Cher mourned the loss of Sonny Bono. Ozzy Osbourne dished on biting bats. Ricky Martin discussed coming out. Tina Turner detailed how she survived Ike’s abuse, and Jennifer Hudson cried while remembering the murders of her family members. TLC talked about—literally—burning down the house.
For 15 years and more than 250 episodes, VH1’s seminal biography series Behind the Music has landed the biggest names in music—Madonna, Shania Twain, Mary J. Blige, Fleetwood Mac—to dig into the nitty gritty of every tabloid-baiting, dark detail of their rise to (and sometimes fall from) the top.
“It’s not one of those shows that shows a small bit of what you did that was great, and everything else is damned depressing—where it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, do I have to watch The Wizard of Oz right now?” TLC singer Chili tells The Daily Beast. “It’s not like sitting down with an interviewer and then the magazine comes out and you’re like, ‘Oh shit, I didn’t word it like that. You actually get to hear the artist talk.”
In that grand tradition, the show’s 15th season continues Sunday night with an episode featuring pop diva Nicole Scherzinger. The former Pussycat Dolls singer runs through a series of jaw-dropping confessions, ranging from the reveal that she was initially offered Fergie’s slot in the Black Eyed Peas to her struggle with bulimia, peeling off layers of the star to unveil parts of her that fans have never seen.
In honor of its latest scoop and 15 years of uncovering scandals, capturing zany soundbites, and manufacturing what amounts to docuseries porn for diehard music fans, The Daily Beast, Behind the Music producers and some of the artists themselves look back at some of its biggest, juiciest moments.
Nicole Scherzinger’s battle with bulimia and anorexia lasted for eight years, and she speaks about it for the first time on Sunday’s episode of Behind the Music. “I did it every day for, like, years,” Scherzinger says of her eating disorder. “Every time I had a second to be alone, I was doing something to myself…I just hated myself. I really was so disgusted with myself and so embarrassed. I felt so alone. I was in a group, and I never felt so alone in my life.”
When Jennifer Hudson spoke to Behind the Music, it was the first in-depth interview she had given about the ghastly murders of her mother, brother, and nephew in 2008. “I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” says Leah Horwitz, vice president of music talent and creative development at VH1 who has who has worked on Behind the Music for 12 years. After the first question was asked, Hudson broke down to tears and had to take a 20-minute break to compose herself. “We felt so bad, but she came back and answered the questions,” Horwitz says. “When you watch the show and you see her watery eyes, you see how hard it for her to talk about it. You see the emotion.”
“It was kind of like a therapy session,” Chilli says of participating in TLC’s Behind the Music episodes—there have been three so far. The first, however, may be one of the most memorable the series has ever produced. It aired at the height of the group’s fame, when this enigmatic trio of women who looked like girls were trailblazing the charts with their scandalous hip-hop. Yet despite their success, the group was bankrupt, a beguiling concept—at least until feisty late group member Left Eye explained it how only she could. “When Lisa (Left Eye) broke it down, and the way she did it with her great, crazy personality, everyone was like, ‘Oh, now I get it.’” (Loyal Behind the Music viewers may also remember the fire in her eyes when Left Eye recalled burning down her boyfriend’s house.) “A show like this can make people embrace you more or give you the side eye,” Chilli says. Considering the group keeps going back for more, the reaction by fans has clearly been the former. “We want to make history for having the most Behind the Musics.”
“Somebody that I didn’t think would be quite as honest as she was with us was Jennifer Lopez,” says Horwitz. The triple-threat diva’s Bronx-to-Hollywood fairy-tale story is rife for the Behind the Music treatment, but the high-profile celebrity relationships (Sean “Diddy” Combs, Ben Affleck), failed marriages (backup dancer Chris Judd, Marc Anthony), and incessant tabloid rumors are the items on the typical Do Not Talk About list for stars. Yet Lopez addressed it all, going into rare detail about her relationship with Affleck, especially. “We ended up doing a 90-minute episode on her because there was so much good stuff,” Horwitz says. “It might be my favorite Behind the Music.”
It took several tries and a manager switch for Courtney Love to agree to her Behind the Music sitdown in 2010, but it was worth the wait. “I think that was one of the most interesting ones we’ve ever done,” Horwitz says. “She talked for eight hours straight. So much of it didn’t even make it to air.” The dizzying array of subjects discussed: growing up in foster homes, turning to stripping, starting the band Hole, her marriage to Kurt Cobain, and her relationship with daughter, Frances Bean.
To those familiar to the unshakeable strums and earworm chorus of “Hey Soul Sister” or “Drive By,” Train’s reign at the top of the charts was nearly destroyed by band members’ drug and alcohol abuse. Falling prey to the “cliché of clichés,” says band member Scott Underwood, the trio saw nearly a decade pass between radio hit singles. Participating in Behind the Music was a no-brainer. “It’s so iconic to me,” lead singer Pat Monahan tells The Daily Beast. “And it’s not from a slant. It’s not an opinionated point of view.” Yet reliving the band’s struggle to get back to where they are today was a roller-coaster experience. “The first time I saw it, I cried about six times,” lead singer Pat Monahan tells The Daily Beast. “When I was done watching, I was like, I’m in a fucking great band.”
There was no shortage of shocking subjects when Brandy sat down for her Behind the Music interview. The singer discussed, candidly for the first time, her struggle with anorexia and bulimia, her fake marriage to music producer Robert Smith (devised to cover up her out-of-wedlock child), and her 2006 car accident that killed a 38-year-old mother of two. But nearly as intriguing is what didn’t make it to air. The Behind the Music crew was set up at the Beverly Hilton on Feb. 11, 2012, to interview Whitney Houston about her relationship with Brandy when the pop supernova’s publicist walked into the room with some shocking news. “’Whitney’s not coming, she’s not going to be able to do the interview,’” Horwitz recalls her saying. “She said she passed away, and then she started to cry. We were just in shock.”
Aaliyah’s Behind the Music “was a learning experience for me,” Horwitz says. Days after the R&B rising star died in a plane crash, VH1 had a film crew in the Bahamas to record footage of the accident site. Several weeks later, Horwitz was sitting down with the singer’s mother and brother, asking them questions about their loved one’s death. “I think they were just in shock,” Horwitz says. “I think if they weren’t they might have waited a little longer or not have done it.” Still, the family was happy with the outcome of the episode. “They appreciated how respectful we were of them. But that was a tough one.”
When Ricky Martin came out of the closet in a statement on his website in 2010, the message was eloquent, but controlled. So it was a surprise to hear him discuss the experience so freely on his episode of Behind the Music. “He got emotional talking about it,” Horwitz remembers. “It’s why people love him”—and a perfect example of why the show is so popular. “I think when artists show their vulnerable sides, people like them more.”
Mary J. Blige
When an artist signs up for Behind the Music, nothing’s off the table. If someone chooses not to address a major part of his or her life, then the episode is scrapped. Letting them off the hook, Horwitz says, “does our viewers a disservice.” So artists are willing to go into detail about the most painful moments of their past, and the results can be surprising. When Mary J. Blige began discussing being molested as a child, “you could see the vulnerability in her,” says Horwitz. “You think, ‘She’s going to save lives. She’s going to help people. She’s probably going to save people by revealing that about her.’”
Fantasia “was another tough one,” Horwitz says. The former American Idol winner spoke to Behind the Music soon after her failed suicide attempt. The episode opens with jarring details about her attempt to overdose on aspirin and a sleep aid, only to wake up in the hospital and be told by her nurse that she was still alive. Getting a person to talk about a traumatic experience, especially when it’s so fresh, is not easy, Horwitz says, thought it helps to have previous ties to the artist. “She was really open talking to us about that, but she really trusts us. She had a series with us at the time, so she had a relationship with us.”
That Behind the Music has the cache to land today’s biggest artists for such vigorous, emotional interviews is credit to the big names that helped launch the series 15 years ago. Among those were Cher, who so memorably talked about her lasting career—joking that after the apocalypse, all that will be left are cockroaches and Cher—and, more poignantly, the death of Sonny Bono. “We’ve done over 250 Behind the Musics from Madonna to Cher to 50 Cent, so artists feel like it’s a compliment when we approach them to do a show like this, because now they’re going down in history as an artist people care enough about and want to hear their story,” Horwitz says. “They look at it as a cool show to do.”