I finished watching Netflix’s four episode documentary Robbie Williams today. In case you don’t know (like most Americans), Robbie Williams is one of the most successful pop stars in UK history. At the peak of his career, he was bigger than The Beatles. For me, he’s always been like my Elvis. I’ve really idolized him in the way that people idolized Elvis during the early days of his career.
When I was younger, my hero was always Johnny Depp. But by the end of the 90s, it was pretty rare that Johnny Depp did a film that I actually liked. He used to do a lot of indie movies and really artsy stuff but then switched to just doing big Hollywood roles and I think those got worse and worse the more he did them. And that was around the time that I really started paying attention to Robbie Williams. So he ended up becoming my new hero. And I’ve idolized him ever since.
For me, this new docuseries didn’t really tell me anything new. There was loads of footage that I’d never seen before, but I already knew about his self-loathing side and drug addiction and all of that. So I can’t say that anything in this series shocked or surprised me except that he has four children now; I’d only been aware that he had two. In any casem I was kind of hoping there would be some bombshell revelations or something, that I’d learn a lot more about him than I already knew. Thus, it left me feeling slightly frustrated that it didn’t deliver on that. Of course, I still enjoyed watching it. And I would recommend it to anyone who likes Behind The Music or music documentaries. Even if you don’t like his music, you’d probably find it interesting. At the same time, some people may find him hard to relate to. If you’re someone who assumes that all rich and famous people are happy as can be and don’t have any demons, you’d probably find it frustrating. But if you can appreciate the fact that famous people can have addictions and panic attacks and stuff, then you’d probably come away from it liking him.
My only real complaint about the series is that it totally overlooks nearly half of his discography. For example, he released two jazz/swing albums and he even did a Vegas residency and they didn’t mention those things at all. I mean, if they didn’t want to talk about the making of them and how popular they were, they could have at least mentioned that those albums existed for two seconds. And, worse, it totally overlooks his entire career after the Take That reunion. Something like 15 years ago he reunited with the boy band he started off in and they did one hugely successful album and tour together. But Robbie went back to being a solo artist after that. Yet they don’t mention that and so the last third of his career gets totally ignored. He’d had a couple of albums that didn’t do very well before the Take That reunion, which is probably why he decided to do that, but after the reunion every album he’s released since then has been a huge success. So it’s kind of crazy that they don’t even mention that he went on to release all of these successful albums during the more recent part of his career. And the weird thing is that the first three episodes of the series are 50 minutes or longer. But the fourth episode is only 40 minutes. So they could have made it ten minutes longer and mentioned these things but for some weird reason they chose not to. So it’s like a Behind The Music type of series that neglects to mention the artist’s big comeback at the end. Which is absurd because they didn’t even have to talk about that comeback; they simply could have displayed text on the screen at the end of the series to say that he’s released 5 chart topping albums since the Take That reunion and has done successful tours in support of them. Would it have killed them to use up 10 seconds of screen time to tell us that? No, obviously. So I’m a bit miffed that they neglected to mention nearly half of his discography. I could see them not mentioning it if those albums flopped but they all went platinum in the UK.
Another thing they neglected to mention is that Robbie eventually made up with his longtime songwriting partner Guy Chambers, who worked on Robbie’s more recent albums. The documentary includes footage of Robbie and Guy Chambers together but after they mention that Robbie and Guy parted ways, they never mention Guy again so people who just watch the documentary would think that they never worked again after they parted ways around the time Robbie’s album Escapology was made around 2003.
The other thing I wish they would’ve done differently was showing full length songs from his concerts. You’re lucky if you see 40 seconds of him performing at a time. I know it’s not a concert film but I’ve seen other music documentaries where you see the artist perform several of their songs in between the other stuff. And the other thing is that even though they show these 40 second clips, most of them are of him performing “Angels” and “Let Me Entertain You.” Why was it so important to show clips of him performing those two songs over and over again? They’re two of his best songs but it still would’ve been nice for the filmmakers to expose the viewer to more of his songs. And they also keep showing him performing the song “Rudebox,” which was really the only single in his career to completely flop. It’s like they were trying to humiliate him by bringing that song up time and time again.
All in all, it’s an interesting docuseries and I’m definitely glad that I watched it. I just can’t fathom why they completely ignored Robbie’s recent albums and the fact that he reunited with Guy Chambers.