Emmy voters had a song in their hearts when they went to vote in the 2021 documentary categories. Of the projects nominated for outstanding documentary or nonfiction special, three out of five focused on superstar musicians: “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” “Tina” and “Framing Britney Spears (The New York Times Presents).”
HBO’s look at the Bee Gees led the music documentary crop in overall nominations, with six. Besides outstanding doc, the film about the Brothers Gibb is also up for direction, writing, editing, sound editing and sound mixing in the documentary/nonfiction division.
HBO was also behind the Tina Turner doc “Tina,” which landed three total nominations. It’s up in directing and sound mixing categories on top of its outstanding documentary bid.
“Framing Britney Spears,” which focused on Spears’ private-life travails and not her music, was destined to get fewer nods than competitors, with no real reason to contend in the sound categories. It got two nominations; besides outstanding documentary, it’s up in the picture editing category.
“Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” got four nominations: outstanding music direction (for Aron Forbes), picture editing, sound editing and sound mixing.
The documentary TV series “American Masters,” which profiles artists from many realms, from film to music, is the lone music-related project nominated in the category of outstanding documentary or nonfiction series. Among those included in the nomination for “American Masters” is Alicia Keys, who was the executive producer of the feature-length episode “How It Feels to Be Free,” a look at six female Black entertainers (Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier).
“David Byrne’s American Utopia,” which might have been counted as a documentary to some, landed in the pre-taped variety special categories, where it ended up with six nominations.
Music also could be said to have dominated the outstanding variety special (live) category, with the 63rd annual Grammy Awards, the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show Starring the Weeknd, and the music-focused “Celebrating America — An Inauguration Night Special” landing three of the five slots.
The Emmys’ love of the burgeoning music documentaries field stands in contrast the Oscars ignoring prominent music docs in the last years. For a time, they were prominent at the Academy Awards: “Searching for Sugar Man” and “20 Feet From Stardom” won in 2012-13, and in 2015, “Amy” won and “What Happened, Miss Simone?” was nominated, but the Academy’s documentary committee has not rewarded any with a nom in the five years since.