In 'Miss Americana,' Taylor Swift Is Not Just Like Us, but We've Never Wanted Her to Be

Directed by Lana Wilson

BY Sarah MurphyPublished Jan 31, 2020

If you hate Taylor Swift, Lana Wilson's new documentary Miss Americana isn't going to change your mind. But the 85-minute film does give viewers a fresh perspective on the Lover singer — her own.
For more than a decade, Swift was the country-turned-pop star who wanted to appeal to everyone and offend no one. She says it herself at the start of the film, that all she ever strived to be was a "good girl."
She wrote songs, toured, earned radio hits and ascended to a level of stardom that few ever attain, let alone by age 16. When she won an MTV Video Music Award in 2009, she was infamously interrupted by Kanye West, who declared that Beyoncé should have won instead.
Not missing the opportunity to villainize West one more time, the event serves as the narrative's catalyst for Swift learning what it feels like to be hated for the first time (she says that, in the moment, she thought the audience was booing her, not West). She'd later learn what it was really like to be hated by millions of people online after another scandal involving West and his wife Kim Kardashian inspired a #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty on Twitter.
Rather than portraying Swift as the victim — as she is so often accused of doing herself — Wilson instead focuses on the singer's resilience. She bounces back from the Kimye drama by stepping out of the public eye for a year, returning with her massively successful Reputation album and world tour, as well as a healthier body and mindset, and a happy, private relationship with Joe Alwyn (who is barely even mentioned in the film).
In another scene, Swift receives the news that Reputation didn't get nominated for any of the major Grammy Awards. Her response is an immediate, "I'll make a better album."
But these experiences are hardly relatable to fans or casual viewers. It's the moments of deeply personal minutiae revealed in the film that see Swift at her most likable. Discussions about her mother's cancer, opening up about her own eating disorder, describing the lack of victory that comes with winning a sexual assault case, drinking wine with ice cubes with her childhood best friend and wearing sweatpants a lot humanize Swift.
After being a self-admitted product of other people's expectations for the majority of her teen and adult life, that human side of Swift leaks into her professional life when she decides to take a political stand. The strife that her choice to endorse a Democrat caused her family seems real enough — Swift had been the target of stalkers and potential attackers long before giving anyone a political reason to dislike her. So as much as the Instagram post itself felt like a publicity stunt (her publicist was sitting next to her with a glass of wine when she posted it), the footage of the family discussion leading up to it does make Swift seem braver than she was given credit for.
Of course, what ties all these milestones of Swift's career together is her music, and there's plenty of footage in the doc of her and her collaborators in the studio, including Jack Antonoff, Max Martin, Joel Little and Panic! at the Disco's Brendan Urie, developing what have become some of her biggest hits. And it's these moments creating music where Swift lets her guard down and comes to life the most.
Despite glimpses into Swift's life at home and getting to hear her curse, at no point does the film pretend to depict her as a normal person living a normal life. Coming out of her New York apartment to throngs of screaming fans, she tells the camera that she is "fully aware" of how not normal her life is.
Swift has attained a level of fame where she's never going to be able to make everybody happy. She's going to have overly zealous fans that stand outside of her house and plan their marriage proposals to coincide with tour meet-and-greets, and she's going to have haters that dislike her music and decry even the most well-intentioned actions as empty gestures.
But if Miss Americana proves anything, it's that Swift is finally living for herself.

Tour Dates

Latest Coverage