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Years after being written off as a troubled pop star, there’s been renewed interest in Britney Spears when details about the conservatorship she was under became public recently. All the attention has brought forth a slew of think pieces and documentaries scrutinizing the way female pop stars are forced to maintain a certain image. At the same time, other teen idols such as Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Canada’s own Shawn Mendes have recently put forth a much more controlled narrative through documentaries billed as offering a “behind the scenes” look at their lives.
Given the news cycle, and to potentially initiate an opening to talk to your kids about the people behind the music, my picks for what to watch range from shows that feature music by teen idols turned musical superstars, shows and movies that feature their younger selves, or documentaries that offer some real-world perspective.
- Age range: 2 to 6
- Where to watch: Netflix
- Elevator pitch for parents: Your kids might just learn the odd Beatles song or two.
- Elevator pitch for kids: We can sing something else other than Wheels On The Bus.
I picked this show purely for the music, sung by teen idols of another generation altogether. Most people I know can at least hum the tunes of a couple of Beatles’ songs – even if they don’t know the lyrics.
So it isn’t too much a stretch – maybe – that these songs also translate to an animated world of anthropomorphized bugs. Beat Bugs features five young insect friends living in a backyard dealing with some sort of a challenge or adventure. Each episode is less than 15 minutes and features a fantastical world full of nature’s wonders – great for the kids. Each episode is also built around a Beatles song – perfect for the parents. Win-win!
- Age range: 7 and up
- Where to watch: YouTube
- Elevator pitch for parents: Admit it – you can’t help bopping to Can’t Stop The Feeling.
- Elevator pitch for kids: It’s the Trolls!
So, yeah. This is a bit of a cheat. But really, do we need to watch reruns of the Mickey Mouse Club? Or old videos of NSync? Instead, why not bop around the kitchen or laundry room to that hit song from summer 2016, while the kids are mesmerized by the psychedelic world of these wild-haired creatures.
Aside from former NSync star Justin Timberlake, Trolls also features the voice of Anna Kendrick, of course, as Poppy, the always happy troll. When the kids grow up, they might be interested in her other musical offerings, such as Pitch Perfect.
- Age range: 10 and up
- Where to watch: Disney+
- Elevator pitch for parents: Remember Miley Cyrus as a fresh-faced teen?
- Elevator pitch for kids: It’s a show about the double life of a teen pop star.
If I’m being honest, you’ll likely get some blank looks from your kids when you mention the name Miley Cyrus. It has been more than a minute since the former actor turned singer has been dominating the charts, although she still pops up in pop-culture news occasionally for random acts of twerking.
Before she became an unpredictable teen idol, Cyrus was the star of Hannah Montana, one of Disney’s most successful franchises. The show about a 14-year-old girl who adopts the titular alter ego in order to lead a normal life was a big hit, both commercially and critically. Using humour to address the everyday issues of a young person’s life, the series was nominated for several Emmys in the children’s programming category.
- Age range: 13 and up
- Where to watch: Disney+
- Elevator pitch for parents: Relive the 2000s again – complete with the hairdos and power anthems!
- Elevator pitch for kids: Music camps are sure to be a thing again.
Earlier this year, singer Demi Lovato released the docuseries Dancing With the Devil (available on YouTube) that delved into the darker side of her fame. She spoke candidly about issues such as mental health, addiction and past trauma with a candour that was bracing. It was certainly a far cry from her debut as a Disney star just over a decade ago.
Many people first saw Lovato singing alongside the Jonas Brothers in the Disney TV movie Camp Rock. It’s about an aspiring singer who attends a music camp and discovers friendship, romance, jealousy and other teen drama, while also finding her voice.
Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry and BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky
- Age range: 14A
- Where to watch: Apple TV+ and Netflix, respectively
- Elevator pitch for parents: Find out more about the pop stars behind the hits.
- Elevator pitch for kids: Ditto
To me, it seemed that all of a sudden, Billie Eilish was everywhere. I’d heard the American singer-songwriter’s name before I heard any of her music. But once I got listening, I was intrigued. I was curious about this young woman who was creating chart-topping songs from her bedroom, all while defying stereotypical expectations of pop stars. Meanwhile, my kids sang along to the (radio-edit) lyrics to her popular tunes. Billie Eilish: The World Is A Little Blurry has been praised for its cinema-verité approach that shows Eilish at home and backstage, working out the challenges of being a teenage superstar. (Parents should be cautioned that there’s profanity throughout the documentary, and some nude sketches.)
BLACKPINK: Light Up The Sky, on the other hand, is a much more sanitized look at the lives of the K-pop girl group. Given how controlled the media narrative is around Korean musical celebrities amid their often-meteoric rise to fame, that’s perhaps inevitable. Nevertheless, this 2020 documentary has been praised for including candid moments with the four young women, and offering interesting insight into the complex world of K-pop idols.
If you have more suggestions for quality children’s programming that the whole family will enjoy, send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.