While the title may suggest otherwise, never underestimate the girl.
At 18, Kate Nash burst onto the alt-pop music scene from relative obscurity. Quickly earning a platinum album and dominating the music charts, Nash became the voice of a generation. However, years later, after a traumatic encounter with her manager, Nash finds herself struggling to make ends meet. Taking odd jobs and selling off her clothes, Nash is forced to re-examine who she is and what it means to make her music in an ever-changing music landscape.
Directed by Amy Goldstein (East of A), Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl is an intriguing behind-the scenes look at the struggles of life in the music industry, especially for young women. Walking with her along her transition to America, the film portrays Nash as a humble yet courageous artist who remains passionate about her music and style. Through her use of live performance footage and onscreen lyrics, Goldstein manages to keep Nash’s music front and centre throughout her journey. In doing so, she effectively and consistently builds direct connections between the heart of her songs and Nash’s life situation at the time. For Nash, her music is her voice and Goldstein recognizes the power within that.
In fact, the power of voice—or, more accurately, what happens when people try to take that away—remains a key theme throughout Underestimate the Girl. Whereas Nash’s career may have shot to stardom early on, things take a turn for the worse after she is taken advantage of by her manager. By shattering her trust, the damage done by her manager crushes her emotionally and financially. Struggling to pay her bills, Nash wrestles with options ranging from writing pop music that doesn’t suit her brand to selling sci-fi merchandise on a YouTube shopping channel. However, with each venture, Nash appears increasingly saddened, not only because of her financial situation but because each venture seems to steal another piece of her soul. (This frustration becomes particularly apparent during the scenes where she attempts to work on a new ‘pop’ sound as she is repeatedly forced to hold her voice back in an effort to create something that will ‘sell’.)
However, despite her circumstances, Nash remains determined to speak her voice as an artist. Although she is told that her music doesn’t fit neatly into the music scene, Nash courageously fights for opportunities to express herself in her own way. Inherent to her creativity is a fearless authenticity that enlivens her soul. Because she understands who she has been created to be, Nash recognizes that her value as an artist lies in her ability to speak in her own voice. In other words, her individuality is tied to her energy and effectiveness as an artist.
In this way, Underestimate becomes an encouraging picture about the life-giving power of a commitment to honouring who we are. By following Nash as her subject, Goldstein strikes gold by bringing us a rock star that we can relate to. While her story of superstardom may differ from our own, her humility and genuineness on camera makes us believe that she is also one of us. Her pluck and tenacity serves as a reminder to all of the value of knowing who you are and ferociously fighting to be heard.
While Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl may be an inside look at the reality of trying to make it in the music business, its true value is deeper than that. Fun but fearless, Nash’s honesty and humility are what truly sets the film apart as she continues to prove her value to others by simply being herself.
Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl hits ALAMO ON DEMAND on Friday, May 22nd, 2020