glorious homecoming event that is complicated by a youth protest movement and his own personal challenges to maintain his physical and mental health in such a pressure cooker environment.

In his rise to fame, Balvin became an important figure in Colombia, and he ultimately struggles with the pressure to do and say the right thing in a politically-charged moment that raises the stakes for his homecoming. While “The Boy from Medellín” grapples with how pop stars can meaningfully engage with politics, the film is also a blast of a concert documentary, showcasing Balvin’s eye-popping stadium show. The doc follows a tradition of revealing pop superstar documentaries that humanize those figures who exist on the largest stages in the world.

One of the first of this kind is, of course, the classic 1964 doc about Beatlemania, “A Hard Day’s Night,” a romp of a music film directed by Richard Lester, who carouses around a day in the life of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. A delightful classic and required viewing for any music-obsessed teen (or teens at heart). Stream it on HBO Max or Criterion Channel.

The 2020 documentary “Miss Americana” took viewers into the life of country/pop superstar Taylor Swift, offering a glimpse at her personal struggles, songwriting process, and intimate life. Lana Wilson’s film also demonstrated the ways in which Swift sought to meaningfully speak out about her personal politics and beliefs, at the risk of alienating a large part of her audience, which Balvin also tussles with. Stream “Miss Americana” on Netflix.

Also on Netflix: “Gaga Five Foot Two” (2017), directed by Chris Mourkabel, takes fans behind-the-scenes in the world of the avant-garde pop phenomenon Lady Gaga, chronicling her family life, health issues, and uncompromising artistry.

 

A one-two punch of pop star docs reinvigorated the form back in 2011 and 2012, with Jon M. Chu’s “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” directed by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz. Each film looked at their rises to fame and the complexities thereafter for each pop star, as well as the hard work of their grueling careers and it affects their personal lives. Both films are available for a $2.99 rental on digital platforms, and “Never Say Never” is on both Amazon Prime and Paramount Plus

Singer Demi Lovato has opened up about her personal struggles in two YouTube documentaries. 2017’s “Simply Complicated” depicts the former Disney star’s tremendous gift and troubled past, while her new YouTube docuseries, “Dancing With The Devil” goes deep about her addiction issues and her 2018 overdose and near death experience.

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