REVIEW: Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl [2020]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 89 minutes
    Release Date: May 22nd, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: BBC3 / Nerdbombers
    Director(s): Amy Goldstein

There’s nothing silly about being a teenage girl.

While Amy Goldstein‘s documentary Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl obviously centers upon its British rockstar subject’s unorthodox trajectory from Myspace sensation to “GLOW” actress, it also serves as an invaluably informative account of what it means to be a twenty-first century musician thanks to the industry’s ever-changing landscape. The simple fact that Kate Nash‘s career began because she had enough social media followers to turn record label heads is a product of that moment of time, but so too is her courage to stand-up and take control of her art no matter the consequences. She wasn’t going to be told what her sound needed to be when technology gave a first-hand connection to her fans to know what they wanted. She wasn’t going to compromise without a fight.

Ten years prior and the powers that be may have blinked because artists made them money. With current streaming models rendering record sales obsolete opposite concerts, marketing, and commercialization, however, the moment she threated to alter the image they sold was the moment they unceremoniously dropped her. All her hard work was cancelled with a phone call as the people who supposedly champion the art form showed they couldn’t care less about anything outside of the bottom line to which they were comfortable. Suddenly her only avenue to get new music out was doing it herself by leveraging profits saved from her first two albums (Made of Bricks and My Best Friend Is You) and release Girl Talk independently while risking everything on a low budget world tour.

This is where Nash provides our rock-n-roll education thanks to being forced into getting intimately involved with everything labels generally shelter their talent from. She had to make connections with producers, create branded content, do press, and still have the energy to perform each night. She decides to move from London to Los Angeles in a bid to tap into the American pipeline of opportunity only to discover that doing it alone was impossible. Now Kate had to court new labels with her new punk-infused sound. She had to play the game and do all the things her overnight success at eighteen skipped just to get back on-track. So if she didn’t already know where women stand in the music industry (she did), it was fully transparent now.

Goldstein captures each step forward and back as Kate finds herself on the bottom rung of a career she topped almost ten years ago. She needs ways of making a salary and ways of putting her music in the ears of those with the power to do something about it, but the more time spent working that grind means more time spent away from doing what she loves. That’s not to say she wasn’t still writing music—it just wasn’t for herself or guaranteed to see the light of day. Nash becomes a gun for hire as she rethinks strategy, puts her trust in the wrong people, and discovers her dream is all but over. Rather than create with autonomy, the path to success became filling a template.

If we learn anything, however, it’s that Kate Nash abhors convention. As a working class kid who got her first job at fourteen—she knows what it means to put in the time and take pride in the result. So when the choice becomes kowtowing to the industry that she’s been avoiding or going back home to a nine-to-five in the hopes of finding inspiration to write from the heart, she’ll pick the latter every time. It’s an inspiring and commendable position to have that leads to some emotionally raw moments of honest self-reflection when the bottom appears to drop completely. But as long as she’s channeling her art through any venue that provides her the freedom to do so on her terms, she won’t be down long.

And through all these ups and downs, Kate never regrets going for it. Despite being at her lowest point career-wise, she never stops telling young girls that they can excel despite being shy or uncertain about traveling in male-dominated waters like music. It’s a message of “girl power” and perseverance that permeates her lyrics, so of course Goldstein would utilize every opportunity at her disposal to animate the words above the performances shown throughout the film. These are Nash’s anthems to the underestimated and this journey is proof that evolution through reinvention only makes you stronger. It’s this crucial rallying cry that shines because we’re watching it rise within her after confronting a never-ending river of adversity. It isn’t easy, but she does find a way.

[1] photo by Carolina Faruolo
[2] photo by Anouchkavan Riel
[3] photo by Carolina Faruolo

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