Fifteen years, seven albums and six concert tours later, Taylor Swift is a 21st-century musical legend, no matter what your opinion is about her. With fame on such a large scale, criticism is expected to accompany her accolades and admirers. Amidst her illustrious career, Swift’s reputation has been marred by personal and professional controversy. The Netflix original documentary “Miss Americana,” released on Friday, is an intimate look into the star’s rise to fame, featuring poignant scenes that show Swift’s loneliness, emotional trauma and decision to reveal her political stances. Honestly raw in both her triumphs and downfalls, “Miss Americana” is an introspective film about not only Taylor Swift’s musical and personal journey, but also the reality and sacrifices of fame.
Swift’s poignant narration sets the tone and theme of the documentary. The film captures her life as a celebrity, involving so much that it chooses to focus on her growth as not only an artist, but also as a woman in the industry. She discusses how she used to base her happiness on the approval of society and on people liking her. One can probably tell the emotional toll that that takes on her, being constantly scrutinized by the media and her success being measured through analytics such as the number of weeks her single has been at the top of the charts, how many albums she has sold or how many Grammys she won. Swift’s continual validation by way of applause and acclaim seems more wholesome than a monetary and controlling greed that sometimes plagues celebrities. However, viewers can see how detrimental the mindset is to her mental health and creative process.
A double standard seems to be at work in many of the situations that Swift finds herself in, and the film highlights many of the misconstrued tropes that have been associated with her, such as the Kanye West “feud,” her infamous romantic life and her tendency to play the victim. The documentary sheds light on the Kanye situation, but, does not dwell on it too much. It is framed as a developmental moment, rather than trying to convince the watcher that Kanye is in the wrong. Instead, it draws attention to the fact that, when the rap star stormed the stage during Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Music Awards, she was only 19. As traumatizing as the moment would be for any young adult, every scandalous moment thereafter, whether it be related to the Kanye incident or any in which Swift seems to be the victim, is dramatized and often puts her at odds with the wholesome image she has tried to cultivate since childhood.
As “Miss Americana” documents Swift’s “fall” from public admiration, going from a country sweetheart to a villainous victim, the film shows how she eventually decided to channel her image change through her music, culminating in the powerful “Reputation” and nuanced “Lover.” A particularly raw scene reveals Swift’s eating disorder struggles, which she has worked through. However, the idea of always having a photo or video surface on social media or news outlets lurks in the back of her mind. Other personal events that have played a role in Swift’s journey are highlighted, such as her sexual assault trial, her mother’s cancer diagnosis and her decision to publicly support a politician.
The scenes in which Swift is making music ground the documentary. Sure, the artist has released videos before about the song-making process for many of her record-breaking songs. However, seeing how her sound has developed yet still remains a constant love in her life is illuminating, as is seeing her interact with others in the process, such as Jack Antonoff and Max Martin. I wish the documentary featured background on less popular songs, such as the titular song, but there’s no question the impact that her music has had on the industry, her fans and those involved in her life. The “Lover” era is still in the making, and “Miss Americana” is just another step in her development as an artist and 21st-century woman.
Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.