The name “Taylor Swift” rings true as one of the biggest names in music and in the world over the last decade. In 2019, on the brink of turning 30, Swift was awarded the title of “Artist of the Decade” at the American Music Awards. To open the next decade and to kick off election year, Swift has released “Miss Americana,” an introspective documentary which explores her reinventing herself after a series of detrimental events in her life and finally breaking her silence on her political beliefs.
“Miss Americana” was released to Netflix and in select theaters on Jan. 29. The film was directed by Emmy award winning director and producer, Lana Wilson. It showcases events of the last three years of Swift’s life, and gives a behind the scenes view of the making of her last two albums, “reputation” in 2017 and “Lover” in 2019.
The 86-minute-long documentary opens with Swift sharing how she grew up believing that she needed to be seen as good and always do the right thing in everyone else’s eyes to be valued as a person. She explains how this belief system quickly turned into toxicity when she rose to fame, because of her dependence on the validation of others. “I became the person who everyone wanted me to be,” Swift said.
The viewer is taken through a montage of Swift’s rise to fame, complete with home movies, award show footage, interviews and more, all while knowing that eventually her image would crumble. The progression of this sequence left me covered in chills.
It shows the infamous night that will always be associated with Swift’s career: the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, better known as the night Kanye West took the microphone from her. It gives more insight into how this event affected her self esteem that was built on other people’s confidence in her. It shows the audience booing after West interrupted her. “I thought they were booing me,” Swift states.
It gives a deep dive into the “1989” album era, what most would agree was the peak of Swift’s career so far. It cleverly uses her hit song, “Out of the Woods,” to depict the anxiety she felt at the time of having to live up to a certain expectation. She discusses winning the Grammy for “Album of the Year” for the second time in her life. Her words paint the picture of how she felt to be on top of the world, and when the only place to go afterwards was down. “You get to the mountaintop and you look around and you’re like, “Oh God, what now?” Swift said.
After the release and success of “1989,” it was as if Swift’s life turned into her own song, “The Lucky One.” She describes how lonely it felt at the top as she asks the heartbreaking question, “Shouldn’t I have someone I can call?”
Ultimately it shows her feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian over West’s song “Famous,” and the inclusion of her name in the song, and how the Internet strongly responded to Kardashian calling Swift a snake. “The reason why that backlash hurt so much was because that used to be all I had,” Swift said.
After this, things continued to fall out of place. She discusses her mother’s battle with cancer and how it grounded her and changed her perspective on things. “Do you really care if the Internet doesn’t like you today if your mom’s sick from her chemo?” she asks.
Perhaps one of the most shocking topics covered in “Miss Americana” was Swift’s battle with her own body image and it resulting in an eating disorder. She reminisces on how she pushed herself to a point of being extremely unhealthy to satisfy unrealistic beauty standards. As a long time fan, this shocked me, as it had never been something I had noticed.
Another impactful scene was that of her leaving her home and hundreds of people having to be blockaded off for her to get in the car. Swift engages in a conversation with collaborator Brendon Urie about whether or not he plans to stay in Los Angeles forever. The “Dying in LA” singer begins to explain his own struggles with being stalked. Swift then makes the startling revelation that a few months prior a man had broken into her apartment and slept in her bed.
The most deconstructive and formative experience of all was the sexual assault trial Swift went through in 2017. She expresses her great frustration of how difficult it was to win a case in which there were six witnesses and a photo of the occurrence, and sympathizes with those who do not have such evidence. “Something in my life is completely and unchangeably different since the sexual assault trial,” she said.
All of these instances combined triggered two reactions over the three-year period that this documentary covers. In the year after the Kardashian-West feud, Swift stayed out of the public eye. At the time, she had started her relationship with British actor, Joe Alwyn. One of my personal favorite moments is the iPhone video of her singing her 2017 song “Call it What You Want” to Alwyn. “I had to deconstruct an entire belief system for my own sanity,” Swift said of the time, “Even though it was horrible, I was happy, but I wasn’t happy in the way that I’d been trained to be happy.”
The other reaction was Swift’s decision to break her decade-long silence on her political views.
“I couldn’t really stop thinking about it, and I just thought to myself ‘next time there is any opportunity to change anything, you had better know what you stand for and what you want to say,’” Swift said after the sexual assault trial. This opportunity arose for her when Marsha Blackburn ran for Senate in Tennessee. Swift was outraged with her referring to her policies as “Tennessee Christian values.” “I live in Tennessee. I am a Christian. This is not what we stand for,” Swift said. One of Swift’s greatest concerns with Blackburn’s policies were that she had voted against a women’s rights act that protected women from horrors such as date rape and stalking.
“Miss Americana ‘’ shows how much work went into the decision to break her political silence. One of the most impactful scenes from the documentary was the one of her sitting in a room of men, explaining why this was important to her. Even her own father was arguing with her about staying quiet. Ultimately, however, she made the choice to post about it.
This post was monumental. More people registered to vote the day she posted than the entire month prior. Unfortunately, heartache struck again when Blackburn won the election. “I can’t believe that she gets to be the first female senator in Tennessee,” Swift said after the election. “She won by appealing to the kind of female males want us to be.” Her heartbreak in seeing someone with these policies take office is so clearly expressed as tears streamed down her face as she performed the song “Only the Young,” that she released with the documentary.
In the end, Swift takes the loss as a victory and uses this experience to prepare herself for using her platform in the future. “I needed to learn a lot before I spoke to 200 million people,” she said.
She ends by putting emphasis on the fact that politics doesn’t have to be a man’s world, and even though she refers to herself as “Miss Americana,” she has every right to be involved. The message of this film is perhaps best summarized in Swift’s assertion, “I want to love glitter and also stand up for the double standards that exist in our society. I want to wear pink and tell you how I feel about politics, and I don’t think that those things have to cancel each other out.”