KATE NASH: UNDERESTIMATE THE GIRL: An Artist Takes Control of Her Future

Kate Nash was everywhere – and then she was nowhere. From her post-Brit School years finding sleeper success with “Foundation”, to her morphing, increasingly agitated ballads of resistance and rebellion, women around the world have screamed along to her half-sung, wholly honest lyrics which seemed to capture the petty inequalities and frustrations of modern life. And then, she seemed to drop off the face of music – plagued by bankruptcy and an inability to get a label. In 2020, Nash feels on the verge of a comeback as an actress and musician, having reappeared on Netflix as the lovable Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson in GLOW and found success promoting music independently.

KATE NASH: UNDERESTIMATE THE GIRL: An Artist Takes Control of Her Future
source: Alamo On Demand

A Musical Documentary For a New Era

In Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl, Nash, and director Amy Goldstein chart the singer’s mercurial career and unconventional comeback in 90 joyous, angry minutes. This documentary feels like an open book, built from Nash’s wholehearted engagement throughout. She is open and honest, engaging with her past with the same snarky comments and unrelenting optimism that won her legions of fans. It is hard not to fall in love with her here – Goldstein ensures her voice, as well as time with those closest to her, are brought to the forefront. These are further highlighted through a punchy visual style – lyrics often pop up on the screen, highlighting the words that cut through to the hearts of her listeners.

All material shown on screen is delivered with a mix of anger and fun, of fury and silliness – she and her band laugh about their desire to “do weird stuff and freak people out” as she reclaims the narrative of industry pariah. This approach may raise a question about a possible lack of balanced perspectives, but it feels like an appropriately personal approach for one of the greatest artists of the MySpace era.

KATE NASH: UNDERESTIMATE THE GIRL: An Artist Takes Control of Her Future
source: Alamo On Demand

Structural Unevenness and Honest Storytelling

Structurally, Underestimate the Girl flounders. The random anecdotes and disjointed sections feel like an information dump rather than a crafted story – while these are often charming and engaging and speak to Nash’s uninhibited presentation, they do not serve the overall narrative structure. This may limit the film’s appeal to fans of Nash or music documentaries in general, rather than a wider audience – without some inherent investment, it may struggle to gain new viewers.

On the other hand, however, this portrayal aches with truthfulness and wins with its unpretentiousness. Getting an insight into Nash’s songwriting process, where not every lyric or bass line ends up in a finished piece of work, dismantles the myth of the artist as genius and the young woman as the speaker of truth to power. Nash’s words and tunes are built from creative exploration, refining the rough drafts until she and her band are happy to take the work forward. Additionally, the documentary’s unflinching honesty about the financial and psychological realities of crashing between success and destitution. The struggle of overnight success and then losing everything goes beyond the mental gymnastics required to adapt to this unbelievable reality – a perspective not often explored in the genre.

KATE NASH: UNDERESTIMATE THE GIRL: An Artist Takes Control of Her Future
source: Alamo On Demand

This bankruptcy was largely driven by the battle over music rights and her manager’s stealthy robbery – which has thankfully been rectified in court. This artist exploitation – especially where the artist is a young woman – is an all-too-familiar industry narrative, but the focus in Underestimate the Girl is primarily on Nash’s and her family’s private grapplings with overnight fame and the responsibilities it brings. This viewpoint balances the petty and personal challenges of adapting to new income levels with the understandable outrage over the theft and rights disputes; the result feels a surprisingly intimate look into stardom.

Conclusion: A Vibrant, if Uneven, Picture

Ultimately, the buoyant mood of Goldstein’s and Nash’s work makes the documentary a joyous, inspirational ninety minutes. It is hard not to find newfound respect and adoration for Nash after watching Underestimate the Girl. While sometimes too unpolished for its own ends, the rawness, frankness, and good humour Nash brings to this retrospective of her first decade has a value of its own. One does not know what to expect from the rest of Nash’s career – but one knows it will be bright, fresh, and very, very urgent.

What are your favourite documentaries about musicians, and how have they been changing in the 21st century? Are you looking forward to Nash’s next project? Let us know in the comments below!

Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl is available on Alamo on Demand in the States and BBC IPlayer in the UK.


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