For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of Taylor Swift. She was the first musician who made me conscious that there was a person behind the music I was listening to. I have vivid memories of making up intricate dances with my friends to “You Belong With Me,” and crying in my bedroom as I listened to “Ronan” on repeat. There was a brief period of time in high school where I decided that I actually didn’t like her music because all she sang about was boys and breakups. However, I quickly realized that this theme wasn’t exclusive to her, and I returned to obsessively listening to her music. While there are other artists that I listen to whose music is objectively better — both lyrically and musically — there is no other singer that brings me the same amount of comfort that Taylor Swift does.
I went into the new Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, expecting it to be a fairly surface-level look into Taylor Swift’s life and career. While there were light moments as she evolved from a country singer to a pop star, there were also scenes that were quite raw. Swift reveals that she has suffered from severe body image issues and has had an eating disorder for a long time. She also explores her feelings related to the Kanye West VMAs debacle and her sexual assault court case against David Mueller. These events in Taylor Swift’s career have been dissected over and over again by the media, but this documentary provides Swift the platform to control her narrative.
This documentary provides Swift the platform to control her narrative.
One thing is evident throughout the documentary: Swift loves what she is doing. While there have been many bumps along the road, her passion for songwriting remains consistent. My favorite parts of the documentary were when we saw her work on songs from her most recent albums, Lover and Reputation. I’m sure that anyone who has ever written anything can relate to the fully fledged smile that spreads across her face as she finally figures out the perfect line for “Getaway Car.” You would expect that after having been in the industry for so long, Swift would have become jaded, or that some of the magic would have disappeared, but if anything, she seems even more bright-eyed. She has reached the point in her career where she could release just about anything and people would devour it, but that doesn’t stop her from continuously trying to be better. There’s a scene where Swift learns that Reputation wasn’t nominated for any major categories in the Grammy’s and her immediate reaction was to create “a better album.” She always strives to be a better artist. This is what has gotten her to this point and I think that it is the thing that will keep her relevant for years to come.
Another theme that is prevalent throughout Miss Americana is the double standards that women are subjected to in the music industry. Swift has been judged for her many personas, but women artists need to constantly reinvent themselves in order to remain relevant in the industry. As Swift points out, this reinvention needs to remain within the conditions that are enforced by male music producers. It’s a constant balance of trying to remain new and fresh while also trying to offend the least amount of people possible. Women have to put in twice as much effort to be considered at the same level as their male counterparts, and all that extra effort is rarely even acknowledged. One of the things that Taylor Swift has been consistently put down for is writing songs about all the guys she’s dated, but when singers like Ed Sheeran or Shawn Mendes do it, nobody bats an eye. The things that people criticize women artists for are the same things that men are commended for.
Women have to put in twice as much effort to be considered at the same level as their male counterparts, and all that extra effort is rarely even acknowledged.
On her most recent album, Lover, we see Swift straying from her typical songwriting themes. “Soon You’ll Get Better” explores her mother’s battle with cancer. “The Man” imagines what her career would be like if she was a man. “Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince” utilizes the high school setting as an allegory for America’s current political climate. In the latter half of the documentary, we see Swift coming to her decision to break her political silence in order to publicly endorse a Democratic candidate in the midterm elections. Throughout her career, she had been taught that if she wanted to maintain her “good girl” image, she couldn’t be political. She eventually reached a point where she couldn’t in good conscience be silent when her voice had the potential to enact change. This decision comes from a place of privilege, as there are so many people whose very existence is political and who don’t have the luxury of distancing themselves from such situations, but Swift recognizes that. She describes this decision as her finally removing a self-imposed muzzle. She’s learning from her mistakes — which is not something that can be said of all celebrities — and I look forward to seeing what else she will do with all the power that she holds.
One could watch Miss Americana and not feel an ounce of pity for this incredibly rich and famous singer, which is completely understandable. Looking into a celebrity’s life often times feel disingenuous as it’s difficult to feel sympathy for someone whose problems revolve around too many people paying attention to them. Our society has a tendency to worship celebrities, and we often conflate their personas with their actual identities. I recognize that Taylor Swift has flaws and that there are many reasons why someone would not like her. However, I think that everyone should watch Miss Americana, as it offers an interesting perspective on someone who has built her sense of self-worth on how others perceive her. I think a lot of people can relate to that, regardless of fame and stature.