From ABBA to boy bands: UVic graduates behind pop music series


ON SCREEN What: It’s Pop Where: CTV and When: Saturday, March 6, 10 p.m.


What: It’s Pop
Where: CTV and
When: Saturday March 6, 10 p.m.
Note: New episodes are arriving every Saturday through April 24

Boy bands, country pop and protest songs are just a few of the musical topics that get documentary treatment in This is Pop, an eight-part series by two former Victorians that debuts on Saturday on CTV.

University of Victoria graduates Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn, who own and operate Banger Films in Toronto, couldn’t cover every corner of the pop music landscape in just eight hours of programming – the genre, now. 70-year-old understands everyone from Elvis Presley to Eminem.

But the co-executive producers are tackling some pivotal moments in the music, using an approach similar to that used by ESPN for its Oscar-winning sports series 30 for 30 – with a preference for intimate portraits.

“We’ve never done a show where almost every episode has a different director and a different style,” Dunn said. “I think we’ve learned along the way to accept that. This is what we loved about 30 for 30 – all of those docs had a very distinct style for sure.

“When we first started, we had a long list of about 50 different stories that we thought could fit this approach. We’ve narrowed it down to eight, so we really feel like there are more legs in the show beyond those episodes.

This is Pop opens with Auto-Tune, which explores popular pitch correction technology used to maximum effect by T-Pain, Cher and Kanye West. Other episodes airing this month include Hail Britpop! (March 13), on the explosion of British artists in the 90s, Oasis, Blur et al; Stockholm Syndrome (March 20), which takes an in-depth look at the Swedish pop genre single-handedly created by ABBA; and The Boyz II Men Effect (March 27), a meditation on the phenomenon of boy bands.

Other episodes that will air in the coming weeks run across the stylistic spectrum, from Dolly Parton, Shania Twain and Lil Nas X (When Country Goes Pop, April 3) and songwriting factories (The Brill Building in 4 Songs, April 10) in protest against songs (What Can A Song Do ?, April 17) and the history of rock festivals (Festival Rising, April 24).

“If there’s one genre in music that seems to have endless stories to tell, it’s pop,” Dunn said. “Pop means different things to everyone. Depending on your age, background, or where you grew up, pop can be completely different from person to person. Philosophically, that’s what interested us in this series. What is pop? In different ways, each of the eight episodes explores this question.

Dunn, McFadyen and series producer Amanda Burt got time with big – and notoriously shy – subjects including Twain, Arlo Guthrie and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane.

By far, however, the biggest interview problem was ABBA’s Benny Andersson, who is not known to do on-camera interviews. McFadyen said he was able to convince Andersson to speak through his son, who was a fan of Hip-Hop Evolution, Banger Films’ Emmy-winning series that aired on HBO from 2016-2020.

“It was one of the biggest hits for us,” he said. “Nobody gets ABBA.”

This is Pop took two years to complete, with an unexpected interruption from COVID-19. The original plan was to fly to England and the United States to shoot summer footage for Festival Rising at the Glastonbury and Bonnaroo festivals, “but everything got canceled,” McFadyen said. “So we kind of have to pivot and talk about this change.”

The duo run one of the best pop culture production companies in the world and have made a handful of acclaimed documentaries, starting with the couple’s first film as a unit, award-winning Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Gemini in 2005. Each documentary is music-related, from spotlights on Rush and Iron Maiden to deep dives on ZZ Top and Alice Cooper.

Both producers have come to embrace the steep learning curve for each doc. “We’re not experts in all forms of music, and neither should we be,” said Dunn. “But we still play a fairly important role in terms of overseeing the creation. We might not be there for every little detail, but we are definitely there in terms of storytelling. “

However, more and more projects are emerging. A documentary on Toronto-based rock trio Triumph, which premieres on Crave in the fall, will be preceded by K-Pop Evolution, a YouTube original premiering later this month.

The series will take a look at the history of Korean pop music through the cultural hurricane that is the group BTS – another example of how Dunn and McFadyen are still learning as they go, almost 20 years after their beginnings.

“Because we started out in metal and started out with music that I was very fond of, it kind of caught us pretty early on how important it is not to alienate fans from music,” he said. Dunn said. “When we started to get into hip-hop and now K-Pop and pop music, we just wanted to make sure the story was told authentically because we know that music matters to people.

“Swedish pop, death metal or Shania Twain, we just try to bring the same level of care to it all. “

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