A look at the Taylor Swift documentary, Miss Americana
by Abbey Delk
America, look what you made Taylor Swift do. After spending the last several years struggling to win back public favor amid waves of media criticism and online hate comments, Swift has finally found a way to tug at the public’s heartstrings once more. She achieves this not through her usual glossy pop anthems but through the more subtle art of film (and no, I don’t mean Cats.)
Miss Americana, the documentary focused on the world-famous pop star’s meteoric rise and subsequent battles with self-perception and loneliness, debuted on Netflix on January 31. The film, directed by Lana Wilson, opens on a contemplative Swift paging through old journals from what feels like another lifetime entirely: a time when she was not one of the biggest names in music. Swift recalls her drive and self-confidence even as an untested and unknown performer.
She also remembers the principles she developed at the outset of her career. “My entire moral code, as a kid and now, is a need to be thought of as good. It was all I wrote about. It was all I wanted.”
Viewers are then taken on a fast-paced and dizzying journey from Swift’s nervous excitement visiting Sony Records in the hopes of being signed to the singer dressed in sequined splendor in front of a sold-out stadium during her Reputation Tour. It’s the typical story of unbelievable success.
And then we see Swift in her pajamas in late 2018, learning that her fifth studio album Reputation was not nominated for any major categories at the Grammy’s. Her disappointment is palpable. “I just need to make a better record,” she says.
This self-critical aspect of Swift’s life as a musician and performer is at the core of what makes this documentary feel so unusually intimate. This is Swift stripped bare (or at least as bare as she’ll ever be willing to get for the public), and it is almost jarring after 15 years of careful covering up of her insecurities and faults.
We see this at the shoot for the music video of “Me!” Swift dances in a pastel yellow suit with a mega-watt smile for the camera then rush behind it between takes to critique herself. Watching herself in the viewfinder, Swift wears an expression .of displeasure. “I have a really slappable face,” she says. It takes many tries before she is satisfied enough to move on.
Swift also uses the documentary to provide insights into the most difficult parts of her life in the public eye. She alludes to her struggles with an eating disorder, sharing that an unflattering photo or a comment about her weight on social media would often trigger her to starve herself.
However, she said she had gradually found a way to escape that vicious cycle. “I’m a lot happier with who I am. I don’t care as much if someone points out that I’ve gained weight,” she said.
Miss Americana also outlines the messy and divisive Kanye West debacle. Swift chooses not to dredge up the conflict by directly addressing the claims that she had lied about not giving Kanye West permission to disparage her in his song “Famous.” However, she does share how the public backlash affected her emotionally. Particularly hard, she said, was the loss of approval and praise from fans and media. She described the pain at seeing the hashtag “TaylorSwiftIsOverParty” trending worldwide on Twitter. “Do you know how many people have to be tweeting that they hate you for that to happen?” asked Swift.
Swift said she felt the need to leave the public eye after that and spent a year in relative silence, focusing on rebuilding her sense of self-worth. She also describes that period as a time when she was falling in love with her current boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, who goes unnamed in the documentary.
Out of this turbulent time emerged a Taylor Swift who is less afraid of displeasing the public and more concerned with staying true to herself. This shift is apparent in her breaking her career-long silence on politics to endorse Democrat Phil Bredesen in the 2018 senate race in Tennessee. Taylor Swift called his opponent, Marsha Blackburn, “Trump in a wig.” In a compelling moment, Swift and her mother sit in opposition to her father and the men on her staff, begging them to understand why she feels the need to speak out finally. “I need to do this. And I need you to forgive me for doing this,” Swift said.
Miss Americana is the story of a girl who became an icon, finally learning to grow into a confident adult. If you’re a lifelong Swiftie, you’ve probably already watched it twice. But if you are not, I still recommend the film. You might be surprised by how much you like it.