When most people think of fame, they think of extremely wealthy, privileged people, with adoring fans and the whole world at their fingertips. More and more celebrities have chosen to make documentaries about their lives, giving people an intimate look at what goes on when the cameras are off. To the surprise of many, fame isn’t exactly what it’s cracked up to be. In order to have the notoriety, worldwide praise and money, you have to sacrifice your privacy, mental and physical health, relationships and sometimes, your sanity.
Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato and Billie Eilish have released documentaries chronicling their bouts with their deteriorating mental health under the constant pressure of the spotlight. Other famous performers like Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse have had documentaries made about them showing viewers the truly dark side of fame from very public mental breakdowns to substance abuse and addiction. It really is a true testament to how little we as an audience know these public figures. The documentaries all show the singers overcoming their personal struggles some while at the height of their careers.
What viewers seem to find both fascinating and heartbreaking about these documentaries is how much is really going on once the artist gets off the stage. Celebrities are media trained to fit some sort of persona, only allowing the public eye to know a mere fraction of their personal lives. When their demand and fame grow, they begin to lose a sense of humanity, under immense pressure from the industry, being expected to perform well regardless of the circumstances. Most importantly, since fame is so fleeting and these artists have worked so hard to achieve their dreams, they fear if they don’t deliver, they will lose it all.
Billie Eilish released her documentary, Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, earlier this year where she gives her fans a glimpse at her humble beginnings, recording her entire first album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, in her childhood home with her brother, musician and producer, FINNEAS.
By the time she was sixteen, Eilish had become a household name, performing shows all over the world while still trying to maintain some semblance of her teenage years. From getting her driver’s license, being a total fangirl for Justin Bieber, to playing at one of the biggest music festivals in the world, the documentary takes a deeper look into Eilish’s struggles with mental health and the loneliness that comes with her newfound fame. Constantly craving real human connection, the Grammy Award Winner’s following grows, while her social life dwindles under the demand of
her profession. Consumed by the internal battle to stay true to herself while still appealing to the masses, she truly is her toughest critic, even berating herself for not being able to jump around on stage due to her chronic leg injuries and sprained ankle. It seemed that the bigger the crowds got, the more people she could disappoint if she didn’t perform up to her standards. While her family and support system continue to reassure her, she explains: “I’m afraid I’ll wake up and I won’t have any of this anymore.”
Eilish announced she will be releasing her highly anticipated album, Happier Than Ever on 30th of July.
Similarly, in Lady Gaga’s Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, the proud New Yorker is shown in one scene writhing in pain from a hip injury she suffered on her Born This Way Tour in 2013, that she fears could prevent her from performing at her usual calibre. Instead of seeking medical attention immediately, she takes a number
of prescription drugs to cope with the pain and carry on.
Despite the severity of the injury, the singer says: “When I feel the adrenaline from my fans, I can f*cking go. But it’s not like I’m not in pain.”
According to her, she has very little room for error and knows that she has millions of eyes on her at all times given her level of fame. But she worked for it despite witnessing firsthand the sexism and men of power attempt to mold her into something she’s not. She prides herself on evolving as an artist and no longer allowing other people to stifle her creativity. At the end of the day, she thoroughly enjoys performing primarily for her fans, affectionately known as her “Little Monsters.”
Unfortunately, many celebrities often turn to substance abuse largely due to its accessibility and as a way to cope with the demand of their notoriety. Like a moth to a flame, fame tends to attract people that take advantage of the situation and supply celebrities with anything their heart desires which for some, includes copious amounts of alcohol and hard drugs. When it comes down to it, there really isn’t a guide on how to navigate the industry, especially when fame is attained almost instantaneously. Trapped in the fame fish bowl, people can either sink or swim.
In March 2021, Demi Lovato released a four part docu-series on Youtube called Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil. In the eye-opening series, Lovato candidly recounts their many struggles with mental health, addiction, eating disorder recovery, trauma from sexual assault and their drug abuse that landed them in the hospital after a nearly
fatal overdose in 2018.
The former Disney star has had their very public battles with alcohol and drug use to the point where they were deemed the poster child of mental health and sobriety after declaring they had made the decision to be sober by the age of nineteen. Like so many childhood actors, Lovato had also succumbed to the pressure of their rising
fame combined with the squeaky clean Disney image while secretly battling an eating disorder and trying to cope with their spiralling mental health.
After their relapse, Lovato suffered three strokes, a heart attack, partial blindness, organ failure and permanent brain damage making them unable to drive anymore. They admit that they grew tired of being under constant watch to maintain their body for industry standards while trying to recover from an eating disorder. Lovato turned to hard drugs to find a temporary escape leading their to experience with OxyContin which now believes was laced with the deadly opioid, fentanyl.
They’re currently on the road to recovery even releasing her most emotional album yet, Dancing With The Devil in April. While they may have had their brush with death and lived, some were not as lucky.
Quite easily one of the most devastating losses in the music industry was the death of British singer and songwriter, Amy Winehouse. The 2015 documentary, Amy, tells the tragic story of Winehouse’s rise to fame and how it ended up contributing heavily to her demise.
Throughout the film, the “Back To Black” singer frequently expresses that she just wanted to sing at little jazz clubs rather than massive arenas and stadiums. She had zero desire to be famous and purely loved music because it was one of the only outlets in her life to cope with her depression and heartbreak from her former husband, Blake Fielder. It’s revealed by Fielder himself that he was responsible for introducing her to heroin and crack cocaine which she eventually became addicted to.
She famously wrote a song about refusing to go to rehab which ended up catapulting her to instant fame as she began winning awards and selling out shows worldwide. However, behind the scenes she was being urged by her friends and family to seek immediate help for her drug and alcohol abuse as well as her bulimia. But the more she became inundated with paparazzi flashes, the more she longed for her anonymity and making music for the love of it instead to sell hit records.
Instead of showing concern, her declining health was the brunt of the joke amongst late night talk show hosts and other news outlets. During the months leading up to her death, she had refused to play shows, purposely sabotaging her career, even getting booed at a show in Belgrade. Her appearance also worsened as she became
very gaunt from her persistent bulimia and was even missing teeth. In July of 2011, she was found in her Camden flat where she was pronounced dead due to alcohol poisoning.
One of the most highly publicized documentaries was the highly anticipated, The New York Times Hulu documentary, Framing Britney Spears. For decades the media has had a front row seat to Britney Spears’ rise and fall, especially during her string of unusual and erratic behavior that led to her notorious 2007 mental breakdown where she shaved her head and attacked the paparazzi.
Refusing to sugarcoat the truth, the documentary points out the blatant misogyny and over sexualization of the pop star at a very young age. With clips from interviewers harassing Spears about her virginity, asking extremely invasive
questions, it appears that the media reduced her to nothing more than an object.
Now the media attention is on the ongoing court case regarding her conservatorship she has with her father Jamie Spears. Fans and celebrities alike have expressed an outpouring of love and support hoping she receives justice soon after allegedly spending years of her life without any control of her career. The songstress is set to
speak on the matter in court on 23rd of June.
While not all famous people fall victim to the industry, these documentaries have finally shined a light on the tribulations of being a bona fide superstar. For women especially, fame is laced with sexism, misogyny and the constant pressure to maintain an “industry-standard” body in order to stay relevant. The raw and intimate look inside these stars’ lives humanizes them, making audiences realise they’re more than just a performer you see on screen or on stage. Even though fame is still something that is highly sought after, not everyone is cut out for it and the price paid for a moment in the spotlight.
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