Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘The Greatest Night in Pop’ Netflix Documentary Sets Internet on Fire

‘The Greatest Night in Pop’ Netflix Documentary Sets Internet on Fire

Back in 1985, a lot of pop music performers gathered for We Are the World and that night is now a pop documentary. It is titled The Greatest Night in Pop. The recording itself was done to help people in Africa dealing with hunger. Still, getting all of these singers like Michael Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Bruce Springsteen, and Cyndi Lauper in one recording studio took a little time.

The Greatest Night in Pop has been on Netflix for a couple of weeks. The response to seeing this documentary has been incredible. Jackson and Lionel Richie worked together to write the opus, designed to raise awareness around hunger in Africa. So, what was it like behind the scenes? Director Bao Nguyen talked about it with PBS host Amna Nawaz.

Documentary Director Heard Parents’ Albums

He remembered being a young boy and hearing his Vietnamese parents learn English from Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers records. We Are the World was played a lot at that time, too, he said, in this pop documentary.

“But the film was conceived during the middle of the pandemic,” Nguyen said. “And I was watching a lot of things from the ’80s and the ’90s. So I wanted to make something that was kind of familiar to people. We didn’t know what we were going to come out of after the pandemic.”

He said that his producer presented him with the idea of doing the We Are the World story. He liked it and moved forward. Upon seeing the pop documentary, fans headed out to X (formerly Twitter) and shared their thoughts.

Harry Belafonte Played Integral Role In Process

What some people might not know is that the idea of bringing these pop stars together started with the legendary singer and actor Harry Belafonte. Nguyen unpacks this idea in an answer to a question.

“So it started with Harry Belafonte, who had seen what the British artists had done with Band-Aid and also was watching a lot of these documentaries about what was going on in the famine in Africa at the time,” Nguyen said.

“And I think we’re kind of used to those images, sadly, nowadays,” he said. “But in the ’80s, when it happened, it was a shock to everyone who saw those images. And Harry Belafonte – he says it in the film – that he was sort of like seeing white artists saving people in Africa, but he wasn’t seeing Black artists save the people in Africa.”

Belafonte also played an important role in getting Lionel Richie on board. “And so he started to assemble this team of Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, through Lionel’s manager, Ken Kragen. And that’s how it all got started.”

Other artists like Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Huey Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, and Bono also found themselves together for the one overnight session. Were these famed musicians starstruck by their fellow compatriots appearing to perform?

Diana Ross-Daryl Hall Chat Exemplifies Respect

Here’s how one interaction went down, according to Nguyen. “Diana (Ross) walks up to Daryl Hall with her music in her hands and says: ‘Daryl, I’m your biggest fan. Would you sign my music for me?’” Nguyen said.

“And we all looked around and said ‘holy moly.’”

In doing this documentary, Nguyen closely watched how these incredible performers worked with one another. “And to see them really nervous around each other, excited and sort of fanboying and fangirling around each other,” he said. “But also really vulnerable, again, these are the greatest musical minds and artists of the time.”

These performers apparently were a bit reticent to open up and talk about working on We Are the World. It took a little cajoling to have these incredible musicians start sharing their experiences. “It was sort of a bit of life imitating art because it took Lionel to make these phone calls,” Nguyen said. “And once Lionel was lined up to help produce this project, everyone started to agree to be part of it. And one of the great things that we tried to do in the film was to shoot the interviews at the actual studio where it was recorded.”

The Greatest Night in Pop is still available for viewing on Netflix.