It’s pop [Netflix] Review: Documentary About Music Brings Happiness
There is enough success in this eight-part overview of pop music that, while not exhaustive, it is enough to grab your attention.
It’s inevitable that a music documentary will make you think about rhythm. What is not always obvious is that a project will be able to match the energy of the artist it presents. If things start to move at a rate that feels wrong, rushed, or manic to you, the music of Whoever’s Under the Microscope has a nifty way of letting you know.
This is a problem that “This Is Pop” manages to avoid. The eight-part series, newly available on Netflix after airing on CTV in Canada earlier this spring, keeps pace worthy of its wide range of subject matter. Ranging from bubblegum pop of the ’60s and UK radio release of the mid’ 90s to current and everlasting existential debates about the nature of country music, “This Is Pop” continues to grow.
It helps that the show doesn’t force its individual episodes to conform to one style. Some fully embrace their artifice, as with the glimpse of Sweden’s decades as pop hitmakers. This chapter contains a tri-wall bedroom set, a set of thematically appropriate songwriting instructions, and flashing piano renditions of decade-conquering megahits. It’s a contrast to something like the show’s take on Boyz II Men’s career, which plays out as more formally mainstream, but no less informative. âThis Is Popâ doesn’t just focus on the career ups and downs of famous names. In the case of this particular group from Philly who have spent their entire adult lives, it’s fascinating to have their take on when their career sits solidly in between.
What these two episodes share is a useful (and sometimes playful) search for context. No song exists regardless of its influence, so rather than attempting to portray pop music history as the creation of genius pioneers, “This Is Pop” ends up becoming a show with tiny overlaps as the stories unfold across generations and continents. Industry politics intersect with geopolitical trends. The respective rebirths of certain artists help to ignite the interests of their potential flag bearers. “This Is Pop” does not claim to present a unified theory of a musical genre as much as it tries to highlight significant brushstrokes throughout the painting.
The show’s sense of uniqueness fades a bit as “This Is Pop” arrives later in the season (“later” being a fungible description, as Netflix has made at least one adjustment to the order. episodes from its original broadcast on CTV). As the series takes on more amorphous and sprawling topics like protest songs and music festivals, it begins to move away from some of that direct line context that makes these early episodes so compelling. It’s much easier to unbox Blur’s controversial rivalry against Oasis over the course of a full episode than it is to try to encapsulate the legacy of something like âThis Country is Your Countryâ in minutes. Even though framing devices like Orville Peck’s tour through the idea of ââ”authenticity” in country music may not seem essential to these episodes, they still provide a useful thread that some of the other hold-alls. of the history of music have not quite.
Taken as a whole, one of the perks of âThis Is Popâ is an attempt to look at the industry from many different angles. The series’ perspectives aren’t limited to performers and executives alone. There are engineers talking about the actual recording process. There are advertising veterans who are thinking about the art of presenting a group in front of culturally distinctive people. The âThis Is Popâ collection of authors and writers offering their expertise does not correspond to a single vision of the music press. There is a careful balance that prevents the show from veering too far into closed academic treatises or uncritical hagiographic superfandom.
This last element is essential and goes back to the performers themselves. âThis Is Popâ doesn’t delve into the personal lives of every singer and songwriter, but many offer windows to their own experiences that go beyond image maintenance. T-Pain’s frankness about talking about his peers’ reaction to his success and the rise of Auto-Tune helps reinforce the idea that fame doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is also equally illuminating to see the number of participants (and their fellow students and advisers) who were perfectly willing to trade a life in the public eye for one centered on accounting, agriculture or public service.
It also has to do with how the people whose careers are set out in âThis Is Popâ want to think about it. Some are eager to revisit the height of their fame. (Andy Kim, a veteran of the Brill Building song-maker, is ready to sing the chorus of âSugar, Sugar,â seemingly at the slightest prompting.) Others seem more reluctant to return to the open space of decades past. , or prefer to engage with certain topics from a very specific entry point. If the general idea is that pop music is a web that extends far beyond radio, turntables, and streaming services, “This Is Pop” allows people to choose to stay inside their home. singular success or put it aside.
“This Is Pop” welcomes the idea that, despite the enduring power of this music, it does not always come from a flash of inspiration. Some songs are accidents and some are copies. Even though the truth behind some of them remains a little elusive, they are all part of a long established battle for the ears and eyes of potential fans. In the case of the ‘This Is Pop’ episode of ’90s Britpop brawls, this look to the past comes with a host of potential groups that curious and unfamiliar listeners can re-discover. It’s no coincidence that these suggestions help make this one of the strongest efforts in the series. Nodding to the past and the future, a continual reminder throughout “This Is Pop” is that there is always more to listen to both ways.
âThis Is Popâ is now available to stream on Netflix.