Rachel Campbell

Writer

The world’s most prolific pop princess reveals an unyielding voice of empowerment in this raw Netflix documentary.

Netflix documentary Miss Americana takes us into Taylor Swift’s NYC apartment, her doorstep surrounded by screaming fans. It feels as though we step into her real life, outside of the chaos which comes with being Artist of the Decade, as she was named at last year’s AMAs. She lifts the veil on the person she has kept hidden over the past few years, following on from the infamous Kanye West drama and #taylorswiftisoverparty. Miss Americana gives a raw look into Swift’s life at a time when she had notably retreated from the public eye, and explores how she returned with a new-found political voice and sense of self. 

Throughout the documentary, one theme is prevalent: the idea that women, in the music industry and elsewhere, are taught to smile, wave and look pretty. They are taught to not get involved in politics, to not use their voices if they want to be successful. Swift admits she adopted this “good girl” doctrine and agreed she was just there to sing songs: “I was so obsessed with not getting in trouble, I was just like I’m not gonna do anything that anyone can say anything about.” Having been a fan for years, I was disappointed when I saw other people with influence speaking out about injustice in politics, while Swift’s voice remained noticeably absent. Miss Americana shows the moment Swift decided enough was enough, as, in a captivating scene, she argues with her father and a male member of her team about her need to speak up during the 2018 Tennessee mid-term election. She issued a statement against Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn, who opposed reauthorising the Violence Against Women Act and bills regarding LGBTQ+ rights. Her father and male associate sat opposite her and her mother as they argued; creating a divide which reinforces their differences in experience and beliefs surrounding the situation. It is clear the two men have her best interests at heart as they share their fears over her safety when speaking out against the President, though it seems they lack the understanding that Swift holds the power to cause real change and has been sitting on this power for too long. Swift holds back tears as she agonises over her decision to stay quiet during the Trump election campaign in 2016, “but 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.” Her statement caused young voter turnout to Tennessee increase seven-fold, yet Blackburn still won the seat. However, the election marked a turning point in Swift’s career, where she recognised the power she held and her responsibility to use it. With her song, You Need To Calm Down, Swift advocated for the Equality Act, and used her 2019 VMA’s acceptance speech to state that the act still hadn’t received a response from the White House, despite gaining five times the necessary amount of signatures. “It’s time to take the masking tape off of my mouth forever”, she states, and it seems to ring true.

Throughout the documentary, we see Swift break away from this good girl trope in more ways than one. We are invited to glimpse her journey towards relying on her own judgement rather than approval from others. She delves into how paparazzi photos combined with hateful comments about her body led her to engage in disordered eating habits, and in a heartbreakingly frank discussion she states “I don’t think you know you’re doing that when you do it gradually…There’s always some standard of beauty you’re not meeting. It’s all just fucking impossible”. Whilst it isn’t discussed in great depth, it’s clear Swift is doing something she hasn’t done before, by showing she doesn’t always get it right, and letting her audience in on the fact that she’s still learning to accept herself. This raw moment makes it clear that this is something Swift has struggled with for some time, and by inviting her audience into this she more deeply encourages the message of self-love and acceptance which she has preached in her music since her first album (e.g., Tied Together With A Smile).

With the exploration of her own sexual assault court case, and the discussion of sexism in the music industry more generally, Swift shows she has come a long way from that 17-year-old girl afraid to speak up and offend industry bosses. She discusses how she was sexually assaulted, with photographic evidence and seven witnesses, yet still endured a gruelling court case where she was made to feel like she was in the wrong. In winning the trial, Swift’s response was not one of victory, but of sympathy for those who don’t have the voice or evidence she had. It seems the message of Miss Americana is that Swift is no longer willing to keep her mouth shut when she knows things aren’t right, be that on a personal scale or in advocating for change in federal law. The woman recounting her harrowing experience is a far cry from the girl who remarked “it’s my right to vote but it’s not my right to tell other people what to do,” and received an uncomfortable fist-bump from David Letterman. 

Ultimately with its exploration of feminism, as well as balancing personal issues with professional speed-bumps, Swift makes her incredibly unique position seem surprisingly relatable. Her journey from passive country-singer to activist holds a myriad of tear jerking moments as she discusses her mother’s cancer diagnosis, her mental health struggles, and finding someone who accepts her. Miss Americana is well worth watching even if you would never put Shake It Off on your playlist.



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