We all know Taylor Swift. She is someone who needs no introduction. She’s had her fair share of criticism and backlash, while also enjoying a boatload of success in her own right.
We have all known her as the ‘nice girl’. The girl who is prim and proper and would never dare to swear. The girl who gives her best smile to the camera, who wrote songs about her breakups and made a fortune out of it, who never dabbled in worldly affairs (until very recently). The girl who, by her own admission, used to think that people wouldn’t be interested in what she has to say. She was just here to make her music and that was it. The girl who just simply sought the approval of the world. She basked in it.
But here’s the twist: she’s not that 15-year-old girl anymore. There is a part in this 85-minute-long documentary, in which we are shown a cleverly cut montage of Swift’s ensemble outfit being ripped off on stage, only to show us there is another outfit hiding underneath. And in a way, this montage is a metaphor for what Miss Americana is all about. Taylor Swift is shedding that ensemble outfit, and is now showing us what truly hides underneath. The transition from a girl into a woman — from someone who kept quiet to someone who speaks up for what she believes in.
She doesn’t give a f**k anymore, and she wants you to know that. She’s not going to hold back, and this is only the beginning.
For the better part of her life, Taylor Swift has been subject to incessant misogyny and scrutiny for literally anything she did — her dating life, her outfit choices, her music, her friends. We used to think we knew everything about her, given how public her life really is. But this documentary is here to tell you, we knew nothing. Her entire music career, she has been subject to men tearing her down at every step of the way, but she has only emerged victorious. We thought it never took its toll on her, that she was the villain. But when we watch the film, we realise how wrong we all were.
It started the minute Kanye West famously took the stage and stole the spotlight from Swift at the 2009 MTV VMA Awards, and it never stopped. Throughout the documentary, you’ll see men trying to tear her down or stop her from trying to truly express herself. From the whole scandal, to the birth of reputation, to even her own father when she finally broke her silence on politics.
Lets talk a little bit about that last one, shall we? Swift famously endorsed Phil Bredesen, who was running for one of Tennessee’s seats in the U.S. Senate in 2018. In Miss Americana, we got to see how that came to life. There is a scene where Taylor and her mother are sitting on one couch, facing three men who were trying to stop her from going ahead with her endorsement. Two of these men were her manager and her own father. “Bob Hope and Bing wouldn’t let their politics dent ticket sales 50 percent,” they say.
And you watch Swift and her mother, Andrea, tearfully try to explain why this matters to Swift and why she can’t keep quiet anymore, especially after having gone through her sexual assault trial. It is quite a powerful scene as Taylor confesses how she regrets not coming out against Trump when he won the presidential election in 2016, saying, “I can’t change that. I need to be on the right side of history… Dad, I need you to forgive me for doing it, because I’m doing it.” The editing in this scene is absolutely brutal too, as the shots switch from one of the men to Swift.
There are many more powerful moments like this in the film. Not long after the movie shows us deluxe rise-to-the-top montage, we hear Swift ask into the void, to no one in particular, “Shouldn’t I have someone to call right now?” This is coming from a woman who’s famous — notorious, actually — for her squad of besties. Swift is isolated, alone, with only her cats to lean onto. There are many documentaries about famous people out there, but barely any of them touch upon isolation. And that is what drives it home for me.
On Grammy nomination day in 2018, a camera watches from a low angle as Swift sits in sweats alone on a sofa and hears from her publicist that her album, reputation, has been omitted from three of the big categories. She quietly says, “I just gotta make a better record,” but you can tell she’s devastated. We also find out about her struggles with eating disorder. She admits that constant paparazzi attention and pictorial scrutiny have contributed to an eating disorder she still tries to keep at bay: “It’s better to think you look fat,” Swift says, “than to look sick.”
Another powerful moment is when they talk about her sexual assault trial. Swift laments over what would’ve happened if no one believed her – or anyone for the matter. And then the scene cuts to her on stage, with her piano, exactly a year after her trial (which she won, by the way), as she talks about how it changed her – liberated her. And then she starts a beautiful rendition of her song Clean, and I’ve never been able to listen to that song the same way since.
You also see glimpses of her otherwise extremely private relationship with actor Joe Alwyn, who she has been dating for about 4 years now. It’s a beautiful sight to see as she runs into his arms after one of her shows and they walk around backstage with their arms draped around each other. She truly seems happy, and you can’t help but feel happy for her too.
Throughout her life, Taylor Swift has lived for approval, those pats on the back for doing a good job. That is why awards have always meant so much to her. And it is here where Miss Americana becomes more than just a documentary.
It becomes a movement in its own right when she starts to question her eager-to-please personality. She wonders why women have always had to strive to please everyone around them. Swift goes on a rant at one point, asking why she (or any woman for that matter) should be saying sorry for anything and everything they do. She also points out how this is very much ingrained in patriarchy. She asserts that she is done standing back and letting people trample over her anymore.
This is where we see, not only the movie, but Taylor Swift come into her own as a person – as a woman. It took her a little while, but she is finally coming out and “deprogram the misogyny in my brain”.
“I want to wear pink and tell you how I feel about politics,” she asserts. “And I don’t think those things have to cancel each other out.” And she’s right, they don’t. She is evolving, and showing us her true potential as a self actualised woman who is taking every industry by a storm. She’s done being the ‘good girl’. She shed that persona a long time ago. She is now here to voice her opinions and fight the ‘big bad man’ as she croons in her new song Only The Young, that is featured in the documentary. An upbeat, catchy anthem to instill hope in young voters, to encourage today’s youth to stand up for what they believe in and to fight for what is right. Because, like she sings, ‘only the young can run.’
There are many aspects of this documentary that make it memorable. And I can promise you, once you have seen the movie, you’ll see Taylor in a completely different light. I certainly do. I have always loved her music, but I will admit I was once one of those people who used to think Swift was ‘playing the victim’. However, over the years, I have developed a begrudging respect towards her, especially after she finally took a political stance. And this movie simply solidified that for me. We all owe Taylor Swift a big fat apology.
Miss Americana will make you laugh, cry, scream, and sing along. It will inspire and urge you to speak up and take you through a journey of self actualisation all in the span of an hour-and-a-half. But my god, it’s completely worth it. Towards the end of the movie, she’s liberated by the declaration of her political sympathies. This is a journey of realising who Taylor Swift truly is. This woman has done and achieved so much in her life, all while standing behind her armour. Imagine what she’ll do now that she’s shed that armour and is standing bare in front of us, having finally realised her true worth and power. She isn’t holding back anymore. She is Miss Americana in every sense of the word, and this is only the beginning.
You can catch Miss Americana on Netflix right now.
Featured image: Netflix.