Film & Television · Music

Sounds of Summer: Diva Documentaries — A Streaming TV Roundup

When you hear the phrase “Sounds of Summer,” chances are you think of the Beach Boys. First of all, tunes like “California Girls” and “Surfin’ USA” have become forever linked with the season’s beach culture. Second, that happens to be the name of their greatest hits collection, released in 2003 by Capitol Records. And third, whether we like it or not, the music industry is dominated by boys. In fact, by some counts, the industry’s gender inequities are more extreme than Hollywood’s. In 2020, according to Rolling Stone, the percentage of female artists was just 20%, female songwriters 13%, and female producers a mind-numbing 2%.

Of course, there are exceptions. One way to celebrate music’s female trailblazers, those who have succeeded against these staggering odds, is to listen to their music. Another is to learn more about them. Here are a dozen “diva documentaries” available to stream (in the comfort of your — hopefully — air-conditioned home) this summer.

P!nk: All I Know So Far (Amazon)

Filmed while the award-winning musician set off on her 2019 “Beautiful Trauma” world tour, P!nk focuses on the balancing act (pun intended) of motherhood and career. Bringing her family along for the ride, P!nk provides director Michael Gracey (The Greatest Showman) a behind-the-scenes look at her extraordinary life on the road. “What makes me the most proud is that I think my children feel seen and that we know how to find joy,” she says. “Even in darkness and even in trouble, we know how to have joy.”

Mary J. Blige’s My Life (Amazon)

In 1994, Mary J. Blige released her second album “My Life,” which spent 84 weeks on the Billboard charts and was named one of the greatest albums of all times by both Rolling Stone and TIME. In Oscar-winning director Vanessa Roth’s documentary, Blige speaks candidly about her success, as well as the struggles with depression, addiction, and abuse that enabled her to connect with millions of fans worldwide. “We are all spirits. We get depressed. But, music makes you want to live. I know my music has saved my life.”

Adele: A New Chapter (Amazon)

The world discovered singer-songwriter Adele Laurie Blue Adkins when she was still a teen. Her soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics have sold more than 120 million albums, and earned her fifteen Grammy awards and accolades ranging from, “the UK’s best-selling female album artist of the 21st century,” to TIME’s list of  “the 100 most influential people in the world.” This compelling documentary includes candid interviews and live performances. And, Adele’s body positivity is refreshing. “I’d rather go for lunch with my friends than go to a gym.”

Shania Twain: Not Just a Girl (Netflix)

By any measure, bestselling artist Shania Twain has pushed the boundaries of country music, crossing over into pop and rock, and selling more than 100 million albums. In this documentary, however, she opens up about personal challenges that nearly uprooted her career, from domestic violence as a child, to her husband’s infidelity, and a terrifying bout of Lyme disease that made her think, “I lost my voice forever, I thought that was it, I would never, ever sing again.” In the end, Twain’s resilience and continued success are an inspiration.

Jennifer Lopez: Halftime (Netflix)

Although most of the news lately has been about her “second chance” marriage to Ben Affleck, Lopez is an extraordinary talent and the ultimate show business “triple-threat” (singer/actor/dancer). Footage includes grueling backstage rehearsals, her spectacular (but controversial) Super Bowl halftime show, and her performance at President Biden’s inauguration. Taking a breath before embarking on what she sees as her own part two, Lopez speaks candidly about her Latin heritage, motherhood, career, and using her voice for a higher purpose.

Dolly Parton: Here I Am (Netflix)

Enhanced by affectionate comments from Parton’s 9-to-5 costars and friends, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, this entertaining documentary reflects on the life and music of one of country music’s most beloved icons. Larger than life on the outside, but “totally real, inside,” Parton considers herself a songwriter first and foremost, and this film by Francis Whately uses her unparalleled body of work to guide us from her first performance at the Grand Ole Opry to the legend — chart-topper, philanthropist, author, and LGBTQIA+ icon — she’s become

Gaga: Five Foot Two (Netflix)

Lady Gaga, born in 1986 Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, emerged in 2008 as a fully-formed pop music provocateur. Modeling herself on Andy Warhol, she created the Haus of Gaga and was renowned as much for her elaborate costumes and stage shows as she was for her music. Since then, she has become a respected actor (A Star is Born, House of Gucci) and dedicated philanthropist. In Five Foot Two, we go backstage with Gaga for a closer look at her uncompromising artistic process  as she prepares for her Super Bowl appearance and a new album.

Britney vs. Spears (Netflix)

There’s a saying in politics that to fully understand a situation, you need to “follow the money.” In this eye-opening film, journalist Jenny Eliscu and filmmaker Erin Lee Carr do just that as they examine the conservatorship of pop star Britney Spears. Through investigative reporting, in-depth interviews, and irrefutable evidence, they make the persuasive case that if Spears is competent enough to make millions of dollars for her conservator father, she should be afforded the freedom and agency she’s been fighting for.

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana (Netflix)

Accompanied by showstopping onstage (and backstage) footage, Miss Americana offers a compassionate portrait of an extraordinarily talented woman who has grown up — and remained remarkably unspoiled — under the harshest possible spotlights. With intimate interviews, Swift chronicles her career, with its challenges and triumphs, as she strives to speak out on important issues. Warned to stay away from politics, she’s determined. “I want to still have a sharp pen and a thin skin and an open heart.”

Tina (HBO)

I’ve saved my favorite for last. With excerpts from exhilarating performances that span her career, this five-chapter film by Academy Award-winners Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, celebrates the career of the incomparable Tina Turner. Although it’s difficult to beat decades of onstage footage, the highlights of Tina are insightful interviews with the diva herself. The Grammy Award-winner and multi-platinum artist’s story delivers a powerful portrait of resilience and reinvention, but her charm, wit, and candor here are an unexpected delight.

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