Released: 31st January
Seen: 27th February
The career trajectory of Taylor Swift is one that can only be described by referencing objects that defy the laws of physics. What she has somehow pulled off throughout her career is basically impossible and yet she made it look effortless. To list her many accolades and the records she has broken would probably take so long that I dare not even try to start such a list. She is easily the biggest artist of this generation, I’d probably even be bold enough to put her influence above other icons like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga if I wasn’t so completely terrified that doing so would end in my dismemberment by a horde of fans who would track me down and end me. She’s a big goddamn deal and will probably still be a big goddamn deal long after we all are dead and buried. What’s helped her along the way is that every-girl image that almost seemed like it was too perfect to be true. Surely there had to be something hiding underneath that layer of schoolgirl innocence that sung about teardrops falling on her guitar… and now, we know what happens when that image is destroyed and we finally get to meet the real Taylor
Miss Americana is not your normal musician documentary. It’s not about the hard times and scandals or how Taylor rose to the top of the game (although both of those are brought up to establish some form of context). It’s not about how she made her latest album, in fact the movie seems to have been shot over the course of two albums (Reputation & Lover). It’s not about a particularly difficult tour, although we do get a glimpse into just how hard Taylor is worked. There is a particularly stunning moment when she’s working on the Reputation album where she points out she’s probably going to be planning dates as far ahead as 2020 (Note, Reputation came out in 2017… so that’s 3 years in advance. What’re you doing three weeks from now? Hell, what’re you doing 3 months from now?). No, this film isn’t actually about any of those things, merely uses them as stepping stones to get to the main point of this film. This documentary is about that one thing that internet reactionaries hate so much, a celebrity getting political.
You might be aware that for most of her career, Taylor has been very silent about anything political. How silent? Silent enough that alt-right shitlords decided she was on their side and was some form of Aryan goddess. Not even a joke, that’s a thing that people believed and it was able to become a thing, in part, because society has made it unacceptable for women and especially celebrities to speak their minds about anything political, even more so for female country artists. Do I need to point to the Dixie Chicks? Cos I could, but the film does that for me. It takes about an hour before we hit this point but it’s clearly the entire purpose of the film, to build to Taylor letting go and calling out how insane it is that she is expected to just be pretty, sing about breakups and don’t say anything else. When Taylor finally hits this realisation that she’s actually allowed to be pointedly political in her artwork, it’s like we’re watching her wake up for the first time.
This realisation doesn’t happen out of nowhere, obviously, but is a direct result of the sexual harassment case that Taylor was involved in (fast summary: an asshole radio DJ groped her, there’s a photo, she said something, he got fired, he sued Taylor for millions, she sued him back for a single dollar and she won). That moment when people believed her and heard what she had to say clearly woke something up in Taylor that gave her the confidence to actually start putting her opinions out into the world in her newest music. This movie shows that in glorious detail and points out how insane it is that she was ever asked to hold back.
I’ve probably said this a few times but this film really demands I say it again, but I’m genuinely fine with an artist being political. Even when it’s politics I don’t agree with, this idea that we ask artists to not put their opinions in their art is insane to me and a film basically dedicated to someone realising that they can be a political artist and a pop artist at the same time is genuinely great to see. Sometimes we need to be reminded that art itself is inherently a political act and this film really does make the case for not only allowing but encouraging artists to put their politics into their art.
This isn’t to say the film is always shining a positive light on Taylor, though it certainly leans more that way. If you’re wondering “But do they talk about all that Kanye stuff”, oh you bet they do. We get to watch that jackass steal her moment and then call her a bitch and witness her world crumble multiple times. We get to hear not only how it hurt her, we get to see the world turn on her and it’s not just brushed over. The huge moments we all remember needed to be talked about and sometimes we don’t get easy answers. A particularly stunning moment comes when Taylor talks about how she was basically trained to crave applause so when the crowd was booing Kanye for interrupting her, she thought they were booing her and that was a triggering moment for her. There’s several points where we get to actually see her side of these major scandals and how she used them as fuel to keep going.
The film also touches on heavier themes like how women in the industry are treated with a double standard and given a disturbingly short shelf life. Make no mistake, this entire film is designed to call out every bit of bullshit that Taylor’s been put through and how the expectations placed upon her by society are unjust. This film is political and it’s unashamed to be so, because sometimes that’s what’s needed.
Miss Americana might not win Taylor any new fans, indeed her embracing her right to be political runs the risk of her losing some and they call that out as loudly as they can. This is not a film to make converts, this isn’t a film to explore the music, this is a film about an artist allowing themselves the chance to be open about who they are and embracing every element of it. If nothing else, you will understand Taylor Swift a whole lot better by the end of this and if you don’t like what you see… well, I’m pretty confident that Taylor’s gonna shake that off.