If you’ve paid any modicum of attention to popular music in the past twenty years or so, you know Taylor Swift. She knows that you know her. Her private life has been a constant in the tabloids, with her Kimye-fueled feud and revolving door of boyfriends almost eclipsing her career as a recording artist. No new album of hers has arrived without a public forum about who she truly is or what she stands for. She’s been recontextualized so many times that it’s enough to make your head spin. In her new documentary Miss Americana, Swift tries to regain control of the narrative about her life. This time, she’s brought along director Lana Wilson, a documentarian whose previous features focused on abortion and suicide. Does it reach the same levels of scorching authenticity as Blonde Ambition? Well…
Miss Americana etches out a rough sketch of Swift’s career, starting from her humble beginnings in Tennessee to the release of her seventh studio album, Lover. Crucially, Wilson showcases the moment Swift realized that not everyone would love her and give her applause. At the 2009 VMAs, Swift won the award for Best Female Music Video, famously beating out Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” (which would go on to win Video of the Year). An unpredictable Kanye interrupted her on stage to praise Beyonce, leading him to become public enemy number one in America. Interestingly, Wilson clarifies that the booing Swift was traumatized by was not aimed at her, but at Kanye. As the documentary rolls on, Swift deals with event after event, leading up to the moment she became hated and despised by the public. Miss Americana focuses on the comeback after her (Grammy-ignored) album Reputation, in which Swift tried to declare that she was the “bad guy”. Once it failed to make the same kind of impact as her previous album 1989, Swift realized that she was free to do whatever she wanted.
The most honest moments in Miss Americana come from the footage shot by Wilson of Swift’s private life. A casually cruel remark made by Swift about her own slappable face, her fight with her father about speaking out on politics, and her remark that telling her gay fans “happy Pride Month” without doing anything to support them is a hollow and empty statement. At the heart of Miss Americana is the story of a sheltered young rich woman learning to come into her own and speak out for what she knows to be right. Make no mistake: Swift’s activism is vital, though not on the same level as trailblazers before her: Madonna, Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga, and the aforementioned Mrs. Carter all have made far more explicit and radical comments about politics and human rights before Swift did). What makes the film more refreshing is that Swift realizes and acknowledges her own shortcomings, with the intent to rectify her past mistake of keeping silent during the 2016 election, which may have hurt her reputation in the long run.
Swift narrates through her experiences in the past several years, acknowledging her past failures and how she’s preparing to transition into full adulthood. Wilson lingers on Swift’s insecurities about adulthood, and her passion about becoming outspoken with politics and participating in more active community organizing and progressive rights. Ultimately, the film is admittedly opaque when it comes to getting down to the deepest emotions of Swift’s life, though its surface level examination of her feelings will be satisfying to the casual fans or general public. There’s a particular moment early on that encapsulates the entire thesis of who Taylor Swift used to be: when she finds out that Reputation was shut out of the major categories at the Grammys, she merely responds with “I’ll make a better record”. By the end of the film, after exercising her voice in politics and improving her allyship to the gay community, it’s clear that she’s no longer a people pleaser. Swift occupies the upper stratosphere of pop music, and is perhaps an unexpected leader for young white people across America to look up to. Miss Americana is about Taylor Swift finding her own voice, and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.
21, born and raised in Boston, now a college student in Los Angeles. Mamma Mia wine mom personality. Jerry Gogosian of the film world.