American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift opened up the backstage doors for director Lana Wilson’s documentary ‘Miss Americana,” aptly named after one of Swift’s songs from her latest album.
The documentary, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, takes the viewer on a journey through Swift’s career and life, and it tells the story of how the two have become immeasurably intertwined. Through home videos, cell phone recordings, and professional footage, Wilson shows the audience, Taylor Swift, in a raw, intimate fashion. The musician opens up about pivotal moments, like when Kanye stole her microphone at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards and the Twitter hashtag #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty, taking us on a rewind tour of the past two decades.
She also discusses the challenges she faced, such as eating disorders and public scrutiny over her love life. Even though she leads a life of stardom, the film presents themes of loneliness, combating expectations and rejection, sentiments almost anyone can relate to.
The film’s largest theme, however, would have to be that of Swift becoming politically outspoken. Swift has never spoken on politics until recently, and she reveals why in the documentary. She discusses the importance of equal rights for women and the LGBT community, and she explicitly backs Democrats running for office in Tennessee during the midterm elections.
Politics should not deter more conservative viewers from streaming ‘Miss Americana’ on Netflix. The film is not specific to Taylor Swift fans or liberals by any means. The documentary features some of her music, but it is not a Swift love fest. It is simply an inside look into the pop star’s inner monologue and day-to-day life. It is a confession, one that deserves to be heard.
But Swift isn’t the only voice in the show. While her narration is the glue that holds an array of topics together, the documentary pulls from news footage, interviews, and commentary to contextualize different moments in Swift’s life. Furthermore, Wilson introduces the characters of Swift’s life — her parents, friends and lover— to complete the picture. Wilson also takes viewers into the music business. The audience lays witness to manager meetings, publicist talks, post-concert emotions, and red carpets.
‘Miss Americana’ manages to cover a lot of ground in an hour and 26 minutes quite seamlessly. Creative editing helps to juxtapose the Taylor Swift shown to the world and the Taylor Swift behind closed doors, bringing criticism and contemplation to what could have been a soapbox. The opening sequence immediately prompts this theme by contrasting Swift bathed in lights onstage and Swift covered by shadows on a car ride afterward. It’s moments like these in the film where reality becomes enveloped in cinematic art.
Then there are more commercial moments, like when Swift produces her latest single ‘Only The Young.’ In the documentary, Swift writes the song in the hopes of empowering the youth politically and begins recording. The lyrics are simple, even though lyricism is what Swift is best known and heralded for. The inclusion of the song makes Swift’s narrative feel more self-serving, taking away from the sense of raw intimacy that draws in the audience to begin with. By inserting an unfamiliar song into the documentary, the film’s motive flips from revealing Swift’s truth to promoting a new single. Swift had the option of releasing the song separately from the film, but she made the wrong choice. The film was fine without this sidebar.
“Only The Young” is out now on streaming platforms, but unlike the film, the song feels underdeveloped.
‘Miss Americana’ isn’t just for Swift fans. It’s an interesting watch for anyone who has ever felt lost, rejected or alone.