Love, loneliness and resistance go hand in hand in Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana”

Photo by Anoushka Dalmia via Netflix / BU News Service

By Anoushka Dalmia
BU News Service

Miss Americana is Taylor Swift’s first uninterrupted attempt to tell people her take on her own life. Devout fans of the singer are bound to love it unabashedly, but the documentary offers insight into a life as littered with loneliness as love, and may move even the most indifferent viewer.

When you’re living for the approval of strangers, and that is where you derive all of your joy and fulfillment, one bad thing can cause everything to crumble.”

Miss Americana, Netflix

In 85 minutes, director Lana Wilson paints a mesmerizing picture of everything from Swift’s rise to fame, its triumphs and pitfalls, the pressure to conform, her sexual assault case, the Kardashian-West controversy and the decision to speak out about her politics. 

Watching the 10-time Grammy winner confront herself is almost cathartic. If you’ve been on the internet in the last decade, you likely have an opinion on the Swift-Kardashian-West drama. As Swift admits to a belief system that relied on approval, it becomes clear why the VMA incident in 2009 was a formative experience for the then 19-year-old. 

The vaguely chronological flow of the film lends some clarity to her life and decisions. Her actions and choices are consequences of her past experiences; the details of which make it to the news, but the psychological impact does not. In 2017, Swift gave an unflinching testimony in court against a former DJ who assaulted her. She won the case, but the entire ordeal was a catalyst in pushing her toward political involvement.

“I need to be on the right side of history,” she said at the time.

The 30-year-old doesn’t shy away from talking about the ugly with the bad. She addresses her eating disorder, the result of half a life of constant scrutiny. As she talks about being happy with a size 6 body instead of a size double-zero, she says that she still has to fight the urge to revert to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Nor does she hide her devastation when her album Reputation wasn’t nominated in any of the “big four” categories at the Grammy Awards. This desire to win awards didn’t suit her new anti-institution persona, but personal growth isn’t a straight line, and Taylor is now okay with showing the world her curves.

“I want to still have a sharp pen and a thin skin and an open heart.”

Miss Americana, Netflix

These days, global feminism demands constant strength from its public champions. Taylor owns up to her imperfect history with feminist values within a world that seldom allows for mistakes. Cancel culture has been crucial in holding a number of public persons accountable. It has also gone too far sometimes, vilifying mistakes of vastly different degrees to the same extent, attempting to enforce the same punishments on all. 

When Swift broke her silence on politics in 2018, she was applauded widely, but many also believed that it was too little, too late. In the documentary, she talks about the real and metaphorical men around her that told her to be a good girl and stay quiet for the sake of her career and their pockets.

However, she also accepts some of the blame for not wanting to lose approval from her conservative audience and the wish to stay away from trouble. Instead of providing her fans with a neat explanation, she hands over a rare, messy answer: “I was wronged, but I was wrong too.”

The Taylor Swift in the documentary is a burrito-eating, wine-drinking, occasionally cursing side of her. She is exalted but sometimes exhausted by her songwriting process. She rolls her eyes at her dramatic diaries from her teen years and gives herself credit for being the sole reason for her success. She cries over heartbreak and social injustice, and she fights for her own authority and others’ alike.

Miss Americana is done caring what the world thinks of her, but she’s only getting started showing the world what she cares for.

Miss Americana premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 23 and released worldwide on Jan. 31 on Netflix. It can be watched here.

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