posted on: Thursday February 6, 2020
by Madison Palmieri ’22 A&E Staff
On Friday, January 31, Netflix released its much-anticipated Taylor Swift documentary. Directed by Lana Wilson, the film details the singer’s private life and her relationship with the public, incorporating footage of concerts, recording sessions, meetings, and other pivotal moments in her career.
Miss Americana opens with Swift serenely seated at a piano, her eyes focused and her gaze intent. She is clearly in her element—until one of her cats paws across the keyboard. Laughing, Swift cuddles with her furry friend as the scene transitions to her combing through old diaries.
She describes how, as a young artist, she felt the need to always be perceived as good. “It was the complete and total belief system I subscribed to as a kid,” Swift explains. “I was so fulfilled by approval that that was it.” With her public image at stake, she sighs, “I became the person who everyone wanted me to be.”
The narrative then shifts to Grammy nomination day, 2018. A visibly anxious Swift is on the phone with a member of her team, asking them several times to let her know when the nominations are announced. “If I don’t beat everything I’ve done prior, it’ll be seen as a colossal failure,” she laments.
The 2018 awards, in particular, were an important year for the artist, as her album Reputation served as a message to the world after a year of silence following the fallout of a feud with Kanye West that began at the 2009 Video Music Awards, when she won the Video of the Year award, and he infamously interrupted her speech, leaving the young singer embarrassed and speechless. Although she later realized that the crowds were booing West, “I thought that they were booing me,” she explains.
Swift describes her mother’s ongoing battle with cancer, emphasizing how the hardship helped her realize what truly matters in life: “She’s my favorite person…it woke me up from this life where I used to sweat all these things, but do you really care if the internet doesn’t like you today if your mom’s sick from her chemo?”
Continuing to divulge information from her private life, she explained her complicated relationship with food and body image. “It’s not good for me to see pictures of myself every day because I have a tendency, and it’s only happened a few times…to just starve, a little bit, just stop eating,” Swift recalls. “We’re not doing that anymore,” she asserts. “That didn’t end us up in a good place.”
While these struggles all weighed heavily on the artist, it was the 2017 controversy surrounding Swift, Kanye West, his wife Kim Kardashian, and lyrics to West’s song “Famous” referencing Swift “was the hardest to bounce back from.” Swift maintained that she was not fully aware of the lyrics, whereas West and Kardashian insisted she was, prompting the viral #taylorswiftisoverparty. “Do you know how many people have to be tweeting that they hate you for that to happen?” she explains.
After that, Swift recalls, “Nobody physically saw me for a year, and I thought that’s what they wanted…the reason why that backlash hurt so much is that it used to be all I had.”
From this time of darkness, however, Swift gained strength and clarity. Upon returning to the public eye, she went to court against a radio DJ who inappropriately touched her at a meet-and-greet and who lost his job as a result. He sued her for millions of dollars; she simply asked for a mere, symbolic dollar.
Even though she won the case, Swift was angry. “You don’t feel a sense of victory when you win because the process is so dehumanizing. This is with seven witnesses and a photo. What happens when you get raped and it’s your word against his?”
In the documentary, she shares her concerns with fans at a concert, “I guess I just think about all the people that weren’t believed, the people who haven’t been believed, the people who are afraid to speak up because they think they won’t be believed, and I just wanted to say I’m sorry to anyone who ever wasn’t believed because I don’t know what turn my life would’ve taken if someone didn’t believe me when I said that something had happened to me.” With these words, she begins to play “Clean” from her album 1989, a standout hit and fan favorite about overcoming tough times.
The documentary then details another pivotal moment in Swift’s career: her vocalization of her political views. She and her mother are seated together on a couch and the rest of her team, all men, sit on the other side of the room. The singer explains why she needs to publicly denounce the Senate candidate from her home state of Tennessee, Republican Marsha Blackburn, pleading, “I need to be on the right side of history.”
In a tense scene with publicist Tree Paine, Swift agonizes over publicly sharing her views on Instagram. Visibly anxious, she breathes a sigh of relief as her post uploads. Various news reports interrupt her narration, offering commentary on the singer’s declaration. A giddy Swift remarks, “Donald Trump likes my music 25 percent less!”
Although Blackburn ultimately won the election, Swift does not regret speaking her mind. “I just felt really good about not feeling muzzled anymore…I needed to learn a lot before I spoke to 200 million people, but I’ve educated myself now and it’s time to take the masking tape off of my mouth, like, forever,” explained Swift.
“The Archer,” a single off of her latest album, Lover, played as Swift mused about her past, present, and future. “After 13 years of constantly feeling like I was misunderstood, knowing that everything that happened was all going to turn into this moment is (expletive) awesome.” She once again combed through her diaries, smiling to herself as she reminisced.
While the documentary is sure to please fans, its true power lies in giving Swift complete authority over her own narrative and her own reputation. Despite everything that she has been through, the singer declares, “I want to still have a sharp pen, and a thin skin, and an open heart.”