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20 Feet from Stardom is a 2013 film directed by Morgan Neville.

It is a documentary feature on the role of backup singers in popular music. Various interviewees share their thoughts on what it was like to sing backup to big stars, the challenges and rewards of performing as support for other acts, and the different challenges and risks of trying to break out as a solo or headlining artist.

Interviewees include Darlene Love ("Christmas...Baby Please Come Home"), Merry Clayton (who sang the "Rape...murder...it's just a shot away" lyric on "Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones), Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, and others. Also included are people like Bruce Springsteen and Sting, headliners who share their perspectives on the backup singers they've worked with.


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Tropes:

  • Call-Back: Merry Clayton recounts the 1969 session where she was called into the studio on no notice and sang that amazing "Rape...murder...it's just a shot away" vocal on "Gimme Shelter". Later, when Lisa Fischer is talking about her regular gig as a backup singer for the Stones, a clip runs of her singing that same song and lyric.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Darlene Love remembers at her low point, after her career in music had totally stalled, she was working as a house cleaner. After hearing "Christmas...Baby Please Come Home" on a radio while she was cleaning a bathroom, she decided to come back to music, and had more success than ever before.
  • Fanservice Extra: Discussed Trope. Claudia Lennear talks about how backup singers were supposed to look hot as well as sing, and how she was once given as a stage direction "Make men excite." She is a little disarmed when her interviewer shoots back with "But you posed for Playboy."
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  • Ironic Juxtaposition: Stock footage clips show Lisa Fischer at her career peak in 1991, winning a Grammy for her performance of "How Can I Ease the Pain" and performing onstage as a solo artist. Then the next scene is footage from the movie of her waiting in line at Fed Ex, as she recounts how her career stalled immediately after.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: With many many still pictures in the movie, starting with the opening sequence where the camera pans over photos of big artists, with their faces covered up to attract attention to the backup singers with them.
  • Lens Flare: Seen on occasion as performers are on stage. Lens flares dramatically enhance the scene as Judith Hill is onstage while people in voiceover talk about the difficulty of breaking out as a star on your own, which Hill is trying to do.
  • Music Stories: The life of a backup singer "20 feet from stardom." One interviewee points out that when people sing songs to themselves they're often singing what the backup singer sang, since the backup singers sing the hooks.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Demonstrated, as Lisa Fischer appears onscreen vocalizing, and then three different Lisa Fischers also appear onscreen, harmonizing with the first one.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: Judith Hill recounts in an interview how she got a plum job as a backup singer to Michael Jackson for his upcoming world tour—only for Jackson to die unexpectedly in 2009 before the tour started. Then she gets a huge break when she sings "Heal the World" at Jackson's funeral and gets a lot of media attention.
  • Talking Heads: Throughout the movie as various people talk about their experiences as or with backup singers.
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