Taylor Swift Can’t Escape the Pop-Star Bubble in Her Netflix Documentary Miss Americana
Miss Americana starts with a 13-year-old Taylor Swift’s first diary, which has the words “my life … my career … my dream … my reality” inscribed along the edges of its cover. Like the pages of a journal, director Lana Wilson’s documentary flashes through Swift’s life from the age she began writing songs to the release of her seventh album, Lover, last year. It quickly becomes clear that the four quadrants of Swift’s childhood diary are all on the same map: Miss Americana is a portrait of the girl who grew up to achieve her dream so spectacularly that she’s only beginning to distinguish the other parts of life as she turns 30. The film is an entirely personal document, even as it eventually explores topics like Swift’s much-publicized 2018 political awakening.
At its core is something we know to be true of Taylor Swift already: that she’s worked extremely hard to be popular. From her perspective, we learn, this means she failed to secure validation elsewhere and that, when the winds of pop culture temporarily stopped blowing her way around the release of her contentious 2017 album Reputation, part of her crumbled in response. Some celebrities get “frozen at the age they get famous—and that’s kinda what happened to me,” notes Swift toward the documentary’s end. At 16, her debut single made her a country-music darling overnight, and this film makes her ensuing petty dramas feel almost inevitable.
With many scenes in the recording studio and lots of cozy shots of Swift speaking to the camera, Miss Americana sometimes feels like a feature-length extension of the behind-the-scenes songwriting clips she’s released in the past. Still, it doesn’t shy from certain events Swift probably wasn’t thrilled to include: Kanye West’s onstage mic-snatch at the 2009 VMAs, one of this century’s most infamous pop culture moments; Kim Kardashian’s 2016 Snapchat video that reignited the feud by seeming to reveal Swift as a two-faced phony; and the groping photo Swift’s lawyers attempted to keep out of public view during her sexual assault case against a radio DJ, where she stands with a pinned smile as the man reaches his hand behind her.
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