Like a dutiful “Swifty”, I watched Taylor Swift’s documentary (twice) over the weekend. To say it was emotional would be an understatement…I teared up a few times, maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, or maybe she is just that relatable. Miss Americana the Lana Wilson documentary following Taylor Swift’s most recent maneuvering of life in the thralls of super-fame has given the power of narrative back to the woman who’s been maligned, mocked, loved, praised, and shamed on the World stage throughout her staggeringly successful career. Swift’s lovers will watch this Netflix exclusive with an empathy that you would feel for your best friend, a raw emotional facet of Taylor is shown and felt without the presence of calculation that her critics have long accused her of.
Being a fangirl of Taylor since my teens I quite literally have felt like I’ve grown up with her, a concept that she is fully aware of and embraces as a central element of her success, “there’s an element in my fanbase that makes them feel like we’ve grown up together”. I would listen to her songs when I was 16 and think ‘oh my god, she gets it’ and then again when I was 22 ‘oh my god, that’s my life’ and then again at 29 ‘still gets me’. Historically, Taylor’s lyrics have resonated with so many young women because they feel like they are pages out of their own diary. She also acknowledges that her storytelling and the persistence of always writing her own songs is the reason why she’s made it so far and is something that sets her apart from other pop stars.
Some layers of Taylor that haven’t been so obvious over the past 15 years came to light in the form of internal pressures that she put on herself. One of them being the need to always to perceived of as “good”. In the film, she says that being a good person or “good girl” was the narrative she subscribed to, even as a young child, and that narrative brought with it pressure of upholding an impossible standard. When she talks about these standards of being good, the screen cuts to clips of her in ultra-modest clothing doing interviews where she seems to physically stifle her words to make sure she is saying the “right” thing as if to not upset anyone. A muzzled opinion was the image of “good” she had been conditioned to believe. An image that ultimately would be used against her as evidence of her being fake and calculated from an audience who just didn’t like her because she appeared “too good”. You can’t win with some people. Another internal struggle of hers is the ever-classic body image issue. Taylor like a lot of women felt the need to always look perfect, and that standard came at the cost of not eating. I, maybe naively always believed her to be just super-lucky, naturally really thin, but she admitted to an eating disorder that has taken her time and finding happiness to overcome. As she describes her feelings about being healthy rather skinny for the sake of skinny, she often reminds herself “it’s better to think you look fat than to look sick” and that it’s imperative to not look at pictures of herself everyday.
Another deeply personal truth exposed was that her happiness was directly tied to validation, more specifically validation from strangers. The mutual exclusiveness of the two made for a Molotov cocktail when the internet decided that #taylorswiftisoverparty was happening, that hashtag was number one trending on twitter world-wide, “do you know how many people have to say that they hate you for that to happen” Swift points out…I can’t imagine, I got a couple of vile comments on YouTube once and that was enough for me to want to disappear. We get some insight into how she handled that rejection and learned that “happiness without anyone else’s input” was what was real.
Call it what you want but I believe Taylor’s sincerity throughout the film, even though the story is being told from her own self-reflection I think Wilson did well in capturing the truth of Swift. We are not only exposed to the genius that comes out when she’s in the recording studio as she makes songwriting and music creation appear effortless (even with a burrito in one hand) and her overt work ethic, but overall the film takes us on the journey of Swift navigating the last couple years of her 20’s, finding her voice, and learning to live more for herself rather than relying on the approval from others. The metamorphosis of girl into woman, from “good” to real, and from unfulfilled to happy is a part of the human experience we can all relate to and that’a what makes this film worth watching even for you non-Swifties.