Taylor Swift: Miss Americana is a Netflix Original Documentary, directed by Lana Wilson. It gives us a much-sought peek into the life of a pop megastar, and to her fans borderline-deity, Taylor Swift.
The Film has swiftly garnered critical acclaim. Positively received at Sundance Film Festival the week before it’s Netflix debut and with a score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.8 on IMBD.
And yet, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed throughout most of it.
As a human being with a near-functional brain and slither of awareness, I understand that a life of fame might not be peaches and cream 100% of the time. People might talk smack about you, take unflattering photos of you or come on stage while you’re accepting your VMA and suggest Beyoncé deserved it instead. It comes with the territory of being famous, and we all know that. Being reminded isn’t as eye-opening or sympathy-generating as Swift might have hoped.
You sort of think, ‘well yeah…’. Anyone who wouldn’t expect these things when journeying into a life of fame is frankly naïve. Which is how Taylor comes across for two-thirds of the film. On the plus side, this makes for a dramatic turnaround and engaging character growth later on, which perhaps wasn’t intended. But we’ll get to that.
I couldn’t help but feel like it was a flat-falling cry for “it’s tough at the top”. When you’re white and mega-rich. She’s unbearably Gen Y American and says “like”, like, a billion times, using it to punctuate her speech with the sophistication of a spluttering exhaust pipe.
And no matter how loudly you overlay three sad piano chords onto a shot of her ‘getting real’, I cannot get past this image of her. Rich. White. Naïve.
Battering me over the head with music designed to force me into emotions fails to incite any beyond eye-rolling. Is that an emotion? And scenes with her explaining her emotions to the camera as though they were ground-breaking insights while these sad tunes play is somewhat overbearing, inciting another emotion: yawns.
It all seems overly self-indulgent for reasons that fail to connect. The rest of the time is her riding around or hanging out in the studio with people having conversations so nothingy you can’t remember what they’re about while you’re still watching them. And though she’s clearly a talented and perceivably hard-working singer-songwriter, watching her craft poptastic hits may only appeal to those who enjoy her music invariably. To the rest of us, it might be a bit much.
It’s hard to connect the head-full-of-dreams wealthy pop star, look how adorable she is, to any earth-shattering sadness. Even when she discusses eating disorders or her mum having cancer. These are, unfortunately, hardly out of the ordinary or shocking circumstances. Or perhaps we’re not given a close enough look into them and how they have affected her. To breeze past them gives less cause to connect than an X Factor contestant video, which themselves have desensitised many of us to all forms of trauma and tragedy (thanks, X-Factor).
I might mention that though I’m not a die-hard fan, I do actually like Taylor Swift. She’s never annoyed me and ‘Shake It Off’ is a banger. I listen to it on the treadmill and forget about the haters. So I don’t have any pre-existing bias against her.
And the first but not only positive thing I will say about her and this documentary is she has a really cool space-age leather backpack for her cat. It has a viewing bubble for its head. It’s dope.
Secondly, observing how batshit her fans are is quite entertaining. From crying and shaking upon meeting her to [spoiler alert] proposing in front of her, Taylor’s ‘Swifties’ make for better entertainment than she does in many ways. And some of the footage of Swift’s concerts are real spectacles – the sheer size of her crowds and force of their adoration, seas of lights and gleeful cries, is something to behold. The atmosphere of the stadiums far more palpable than her personal emotion in interspersed segments.
What made me really appreciate the film though, and not think it was perhaps a waste of my time, was the last third when Tay Tay got all political.
When Taylor takes a career risk and stands up for her political beliefs to denounce those of Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn, I respected and felt for her for the first time. The Congresswomen, then running for election, claims she’s upholding Tennessee Christian values, and Swift, also a Tennessee-based Christian, vehemently disagrees.
Taylor goes against the advice of the men in her life telling her not to, including her dad who worries for her security, and takes her views public. The emotional conflict here is genuinely heart-wrenching and touching, and for the first time, I felt truly engaged. I believed in her outcry.
And I respect her totally for, when faced with these barriers and being told President Trump may come after her, saying ‘Fuck that, I don’t care. If I get bad press for saying don’t put a homophobic racist in office, I don’t care.’
For this, encouraging a young fanbase to get involved in politics and for a final note about women in the industry having to adapt, struggle and do more than men, which also lands, I wound up enamoured by Taylor Swift despite myself and my earlier criticisms.
Taylor’s message in this movie is not to pass quick judgment on her, and that should go for the documentary as well. Overall, I’m pleased to have watched it.
Perhaps it’s personal preference, but I usually think a documentary of this sympathy-grabbing behind-the-curtain type could do with some grit, because it makes it gripping, and Taylor’s has none. But I wound up liking her and enjoying the film by the end, it was just a fairly cheesy journey. Then again, maybe that’s suitable. Maybe that’s alright.