Everyone who has heard of the famed country star turned pop singer Taylor Swift probably knows just as much about the scrutiny that has been placed on how she presents as a public figure. Are the awards show surprise faces real? Did she agree to Kanye using derogatory lyrics about her in his music? Is her sudden interest in politics about making a change or making herself look better? In recent years, these are the questions that have been swirling in the media storm that surrounds Taylor Swift. A documentary detailing those years of her life, at first glance, seems like it might just be another PR stunt, but somehow it turns into more than that.
Miss Americana is a celebration of the life and career of the young girl who made it big, the one who went from singing in local bars to major stadiums around the world. Throughout this time, Taylor has portrayed herself as the ideal girl next door with her sweet lyrics of falling in love and growing up. Eventually, though, the tabloids, as well as the general public, became tired of this nice girl façade. Interestingly, the documentary does not shy away from this. In fact, Swift herself admits that she was so focused on being nice because that’s what sells country music. Emphatically and, most disturbingly, she states that she thought her success depended on being liked for being an image of herself rather than herself. In a world where imposter syndrome is rampant and people of all gender identities feel the need to curate an image of themselves that is different but also conforms, Taylor’s message could not be more important. Her obsession with her image and likeability resulted in an eating disorder, the ruin of her mental health and ultimately made her feel that her value was only measured by the number of Grammys on her shelves.
Halfway through the documentary, however, the entire tone shifts. And that is when the most raw, revealing and real Taylor Swift comes out and when the documentary is at its strongest.
The second half of the documentary celebrates the journey of a woman who finds herself in her darkest days and comes out of them stronger, better and happier. Most importantly, Swift emphasises that it is she herself and her work that have led to this success and, in turn, showcases the importance of female independence. Those who have followed Swift from the very beginning know that she is the source of her own success — her ability to put feelings into words made her stand out from other stars of her age. Her storytelling abilities have been adapted beautifully into a documentary format by Lana Wilson and her team to create a compelling narrative, one that is removed from the narrative that usually surrounds Swift. Taylor’s words are interwoven with footage from both past and present creating a picture of who Swift really might be. Through this introspection, the documentary covers contemporary and pressing themes such as inequality between genders, mental health and double standards in the music industry. By delving into the minutiae of every decision that is made in Swift’s camp, it becomes evident that she really has no control of how she is presented to the public. Rather, the public have more control in how they interpret this image. Since the beginning of celebrity, we have been taught to categorise people, especially women, into certain boxes. Therefore, when Swift shed her good girl image she had to become the villain. The documentary questions why she can’t be both.
Admittedly, Miss Americana is not perfect. Parts of it can feel like it is an overwhelmingly lauding portrayal of a young star who has grown up in the spotlight. These parts can also seem part of the infamous Swift propaganda machine that has caused many to turn against her. The strength of this documentary is not in its portrayal of Swift the pop star and her rise to stardom. The strength lies in its raw and sympathetic portrayal of a young woman trying to find her place in this world outside of her career. It shows a woman who is trying to grow up, to be relevant, stay relevant, be politically engaged, have an active social media presence and balance her work and personal life. Say what you want about Taylor Swift but she is ultimately embodying the struggles of young people around the world. Her struggles and anxieties are ours. Her wins and her losses are the ones we face every day. I don’t know why it should surprise anyone. Swift has been winning hearts by putting into words the things that a generation didn’t know how to articulate. From describing the wonder and magic of your first kiss to renouncing those who promote inequality, Miss Americana shows that Taylor has always been a voice when people needed it.
Miss Americana is available to stream on Netflix
by Aleena Augustine
Aleena is a Classics graduate who splits her time between High Wycombe and wherever the latest film or TV show she is bingeing is set. She enjoys watching rom-coms, coming of age films, animations and comedies featuring a strong female ensemble (thank you, Bridesmaids). Her favourite films are Before Sunrise, Inside Out, Zodiac and When Harry Met Sally. You can read her blog, That’s What She Said and more of her writing at Music Bloggery.