Courtesy of Netflix
An empowering, pro-feminist film about superstar Taylor Swift’s life, the new documentary “Miss Americana” from Lana Wilson (“20 Feet from Stardom”) pulls back the curtain on Swifts rise to stardom and how she found a voice when everyone told her to be quiet.
Headlines were made last month when Swift had a buzzy role playing Bombalurina in the critically and commercially panned “Cats,” but that was only minimal compared to what the singer deals with daily, including choreographing concerts, writing smash after smash, and adhering to an image the whole world expects of her.
She’s almost 30 and shows no signs of slowing down. Starting from the age of 14, Swift started performing at county fairs and was signed to a major label before she could even drive. It’s a job that requires plenty of stamina, thick skin, and determination. It seems like, according to the film, Taylor Swift is playing a caricature of herself, a persona meant to connect with fans 24/7. She knows how to play the game and often strategizes with her management team on how to make the next big splash. This isn’t to say the singer is “Fake” as there have been numerous media commentators who’ve dumped on Swift in the past, but Wilson, the master that she is, sprinkles in subtle moments to show how poised, mature, and articulate the singer is. You almost wish we had seen this side of her sooner.
“Miss Americana” seems to tackle every controversy the singer was wrapped up in – (some things that I admittedly, had forgotten about) – including the moment Kanye West crashed her VMA acceptance speech in 2009, followed by another stint a few years later when the rapper dropped a lyric calling her a “Bitch” and claimed to have “made her famous.” Swift denied giving West permission to write a lyric, but a secret recording might have said otherwise. The documentary shows that fallout and how Swift stopped producing music for a year until she roared back with “1989” and “Reputation” and put her naysayers in their place.
And though “Miss Americana” does include snippets of the popstar’s sold out concerts from across the globe, Wilson doesn’t make those moments prominent and places emphasis on the intimate recording sessions she was with her longtime producing partners, and the evolution of songs like “Me!” a pop tune made in collaboration with Panic! at the Discos’ Brendon Urie. It’s in those quiet and somber moments where “Miss Americana” thrives, including a section that has Swift pleading with her publicists on why she needs to choose a side in an upcoming Tennessee midterm election. “Did Bing Crosby do that?” someone barks at her. It’s immersive and heartbreaking to watch her make the case as to why she must endorse two democratic senators. (The result of which rallied her young fan base in the thousands to register to vote).
In essences, that’s what “Miss Americana” says about our culture and given how obsessive Swift’s fan base is with their idol, it’s respectable how willing she is to be transparent about her personal life, setting a positive example for those who might also feel vulnerable. Some of the scenes can feel a bit self-congratulatory, and you can’t help but remember she’s privileged in certain aspects of her life, but that doesn’t diminish the overall quality of what “Miss Americana” is trying to say. You don’t have to be the biggest Taylor Swift fan to appreciate the art of what she does. Love her our hate her, something tells me – especially after seeing this film – the new and improved T-Swift doesn’t care what you say about her anymore.
Streaming on Netflix