Review: In ‘Miss Americana’ Taylor Swift-Ly Wins Your Heart
“I was so fulfilled by approval,” says Taylor Swift as she talks about her early success in the music industry. Netflix’s Miss Americana directed by Lana Wilson gives us an insight into the sensation that is Taylor Swift. I was 12 when I first heard her song ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ because of how everyone in school was singing it.
At 30, Taylor Swift has sold over 50 million albums and is one of the highest-earning musicians of the last decade. But her place at the top is a lonely one. Lana Wilson, the director of Miss Americana, shuffles between the present and important junctures of Taylor’s life from the time she was 12 to give us a sense of the woman behind the star.
The documentary very obviously looks at Taylor from her perspective. So if you’re going in expecting some kind of critical analysis, you’re going to be disappointed. It mostly just outlines the important events of her life and doesn’t really have members of her life talking about her, barring her mother. But I’ve always been fascinated by the makings of a star. Yes, it’s glitzy, it’s glamorous but these guys work so hard. My favourite moment in the documentary is this quiet moment Taylor takes for herself right before she is about to perform on stage. She stands still, absorbing what’s around her, and then walks towards the stage and kills it.
Success as a pop star/celebrity is intoxicating, how do you not let a sense of entitlement creep in when everyone is cheering for you? In the documentary, Wilson shows you just how volatile the industry is. After showing us the massive euphoria around Taylor at a concert, the documentary cuts to a moment where Taylor is on the phone and realises she hasn’t been nominated for a Grammy. She looks distraught, in spite of having been at the top of her game for years.
“I work hard and I’m nice to people, and I want to maintain that work ethic,” says Taylor emphatically in the documentary. But rising to the top requires you to have nerves of steel, and one sees, in the documentary, how easy it is to corner a young, upcoming female star. There’s a moment when 17-year-old Taylor wins a VMA award, and rapper Kanye West gets on to the stage, interrupts her by snatching the mic, and says, “But Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.”
Taylor’s fight was also against a bunch of entitled men, including DJ David Mueller who had molested her at a meet and greet in 2013. She eventually went on to win the case but she was still asked questions like “Why didn’t you scream?”, “Why didn’t you react more instantly?”
The line between being a public figure and a public property is often blurry. At an award ceremony, a reporter, very nonchalantly, says to Taylor, “You’re going to walk home with more than just a trophy tonight; lots of men.”
The back and forth in the narrative also highlights just how much the singer has changed. Her slightly meek, ‘I want to please people’ personality is replaced by someone who’s exhausted trying to be a star and now, wants to be herself. Part of it is also being at peace with her body. Taylor opens up about her easting disorder and body image issues.
She talks about how she was exercising a lot but wasn’t eating enough and that often left her exhausted after her performance.
The perils of social media haunt her as much as they haunt us. Maybe Taylor is saying these things because it is the right thing to say but that's okay because it makes youngsters who idolise her feel a little less alone.
In Miss Americana, Taylor uses her personal experiences in a manner that makes people feel like ‘Oh, she gets us.’ On the very day that the judiciary is about to give the final judgement on Taylor’s sexual harassment case, Taylor sings “That's when I could finally breathe / And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean.” The lyrics from her song ‘Clean’ perfectly capture her emotional struggle.
My favourite bits in the documentary are all her jamming sessions. She’s sitting with her cat on the piano, and the music just flows. Or she’s in a recording studio chatting and the lyrics of her popular song ‘Me’ just come to her. Through the documentary, Wilson shows us that here’s the same person who, after losing Grammy, determinedly claims, “I’m making a better record.”
Taylor’s politics are a huge part of the documentary. In the early years of her career, an interviewer applauds the Reputation maker for not voicing her political opinions. He says, “Great, sister!” Towards teh end, the documentary shows Taylor’s metamorphosis from a singer who wanted to be apolitical to someone who pens an entire political anthem. Taylor is even showed encouraging people to vote at an award function. She says, “Every award here has been voted for by people, and you know what else people can vote for...”
There is a sense of self-assertiveness that has come into Taylor, but she still looks at a still of herself and says, “I have a slappable face.” Miss Americana probably does lack a sense of complete objectivity, yet I couldn’t help but feel empathetic towards the pop star. I’ve personally not been a fan really, but I’m definitely more interested in the music now and have some additions to my playlist. Safe to say that Taylor Swift-ly won her way into my heart.
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