Amanda Burt, producer of the series “This Is Pop”, on the Netflix series Docu on pop music
An in-depth look at the genre widely dismissed by music critics
Jul 21, 2021
Photograph courtesy of Netflix
Serious music lovers – at least “serious” in their minds – usually have a snobby attitude towards pop music. It is shallow and has no substance. It should not be viewed in the same way or on the same level as “real” music. The Netflix documentary series It’s pop shatters all those lofty ideas in its eight 44-minute episodes.
Through its current events, It’s pop sifts through topics like Auto-Tune, Boy Groups, Britpop, Festivals, Swedish Hitmakers, Country Music, The Brill Building, and Protest Songs. Not chronological in any way and totally unrelated to each other, It’s pop explores each topic with invaluable archival and additional footage, contributions from key musicians and producers in each of these fields, as well as experts ranging from journalists to educators, insiders and organizers.
Michael Bivins is sweet and sympathetic as he recounts his experience managing Boyz II Men in “The Boyz II Men Effect”. Shania Twain faces off against Wynonna Judd as Brandi Carlisle’s referee in “When Country Goes Pop”. The T-Pain teddy bear reminds us that he was the plugin whip boy now ubiquitous in “Auto-Tune”. Naive and impassive, Swedish musicians and producers from Benny Andersson from ABBA to Ludwig Göransson take us through their history behind the wheel of pop music in “Stockholm Syndrome”. Neil Sedaka says, “I was the Justin Bieber of the 1950s,” and Linda Perry brings that time back to the present in “The Brill Building in 4 Songs”. From Michael and Emily Eavis of Glastonbury to the co-founders of the Bonnaroo Festival, the power and importance of music festivals is highlighted in ‘Festivals Rising’. Alex James from Blur talks about Britpop’s glory days from his dairy farm while the women on the scene, especially Lush’s Miki Berenyi, really break this era down in “Hail Britpop!” The impact of protest songs is examined in the, frankly, out of place, “What Can A Song Do?” which feels entirely disjointed from the rest of the series. Whether or not you are interested in one of these artists or their music, the stories are fascinating and are an integral part of cultural history.
It’s popThe dissection of each subject is insightful and specific. In the process, it destroys all previous opinions about the disposability of pop music. Each episode is a stand-alone mini-documentary. There is a unique vibe and style of presentation for each episode, which is directed by different directors. The focus is international and what each episode shares is an inherent wry sense of humor. This humor matches the subject and the culture of the episode.
The specialists of the musical documentary Banger Films, also at the origin of the Netflix series, Evolution of hip-hop, are the brains of It’s pop. The first started out as a four-episode limited series and has grown into a four-season series, so far. If the popularity of It’s pop is one indication (the series had made good progress in Netflix’s Top 10 for a few weeks when it premiered on June 22, 2021) it is heading in the same direction. It’s popThe topical approach to pop music allows for endless exploration of the subject, from various angles.
Waiting, It’s pop spawned his own podcast of the same name, which premiered on July 12, 2021. Similar to fan podcasts, such as Fuck on tv, which painstakingly unpacks fantastic series like Game of thrones and Westworld, the eight companion episodes of It’s pop: the podcast deepen the topics of the episodes.
Series Producer Amanda Burt takes us behind the scenes of It’s pop, the series and the podcast.
Lily Moayeri (Under the radar): How did you decide on the order of the series?
Amanda Burt: We made episodes so they could play in any order. In fact, when it launched on Netflix, we found out about the order they chose. I’ve heard that it’s marketed differently depending on what your Netflix likes. If you are a huge Britpop lover and have watched everything you can on Oasis so far, the “Hail Britpop!” episode may be the first you see. In Canada, on Bell Media CTV, they chose the order they thought would suit their audience. The secret is: not to have an order. That’s what made sense in the end.
How did you decide on the episodic nature of the series?
The show was originally called Pop evolution and it was meant to be in the same style as Evolution of hip-hop. It became quite clear from talking about the stories that the timeline was not our friend. Where do you start? Where do you end up? Do you end up running out of track? If you start in the more modern era, you ignore the history of the genre. It just wasn’t going to work. We decided to take a totally different approach, almost a 30 for 30 for music. There was a certain tone, feelings and love for what we were doing in each episode, but the more they were different from each other, the happier I was. I wanted it to be close to the subject and not to a format that we thought would attract more attention. We have decided to let creation rule in terms of format.
The wealth of musical knowledge is evident in the series. How did you find out about all of this information?
I wanted to do a series for people who liked music as a reference. But I also wanted people who maybe weren’t true music fans, but who were hungry for ideas, visuals and culture. How would they react on a human level or in terms of the vibrations of the music or the artists we spoke to? I have a lot of friends who have worked at MTV and Much Music. Back then, they were always disappointed because they had to do some really fluffy reporting on pop stars. There has never been a dig or deep dive into what pop music was.
There are a lot of amazing pop and pop culture writers who see pop music as something they study. This is the path we wanted to take. We had amazing music journalists writing and researching. People who are connected to music, interviewed hundreds if not thousands of people, wrote many articles and books found the stories before we went to the field. We have woven in-depth knowledge of different people at different ages with different tastes even before I had any directors on board.
When we went out into the field and started talking to people, we were armed with everything we could find. But, then, we were open to whatever people told us. I would say in every episode we learned things that we hadn’t read anywhere, that we had never seen, that we had never heard before. That’s what you see on the screen, a lot of things that haven’t been talked about yet.
More than once, those interviewed said they were revealing something for the first time.
I worked in the news for a long time. We got stuck in our heads for not knowing the story until we told it. You know something is going on, you know there are people involved, so let’s get on the path and try to figure out what’s going on. We had a story and scripts before we went into the field, but there’s no point in getting people to say the same thing twice. If we have them on tape in the archive saying something from before, we can just use that. When we were actually talking to people, I didn’t want us to know what we were going to come back with. I just knew we had to tell them what we knew and we could have a conversation from there.
The series is “directed by the director”. What does this mean exactly? What were you looking for in the directors you chose?
We were working outside of Canada, so I was looking for Canadian directors. I was looking for open, collaborative and unblocked people. I was hoping they liked the music, but I didn’t want them to have done a music doc before so it could look and feel different. I didn’t want to impose a format. I didn’t mean to say, “We have to have so many talking heads, so many celebrities and that’s how we’re going to do it. I wanted people who were excited to do something different on a platform that you don’t normally do, an episode of Netflix, and do what you feel like. I wanted all the episodes to feel really different. I found people who all knew the documentary in various ways, but I wouldn’t say any of them had ever done a classical music doc, which made them a pretty awesome team.
It’s pop: the podcast came after the series, but the series itself feels like it could have come from a podcast. Why did you decide to do a podcast?
We were so limited in the length of the episodes that I wanted the series to be a jumping off point for future conversations. There are a lot of conversations coming out of It’s pop that only come out in the context of the other episodes. What we left on the table were the things we talk about in the podcast.
Lots of stories are what actually happened in the play, or how long did it take to get that person, or who would we have preferred to have. In addition, our research, our field trips and our contacts with talents are quite open. Some episodes have characters from the Netflix episodes. We’re going a little deeper with them than we might have had on the show. Some people are unrelated, but maybe can talk more about the themes that emerged from the episodes. We wanted the podcast to be not just about the show, but the ideas behind it and how you might relate to it.
Pop music is so emotional. Whether you hate it or love it, there is an emotional connection to it. There are a lot of stories and conversations that come out of it. We wanted to have a place for that while people were still in the show world. (www.netflix.com/title/81050786)
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