Even if you missed the whole Boyz II Men and auto-tune manias, don’t skip the first two episodes of Netflix’s new 8 x 44 minute music doco series This is Pop, which uses that band and that band-aid as jumping-off points for a fascinating and enormously entertaining examination of movements in the history of modern pop music. (I nearly jumped to episode three, about Swedish pop dominance, which would have not only made me White Boy Extreme but denied me 88 incredibly fascinating minutes). Copious upbeat interviews with everyone concerned, most of them comfortably ensconced in their been-there-done-that-made-some-money-doing-it contemporary lives, mix joyously with plenty of clips but, most importantly, plenty of context. This is extremely well scripted stuff, put together with clear knowledge and passion. Fans of pop music podcasts will be delighted to finally see the faces of Jason King and Chris Molanphy, two of the show’s resident talking head experts. A total binge with fabulous music.
Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, available on YouTube for those of us who can’t watch it in the UK on BBC iPlayer, is the latest work by BBC video journalist Adam Curtis. Told over six episodes of one and a quarter hours each, it’s a political, philosophical and psychological history of the 20th century, a kind of “this is how we got here” thing where “here” is the seemingly insurmountable political polarisation now obvious in the populations of countries like the US and the UK. It looks at the roots of conspiracy theories, failures of various radical movements throughout the 20th century, the enduring trauma to British people over the fall of empire, and a million other things. What makes it mesmerising is the footage: Curtis has free access to the entire BBC archive, which is the world’s largest, and he constantly deploys amazing imagery you’ve actually never seen before, all used very skilfully to make an intriguing argument. This is a monumental work of documentary art, enthralling, enveloping, gripping and vital. Your brain will thank you for it.