The Real Taylor Swift: “Miss Americana”
February 4, 2020
“Miss Americana” is rated TV-MA; It contains bad language and addresses serious topics, yet it is beneficial for people in high school and beyond to watch.
On Jan. 31, Singer-Songwriter Taylor Swift released her Netflix documentary “Miss Americana.” In it, she reveals the struggles she has faced both internally and externally since the beginning of her career in June 2006 with her first single “Tim McGraw” up until the release of her most recent album “Lover” in August 2019.
By watching this documentary, fans and non-fans alike are able to remember Swift is human who, as the Rolling Stones accurately describes, “occasionally likes to lounge in her pajamas, play with her cats, and drink white wine with ice cubes.”
Alissa Pradera (‘21) says, “I thought the Taylor Swift documentary was good. I like seeing how Taylor grew up and how she came to be in the music industry.”
Viewers witness an untold side of Swift as she struggles with self-identity, happiness, public approval, fame, confidence, and rallying for human rights. Yet, “Miss Americana” not only presents these problems, but it clearly points out the lessons Swift has learned along the way in order for her to come out as a better person because of it. Instead of leaving viewers feeling depleted and empathetic towards her, they leave wondering how they too can “step into the daylight.”
Lesson #1: Public Gratification does not Determine Self-Happiness
At the ripe age of 19, Swift won a VMA for Best Female Video with “You Belong With Me.” Yet, a night which should have been remembered as wonderful turned dark as Rapper Kanye West took the mic out of Swift’s hand during her acceptance speech to say, “But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all-time.” The crowd responded to this episode by booing, yet Swift states in the documentary, she thought they were booing at her.
“People get very caught up in celebrity drama and don’t necessarily see them as humans, especially when the whole Kanye thing happened, people said she was acting the victim and she shouldn’t have been offended by that one line, but she’s a human being and that hurts no matter who you are,” says Isabel Bequer (‘23).
As the years progressed, she pursued her sole goal of pleasing others even over her own self-interests after album and after album, which led her down a spiral of unhappiness and doubting her capabilities.
However, after the Reputation era, she went into a “year of hiding” to escape from the public eye which, although has aided in her rise to fame, has also caused her the most damage by constantly berating and commenting negatively on her every move.
Taking a year to focus on herself was the best thing she could have done, and she came out of it as a strong and confident person — “Lover” is a testament to that.
Viewers learn that they must not search for glory and approval from others because even all the awards and praise in the world cannot make a person content with what they do if they, themselves, are not happy.
Lesson #2: Embrace and Love Your Own Identity
Swift suffered from an eating disorder: anorexia nervosa. She describes going into “hate spirals” after seeing pictures where she felt she did not appear thin enough.
— Gretchen Kernbach (@GretchenK_TV) February 2, 2020
She simply stopped eating and describes the strong fatigue she felt after her performances. Yet, while filming “Miss Americana,” she has come to terms that “I’m a size six instead of a size double zero.” Health takes priority over reaching a standard of beauty as deemed by society or individual people.
Beauty is not a definable term because it comes in all shapes and sizes. Learning to embrace and love yourself is a hurdle every person must jump, and this documentary displays the similar self-hate and loathing people experience. Viewers learn that there is light at the end of the tunnel waiting when you jump the hurdle of self-hate and accept yourself for who you truly are.
Lesson #3: Reject Society’s Opinions on Who A Woman Should Be
In the documentary, a recurring theme that Swift discusses is the deep-rooted sexism in society, the music industry, and in the world. She particularly describes it in relation to her music/success and rights as a woman.
A pivotal moment shown is the writing of Swift’s newest single off of “Lover:” “The Man.” It is a song that recites Swift’s feelings regarding her constant battle with societal and systemic misogyny. Swift especially hashes out one lyric in particular, “What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars and getting [expletive] and models?,” noting, “And, they get to […] call us that!” in regards to the insults made against women.
There are also some moments where we see her first-hand grappling with her own inability to defeat her internalized feelings of inferiority as a woman. For instance, during the behind the scenes of her “ME!” music video, Swift does the same take multiple times in order to avoid looking “too mean.” Her desire to constantly seem cheery and approachable is a fear that seems absurd, but it is an authentic testament to many women’s desire to appease society’s view of the “angry woman” or the uncontrabble “resting [expletive] face.”
Those feelings are again brought up when she accidentally says “sorry” after in depthly describing one of her own experiences. She laughs it off by noting the fact that women have always been trained to apologize for no reason at all.
The feelings and experiences Swift recalls in “Miss Americana” are far too relatable to many women across the world, but none ring truer and harsher than the moment in which Swift recalls her sexual assault trial.
In 2017, Swift found herself in a lawsuit, in which she was fighting against a Colorado radio DJ she said groped her during one of her meet-and-greets in 2013. Fortunately, Swift won, and on Aug. 14, 2017, she won a symbolic $1.
Though she was able to prevail, Swift’s reconciliation of this time was undoubtedly the saddest and most vulnerable portion of the documentary. “I was angry that I had to be there. I was angry that this happens to women. I was angry that people are paid to antagonize victims. I was angry that all the details had been twisted,” Swift painfully remembers.
Sitting in that court room with @taylorswift13 + her family every day for a week is something I still remember SO vividly. I don't think I'll ever forget it. (1/7)
— Sophie Schillaci (@SophieSchillaci) February 2, 2020
During the trial, Swift actually had seven witnesses and a photo of the groping, which greatly assisted her fight. Still, the process was incredibly difficult. “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?,” Swift adds.
Swift’s experience with misogyny is only a fraction of the harm it has in the wider world. If Swift, a wealthy, world-renowned popstar can face detrimental, damaging sexism — there is much to be changed about sexism in the general workplace and society.
“I just think about all the people that weren’t believed, and the people who haven’t been believed, or the people who are afraid to speak up because they’re afraid they won’t be believed,” Swift sadly states.
Lesson #4: Never Hide Your Beliefs and Always Stand Up For What’s Right
“Miss Americana” gets its namesake in regards to Swift finally breaking through her silence in politics. From the earliest moments in her career, Swift made it a point to never speak about politics. Now, in hindsight, Swift looks back on that choice as her own desire to live as the “good-girl” image everyone wanted her to be.
Bequer says, “I liked it when she talked about trying to be more politically active and how she felt barred from that in a certain way. That moment [in the film] felt like a very genuine discussion between her and the people around her. As a woman in the music industry, it’s so much harder for her, and I think that being politically active is almost going against her image, and I thought that was really interesting to see.”
The turning point that finally made Swift break-out politically was the 2018 Tennessee Senate race, in which Republican Marsha Blackburn was running for office. Swift did not agree with Blackburn’s stances, particulary her choice to vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which helps protect women from date rape and stalking — which, especially following her recently mentioned sexual assault trial, are topics Swift is all too familar with. Blackburn also voted against bills protecting LGBTQ+ rights.
In a crucial scene in the documentary, Swift argues with the important men in her life, particularly her father, to break her political silence. She notes that she can no longer sit and watch as policies she believes are violations of human-rights are put into place, saying: “I can’t see another commercial [with] her disguising these policies behind the words ‘Tennessee Christian values.’ I live in Tennessee. I am Christian. That’s not what we stand for. I need to be on the right side of history.” Though Blackburn went on to win the Tennessee election, Swift still inspired an incredible amount of young voters to register to vote.
— krysten ritter (@Krystenritter) February 2, 2020
Swift reminds her viewers that while it took everything for her to break-through the walls society built for her, it is important to never let anyone control your voice. “It’s not that I want to step into this. I just, I can’t not at this point. Something is different in my life — completely and unchangeably different,” Swift states.
Lesson #5: Know What’s Important To You
“Miss Americana” shows everything that makes Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift — and a huge part of that is her family. Her mom, especially, is seen throughout the entire documentary as her best friend, number one fan, and support system.
Unfortunately, however, both of Swift’s parents have been diagnosed with cancer, but her mom is re-battling it currently. With this, she has learned where her priorities truly lie, which is in her family and friends.
“Miss Americana” also shows Swift describing her relationship with her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn — something that she has previously kept extremely private. She discusses how she fell in-love with him during her hiatus after the infamous “Kanye West incident,” saying “Even though it was really horrible, I was really happy, but I wasn’t happy in the way that I’d been trained to be happy.”
With these experiences in mind, viewers are reminded to hold on to those closest to them and spend the most time with them while they are here on this earth and do not fuss about the little things. People, such as Swift’s parents, represent those who supported her from day one, and they should never be confused with those who solely “come along for the ride.”
They also learn to find happiness that is real in every way imaginable. Love should be something that is true no matter what anyone thinks, not because of it. The relationship Swift found with her boyfriend reflects the true sense of security, unconditional love, and “happiness with no one else’s input” that everyone should have.
“Miss Americana” is an insightful journey into the life of a pop culture icon and worldwide superstar. More than that, however, it is a testament to hard work, pain, success, and growth — reflecting universal truths and struggles on what it takes to be both a woman and happy.
For some, however, “Miss Americana” did not entirely please. Asha Sneed (‘21) says, “I liked how [the documentary] touched on a lot of [different topics], but it was barely 80 minutes, so I feel like 80 minutes isn’t enough [time]. There was a lot [discussed], but each of the topics did not have the depth I would have liked them to.”
While it may not be the world’s greatest cinematic masterpiece, it is beautiful and a true personal triumph for Swift. It makes bold statements, is extremely vulnerable and raw, and reflects a side of her that has never been previously seen.
It is true, Taylor Swift is not the only one who has found gratification in approval, the only one who has body image issues, or the only one who has struggled to find her voice in politics. However, it is for that same reason that it is so important for Swift to talk about what she did and overcame. Because it just may help someone.
All it takes is for one person like Taylor Swift to be open about her eating disorder, to publicly criticize sexism in the music industry and media, and to bravely speak out about her sexual assault to help someone do the same. And, in “Miss Americana,” Swift does all of the above, as she brutally and thoughtfully did her part to dismantle the world of rumors and lies and falsehoods that she was once destroyed by.
There is much to be said about and learned from “Miss Americana,” but in the end, it is a crystal clear example of everything a celebrity documentary should be. It was talently crafted and entirely honest, and through its resilience, can truly help someone.
“Miss Americana” clears the fog that Swift had once been hurt by, and, in it’s clearing, reveals a both beloved and criticized star to be nothing more than one of us: a human who is confused, wondrous, hoping to be loved, and desperate to make a change.