by Jordan Mark
2021 has brought a surge of music-related documentaries and introspective programs. With Hulu’s flavorful release Summer of Soul alongside Netflix’s compelling This is Pop series and various other exposés centered on artists like Aretha Franklin, Britney Spears and Paul McCartney, there is plenty to learn about. As predictable as it was for artists to want to release more music in a post-COVID-19 world, I didn’t expect all this retrospective on the musical talents of those from the past few decades to appear as well. I wouldn’t necessarily be shocked either, given COVID-19 making everyone reflect on life in general. It’s just a little mind-boggling how they’re all showing up roughly side-by-side of each other.
So, when Paramount+ announced they were going to release new episodes of their Behind the Music franchise, I was thrilled. As a fan of music documentaries, the announcement made me contemplate the decision to buy a Paramount+ subscription, and I eventually did with the idea that it would be worth it. While I was a little blind-sided by the way they decided to make these episodes, the content did not disappoint.
For those unaware, Behind the Music was a program that aired on VH1, highlighting the careers of various musical artists. What started off as a “Where Are They Now?” reflection program has evolved into polarizing pieces filled with the attributions of success and turmoil across a wide range of genres. The new iteration is planned to be split into two portions, with the first portion having recently been rolled out completely. The premiere of the new iteration had “back-to-back” episodes (if you can call streaming releases that) showcasing Ricky Martin and LL Cool J. With “Reflection Section,” I wanted to share my thoughts on each episode, and I’ll start with the inaugural episode of Ricky Martin.
Before I dive into the Ricky Martin episode, I wanted to take a little time to share my thoughts on the production. Going into it, I thought it was going to be a completely brand-new episode filled with new interviews from the artist and other associates. I came to find out, though, that it was more of an expansion set where the artist more so reflects on their career, rather than explains it (the older footage of their Behind the Music journey is used to fill that). I was mildly disappointed that it wasn’t a completely original production. Though the series has updated some of their episodes in some sort of fashion in the past, I didn’t get that impression when I dove in. Looking back on it, it’s nice to see that reflection. It gives it a humanistic quality that pulls me more toward this documentary series over others.
On to Ricky Martin, the first subject in this new iteration. His episode starts off in a different way, showing him fighting for injustice in Puerto Rico rather than getting an exclusive look at the next move in his musical career. The rest of the episode highlights his start in Menudo, to growing into a solo artist, and becoming a prominent figure in the 90s Latin explosion, alongside his struggle of coming out. The episode had a lot of contrasting ideas: machismo vs. vulnerability, happiness vs. despair, long hair vs. short hair, all of which influenced the decisions Martin made as he went from a regional star to a global phenomenon. Like many others before and after him (including artist Bad Bunny, who was also interviewed in new portions of the program), fame costs. For Martin, it was heavily costing him his privacy.
Much like other celebrities, privacy is a common thing to give up, but Martin’s struggle with coming out made it even more of a priority for him to be very distant in talking about personal life, with or without the media trying to yank it out of him. Martin did seem to take care of himself physically, taking a break in the spotlight after Menudo and going on a spiritual awakening after feeling dissatisfied with his 2000 album Sound Loaded. While all that reflection may not have directly given him the confidence to come out, it indirectly did. It made him want kids, which in turn made him want to come out so that his kids wouldn’t have to endure being raised by someone with a veneer. Not only is that a commanding thing to do, but it also gives inspiration to others to positively live their life to the fullest.
The thing that really interested me about this episode was toward the end where he was talking about “Orbital Audio,” a project he invested in where audio projects all around the individual instead of projecting from the left and from the right. Though briefly featured, not only does it sound cool to immerse in, but it also aligns with Martin’s mission of healing humanity, and seeing it done in a way that involves his musical passions beyond the typical “deeply thought lyrics” route is captivating.
Check back soon for the next edition of “Reflection Section,” where I’ll look at the next episode in the series: LL Cool J.