“I have to keep smiling”: how the pop star’s documentary came true | Documentary films

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TThe YouTube documentary series Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil, which premiered at SXSW last week and will be released online in the coming month, is a four-part punch of honesty, brutal at the same time for the viewer and, apparently, for Demi Lovato. While apparently a way to fight the headline-generating drug overdose that nearly killed her in 2018 on her terms (and to promote her upcoming album), the former Disney star turned pop singer, 28 years, deals fluidly with a constellation of past traumas due to drug addiction. to bulimia to sexual assault.

In one of the most painful parts of the series, directed by Michael Ratner, Lovato reflects on how the trauma of losing her virginity to teenage rape refracted during her years as a teenager. that famous artist, from self-harm to messy eating. as a way to regain control. In very insightful sit-down interviews, she recalls the compulsion she felt by the pure Disney Channel image in the late 2000s, how sex and consent was so non-normalized that she was not. did not even recognize it as rape, and thought it was. his fault. She couldn’t talk about it publicly, given her image as a purity ring wearer, and when she did talk about it privately, with an unnamed person presumably at Disney, nothing happened.

It’s a difficult disclosure to watch, all the more upsetting during the years of aftershocks that it took Lovato to see clearly what had happened, to understand how what he had been taught made a teenage girl precious. – desirability, “goodness” – prejudice obscured and excused. It’s a haunting lesson that many women learn, pop star or not; famous female stars, as objects of admiration and often envy, are often the public avatar of these personal and cultural accounts.

Dancing with the Devil was released, coincidentally, a month after The World’s a Little Blurry, a remarkably anchored truth-style documentary on Apple TV +, directed by RJ Cutler, about Billie Eilish, the dark pop phenomenon born 10 years later. Lovato. It also comes a week before the fan-assisted quarantine project of hyper-pop artist Charli XCX Alone Together, and on the heels of New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears, which presented the proof of fame simply and succinctly. the singer’s frenzy and unleashed an outpouring of emotion over her battered media. All four films span distinct micro-generations and areas of fame, from the intimate life of Insta (Charli XCX) to mega-fame (Spears), but all feel of one piece with a greater reconsideration of the how female stars are discussed, hounded, anointed and disparaged – and therefore how we judge and value women in public, how we view ourselves.

A picture of Billie Eilish: The world is a bit hazy. Photograph: Apple TV / PA

Lovato and Eilish’s films, in particular, shake up the pop star’s often one-size-fits-all documentary formula of stage-managed access with rock-solid mental health transparency and relentless scrutiny of women’s bodies. as an indicator of value. As Lovato’s story attests, the emergence of power under the impossible bonds of marketable public femininity, especially for young women – to be sexy but sexless, confident but not threatening, empowered but desirable – is a ruse. . But there is a control over its history. From Katy Perry: A Part of Me to Lady Gaga’s Five Foot Two to Taylor Swift: Miss Americana, who are all on Netflix, the pop stars of the 2010s used streaming documentaries as a means of exerting narrative control – the genre hyper-stripped of female star looks, love life, sympathy – under the guise of unguarded authenticity.

Since Madonna’s Truth or Dare in 1991, directed by Alek Keshishian, the pop star’s documentaries have marketed an implicit viewer-star contract: the promise of unguarded and vulnerable revelations – a chance to glimpse the human person behind it. Overwhelming ubiquity – in exchange for star polishing. chosen story. This is, of course, a very white celebrity phenomenon; black artists face a thicket of control, marginalization and gender boxing in the pop music industry. (Beyoncé and Rihanna, two of the biggest music stars on the planet, have often been musically categorized into the “contemporary urban” R&B or Grammy genres; quite similarly, both rarely give interviews. Beyoncé’s 2013 documentary Life Is But a Dream is a collage of opacity; Rihanna’s documentary, filmed by Peter Berg, is set to debut this summer after the Covid delays.)

An intentional, high-profile impression doesn’t mean that the images it contains sometimes aren’t truly raw, moving, or empathetic-demanding – the moment Katy Perry, in tears after the realization of her divorce, fixes her face seconds before. to go on stage in a part of Me; Taylor Swift chastises herself – “we don’t do that anymore!” – when a paparazzi photo triggers old habits of food restriction. But they’re often more revealing in times when other motivations emerge – Gaga giving costume teeth to an anonymous assistant, the fact that Miss Americana foreshadows the 2009 Kanye West VMA debacle as a foundational event. There is a kind of double reading: what is planned and what is observable.

Une image de Framing Britney Spears
Une image de Framing Britney Spears. Photography: Sky

Dancing with the devil has little interest in subtlety; the series, produced by Lovato’s new manager Scooter Braun (who also manages Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber), rather feels like a collective drop of evidence – here are the addiction and trauma facts in the spotlight, synthesize as you see fit wish. The World’s A Little Blurry, meanwhile, is more oblique and generously mindful of Eilish’s fiercely protected teenage years – the excitement of her driver’s license, the surprisingly homemade creative process with her producer / brother Finneas. and the passionate giddiness of the fandom (that of its fans, and its ever-crippling love for hero Justin Bieber). Cutler was part of the O’Connell family on and off for two years, weaving Eilish and his family’s own records. The World’s a Little Blurry therefore plays less like a classic pop star documentary about the negotiation of authenticity and more like a nature documentary observing a teenager, however extremely talented, under immense spotlight and pressure, growing up.

These films raise the bar for a sense of authenticity in pop star documentaries – Lovato by going uncomfortably into detail, to a sketched visualization of how her assistant found her on the morning of her overdose, and a refreshing and candid description of how she would buy drugs. Charli XCX mainly films herself as she slams through the making of her quarantine album How I’m Feeling Now, and cedes a good chunk of the film to dispatches from several LGBTQ + fans about their experience of isolation and a bond. authentic with its creative production. Eilish has such a fluid documentation instinct that observations seem mismanaged yet still human, respectful. Born in 2001, she is a native digital star; Like her fans, she knows that the idea of ​​authenticity on and off screen is important for art but unimportant for a personal life steeped in cameras, yours and others.

But that doesn’t relieve the pressures of celebrity – the fascination with her body under her loose-fitting style, the pressure to always be ready. The unapologetic, pioneering celebrity Eilish changed some of the expectations of a micro-generation before – “I think it was when Billie started wearing baggy clothes, it was the first time I was like. , I don’t have to be the super sexy, sexualized pop star, ”Lovato told The New York Times last week. But the bonds – the ironclad act of acceptability for women in public, especially teenage girls, and the hyper-focus on female behavior and appearance – simply mutated. “I can’t have a single moment where I’m like ‘I don’t want to do this,’” Eilish said after a fan wrote on Instagram that she was being rude on a date. “I have to keep smiling and if I don’t they hate me and think I’m horrible.”

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