Social media is so yesterday. More and more, musical artists looking to polish their image are turning to full-length documentaries.
Country star Luke Bryan is the latest marquee name with the business savvy and budget to hop on the trend. In "My Dirt Road Diary," now available on Amazon's free streaming service IMDb TV, Bryan shares how he busted out of a small town in Georgia to become a bestselling artist.
But the real goal of the five episodes seems to be dethroning Garth Brooks as the nicest guy in country music.
We learn how Bryan — who will perform Sept. 3 at Treasure Island Amphitheater in Red Wing — set aside his dreams of moving to Nashville after his super-supportive brother died in a 1996 auto accident, choosing instead to toil away at his father's peanut mill. How he stayed loyal to his college sweetheart even after she broke his heart. How he reached new levels of humbleness after his 2007 single "We Rode in Trucks" stalled on the Billboard charts. How he pushed forward after the passing of a second super-supportive sibling. How he helped his merch dealer become a recording artist.
And his hometown of Leesburg, Ga.? Well, it's just about the greatest place on Earth.
Those counting the days until his Treasure Island show will be as moved as the fan who sobs hysterically in the opening episode. But anyone not already on the Bryan bandwagon will feel like they've been suckered into watching a series of self-promotional videos.
It didn't have to be this way. Several other hot artists have had the guts to use the medium to do more than sell concert tickets.
"Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry," on Apple TV Plus, does a superb job of showing how she handles — and mishandles — balancing the pressures of superstardom with the challenges of being a moody teenager. Amazon Prime's "Pink: All I Know So Far" reveals a personal side you could never experience while the pop star is flipping on a trapeze bar. HBO's "The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" was one of last year's most enthralling films, bolstering the brothers' reputation as songwriters without ignoring their shortcomings.
All these have one thing in common — directors who won't take marching orders from an ego-tripping celebrity.
Eilish's film was helmed by D.A. Pennebaker, the revered documentarian behind 1967's "Don't Look Back," which tells you more about Bob Dylan than just about any deeply researched book. It's far superior to "No Direction Home" and "Rolling Thunder Revue," docs in which director Martin Scorsese appeared to give up way too much creative control to Dylan, a master manipulator.
"My Dirt Road Diary" was directed by Michael Monaco, whose credits are limited to video shorts about Florida Georgia Line, Kenny Chesney and Little Big Town. The executive producers include Bryan and his longtime manager Kerri Edwards, who — surprise, surprise — is heavily featured in the film.
Monaco has captured some personal moments. You see Bryan try to pull a practical joke on his children while making dinner. There's also footage of him tossing a football with his wife that might be inspired by a Cialis commercial.
Viewers who think "Drink a Beer" is a masterpiece will be smitten. Everyone else will walk away with a bad taste in their mouth.
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431 •
Njustin@startribune.com Twitter: @nealjustin