While the music documentary and/or concert film has been a staple of the film genre for over 50 years, it’s only recently that the trend has been more freely produced, and as a result, rewarded. In the past seven years, four music documentaries have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Of those, three won: Searching for Sugar Man, 20 Feet From Stardom, & Amy.
Following the recent successes of concert films, rock docs, and multi-part music docuseries on Netflix, HBO, Showtime, and others – expect to see more popping up on your go-to streaming platform and premium cable networks in the future. And need not forget the silver screen, as the summertime tends to see the release of countless documentaries filling up indie and art house theaters.
For those looking to catch up on what they’ve missed over the past few years, below you’ll find recommendations for 15 music documentaries and concert films streaming right now. Happy binging!
Arguably the rawest music documentary featured on this list, Asif Kapadia’s 2015 film, Amy, follows the life and tragically early death of British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. Spanning the topics of family, fame, media, and addiction – Amy does a brilliant job of capturing the musical genius so few got the opportunity to witness first-hand. Thanks in part to a bevy of home videos, the viewer is granted such personal access to the singer’s early life.
While most viewers already know Winehouse’s untimely demise prior to viewing, it’s this intimacy created by Kapadia that makes her inescapable premature death all the more devastating. At the 88th Academy Awards, Amy took home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and to this day stands as the highest-grossing British documentary of all time. Currently streaming on Netflix, Amy is a highly enjoyable watch for both diehard fans and the most uninformed viewer alike. And man does her music never get old. Timeless… just like Amy.
HΘMΣCΘMING: A Film by Beyoncé (Netflix)
Following the massive successes of her back-to-back HBO visual albums, 2013’s Beyoncé and 2016’s Lemonade, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter began work on what would become her next game-changing project. However, before she could unveil her newest creative endeavor, she would first have to give birth to twin babies. Due to the pregnancy, Beyoncé was forced to postpone her highly anticipated Coachella 2017 headlining performance to the following year. But damn, was the wait worth it.
For those who streamed the show via Coachella’s YouTube page, we all knew the HBCU homecoming-themed performance was incredible – from its 100 dancers, full marching band, drumline, and Destiny’s Child reunion. But it wasn’t until the following year when Netflix released HΘMΣCΘMING: A Film by Beyoncé – that fans truly got to witness every angle of one of the greatest performances in music history. Edited alongside the behind-the-scenes of how it all came together, HΘMΣCΘMING is a tour de force with the incomparable, strong black female on full display, as she steers the ship behind it all.
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (Amazon)
Inspired by Mel Stuart’s 1973 documentary, Wattstax, 2005’s Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is almost more of a time capsule than music documentary/concert film. Taking place over the summer of 2004 and culminating with Dave’s now legendary block party concert in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, the film covers various Brooklyn landmarks, as well as rap and neo-soul artists, both new and old. The film was made after season two of Chappelle’s Show aired, but before Dave announced he would be walking away from the series. Directed by Michel Gondry, following the success and Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Chappelle and Gondry were two men at their creative peaks, excited to make a fun movie and put on a memorable concert.
In addition to Dave’s gut-busting comedy, the concert features performances from a young Kanye West, John Legend, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and The Roots. Lauryn Hill was booked to perform solo, however, after her label wouldn’t clear her songs for the film, she opted instead to reunite The Fugees as the perfect headliner for arguably one of the greatest concerts of the last 50 years. If you have somehow never seen Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, it is currently streaming on Amazon and perfect for a hot summer day indoors.
Elvis Presley: The Searcher (HBO)
While Elvis Presley isn’t the standard fare for HotNewHipHop, HBO’s three-and-a-half-hour documentary, Elvis Presley: The Searcher, really opens up the man still referred to as “the King” to a new, and for the most part, untapped demographic. The film spans the legend’s 42-year progression as both a musician, as well as the man very few got the chance to know. Ex-wife Priscilla Presley has stated that Elvis Presley: The Searcher “is the definitive [Elvis] documentary. There’s no vanilla here. It is the real deal.”
Describing the struggle in making a documentary on Elvis with a unique perspective, executive producer and friend Jerry Schilling said, “When there is an artist that has so much done on him, it’s very hard to come up with the fresh look.” Basically, Elvis Presley: The Searcher is the quintessential crash course on Elvis for millennials. Give it a watch if you’ve got the time.
Gaga: Five Foot Two (Netflix)
Inspired by both Amy Winehouse and Beyoncé – two artists already detailed on this list – Lady Gaga, born Stefani Germanotta, is a 5’2” force all to herself and the topic of Chris Moukarbel’s 2017 Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two. Following Gaga throughout a pivotal year in her career, Moukarbel successfully captures the brilliant artist in an observational, cinéma vérité style of which Vertov would be proud.
Spanning both the writing/producing and release of her fifth album, Joanne, her Super Bowl 51 halftime performance, and ongoing battle with fibromyalgia, Gaga: Five Foot Two paints Germanotta in a true-to-life light where she comes across as both strong and vulnerable; simultaneously human, and superhuman. Clocking in at 100 minutes long, Gaga: Five Foot Two successfully strips back the fame monster facade for a raw and emotional artist willing to bare it all.
Documenting Justin Timberlake’s final performance of the most successful tour of his career – The 20/20 Experience World Tour – Academy Award winning director, Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) takes viewers on a fantastic ride, using 17 different cameras to capture the global pop star’s 134th performance. Filmed on January 2, 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids would tragically become the final film of Jonathan Demme’s historic career; he passed away six months following the Netflix concert film’s release.
In addition to the death of Demme, Prince also passed away while working on the film, prompting Timberlake to dedicate the film to his legacy, saying: “His influence is all over everyone’s music and there’s so much that I feel like I’ve maybe consciously and unconsciously borrowed from him that it felt right… It just feels right to dedicate the film to him.” RIP Prince, RIP Jonathan Demme, and rock on JT!
Leaving Neverland (HBO)
By far the most controversial film of the year thus far, Dan Reed’s 4-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, has been a hot topic of discussion throughout 2019. For some fans, they had turned their back on Michael Jackson long ago. For others, this was the final straw. The rawest and detailed account of two different boys’ respective experiences with the King of Pop. Director Dan Reed (Three Days of Terror, Terror at the Mall) has described the documentary feature as a “study of the psychology of child abuse, told through two ordinary families… groomed for 20 years by a pedophile masquerading as a trusted friend.” The film’s well-paced storytelling only helps build to its shockingly, disturbing first-person accounts of a global celebrity’s sexual abuse of underage boys.
Since the movie’s release, various radio stations have removed MJ’s music from playlists, FX ceased airing the Michael Jackson episode of The Simpsons, and “Weird Al” Yankovic stopped playing his Jackson parodies on tour. Meanwhile, certain classic songs sound different, under a new light. The Jackson estate has denied the documentary’s accusations, but HBO has remained steadfast in the airing of the two-part documentary.
The story of Quincy Jones is truly one of the most legendary careers in the history of entertainment. Owning such titles as trumpeter, conductor, composer, and arranger – Quincy Jones is known by most as a music producer turned film producer. As Netflix puts it, “he has shaped the pop culture landscape for 70 years, mentoring and cultivating the careers of young talents, from Lesley Gore and Michael Jackson to Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith.”
Directed by his daughter, actress Rashida Jones (Angie Tribeca, Hot Girls Wanted), Quincy offers the behind-the-scenes access and questions answered that only a daughter can pull out of her mythical father. While the documentary won the Grammy Award for Best Music Film this year, it didn’t receive a nomination for the Academy Award.
20 Feet From Stardom (Netflix)
Academy Award and Grammy-winning documentarian, Morgan Neville, was robbed of a second Oscar win when his brilliant Mister Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, wasn’t even nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this past year’s awards ceremony. However, the film that brought him into the mainstream consciousness, 20 Feet From Stardom, remains an Academy favorite, appearing in documentary montages for years to come. 20 Feet From Stardom introduces viewers to the “unsung heroes behind the greatest songs of our time” – the backup singers.
In a beautiful work of art that finally puts names and faces to the voices we’ve been listening to for decades, 20 Feet From Stardom tells the stories of world-famous backup singers Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Tata Vega, Judith Hill, Lisa Fischer, and Jo Lawry; as the performers they once backed up, like Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, and Sting take to the background for once in their illustrious careers. “When you’re a background singer it is a springboard, but it can easily become quicksand if that’s not what you want to do,” says Judith Hill in the film’s trailer. 20 Feet From Stardom is a must-watch doc that serves as both a music history lesson, as well as a guide for future singers.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Netflix)
Although the iconic song, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” was written about Nina Simone’s dear friend and author of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry, it was Nina’s voice that magically brought those mighty words to life. And much like her voice animated her words, the incredible, rare footage featured throughout Liz Garbus’ 2015 Netflix documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? helps provide the images necessary in telling the powerful story of Eunice Waymon, known by most as Nina Simone.
Regarded as the “High Priestess of Soul” – Nina Simone was known for her music, civil rights activism, and temper (which was later diagnosed as bipolar disorder). However, Garbus’ documentary does a wonderful job of revealing her life as a mother, friend, and expatriate. Titled from a Maya Angelou quote, what makes What Happened, Miss Simone? truly unique is its unreleased archival footage, in addition to exclusive interviews with her friends, colleagues, and daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly. The Oscar-nominated documentary (it lost to Amy) is streaming now on Netflix.
2018 was full of documentaries with a buzz, and as a result (similar to Quincy), Whitney didn’t draw the amount of attention many had expected. While the Whitney Houston documentary featured nearly 70 interviews, including a majority of her family, it ultimately drew much more critical attention than actual box offices sales.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Marley), the two-hour documentary features over 1,500 tapes of archival footage, including 2,000 stills, 250 masters, and rare performances. Throughout her nearly 30-year career, Whitney Houston was a musical force that Whitney helps capture through sharing her most intimate moments. Whether it’s her vocal gift, erratic behavior, or premature death – Whitney rides the wave that was Whitney Houston’s unparalleled career.
Released as part of Mass Appeal’s film & television division, Rapture is an 8-part Netflix docu-series with episodes devoted to Logic, Nas & Dave East, T.I., G-Eazy, 2 Chainz, Rapsody, Just Blaze, and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. Described by Netflix as a series that “dives into artists’ lives with their families and friends, to sitting front row in the studio and grinding on tour, to experiencing the ecstatic power of moving the crowd” – Rapture displays hip-hop’s mainstream effect and influence on the culture of the world.
While each episode features major rap artists sharing their unique life stories, Rapture parallels these distinctions with one another, proving that while the path may be different, the goal remains the same.
Rick Rubin, the sage-like creative guru and legendary music producer holed away along the Malibu coastline, is the latest subject of Academy Award and Grammy-winning documentarian, Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor, 20 Feet From Stardom). Set amongst Rubin’s iconic monastery-esque, Malibu music studio, Shangri-La Studios, Neville engages in creative conversations with the man, the myth, and the legend, in addition to the revolving door of musical guests visiting Rubin’s Los Angeles beach town estate.
Throughout the 4-episode docu-series, expect to see some of your favorite musicians including Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, Tyler the Creator, David Lynch, Mark Ronson, and the late Mac Miller. All four episodes of Shangri-La begin streaming via VOD and Showtime Anytime on July 12th.
The Defiant Ones (HBO)
The Defiant Ones is a 4-part HBO docu-series that follows the diverging life trajectories of record producer Jimmy Iovine and rapper/producer Dr. Dre, and how their lives would inevitably meet. Beginning by establishing Jimmy’s east coast past engineering and producing for Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, and U2; while Dre is on the west coast blowing up with NWA – the two eventually meet in 1992 when Jimmy decides to put out The Chronic on Interscope Records. And from there, everything else is history. The Defiant Ones features interviews with the biggest names in music including Lady Gaga, Ice Cube, Trent Reznor, Kendrick Lamar, Bono, and Eminem. So whether you’re a fan of classic rock, late ‘80s/’90s hip-hop, early 2000s rap, or the growing headphone market in tech – this docu-series will have something for you.
Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men (Showtime)
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of one of the most iconic groups in hip-hop history, Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men consists of four hour-long episodes spanning the group’s origins and ascension to ‘90s rap royalty. Directed by Mass Appeal creative director, Sacha Jenkins – Of Mics and Men has been critically well-received, garnering praise as the definitive Wu-Tang documentary for its interviews with all nine living members (RZA, GZA, Inspectah Desk, Raekwon, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Masta Killa, and Cappadonna), in addition to rare behind-the-scenes and concert footage.
If you call yourself a fan of the Wu, and you haven’t seen Sacha Jenkins’ four-hour docu-series yet, you’re slippin’. And for those already hungry for more televised Wu content, RZA is currently writing and producing for Hulu, a 10-episode dramatic telling of the group’s ‘90s rise starring Dave East and Joey Bada$$ as Method Man & Inspectah Deck, respectively.