Taylor Swift does not shy away from controversial and uncomfortable discussions in her documentary, “Miss Americana,” directed by Lana Wilson and released on Netflix Jan. 31. The film showcases the artist’s career, from 13 years old to present day.
From the very beginning, “Miss Americana” does not sugarcoat Swift’s career, as it highlights her various struggles since entering the music industry at the age of 13. The documentary details the controversy at the 2009 Video Music Awards when Kanye West interrupted Swift’s speech after she won Best Female Video for “You Belong With Me,” as well as her 2017 lawsuit against David Mueller, who she accused of sexually assaulting her in 2013.
Throughout the 96-minute run time, Swift opens up to the camera during in-car or at-home interviews, giving the audience a glimpse into her deepest emotions. After missing out on the 2018 Grammy nomination for Best Album for “Reputation,” Swift cries on her living room couch. The shot is appropriately uncomfortable in its supposed intrusion on an intimate moment.
One topic that comes up is Swift’s body image and eating disorder, saying she refrained from looking at paparazzi photos for fear of seeing unflattering pictures in which she felt overweight or not the ideal body type. Although the conversation is brief, it’s poignant in solidifying the physical and mental effect the eating disorder has had on her.
As one might expect from watching the documentary of a girl maturing from 13 to 29 years old, Swift evolves from the naivety of her earlier days. Influenced in part by her experience in her sexual assault trial, Swift comes to terms with her frustration with the judicial system. The documentary excels at portraying her as justified in her fury at not being believed as a victim of the assault.
Breaking her silence on political issues is something that pops up toward the end of the documentary. Swift’s passion for women’s rights brought her to back Democratic senators in the 2018 midterm elections.
While the documentary briefly mentions Swift’s political stance, her advocation of LGBTQ rights seems to come out of left field as it is seen most starkly in the 2019 track “You Need to Calm Down” — which features a music video crammed with rainbow flags, confetti and members of the Fab Five from Netflix’s “Queer Eye.” Leading up to 2019, the documentary does not portray Swift being vocal about LGBTQ rights, so the switch in topics feels a bit unexplained.
The film mentions West’s and Swift’s controversy that continued when the rapper included her in his 2016 track “Famous.” “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that b**** famous,” West rapped. Following the track’s release, Swift descended into hermitude and is quoted in saying she wasn’t really seen outside for a year.
The singer leaned into her anger about the situation with West and with the expectations the industry puts on females to create “Reputation,” her sixth studio album, which was released in 2017.
Despite mainstream media’s extensive coverage of Swift’s love life during the past decade, “Miss Americana” avoids this aspect of her personal life. It’s only in the section of her secluded writing of “Reputation” that she mentions current British beau Joe Alwyn. His relative obscurity and the fact the camera never shows his face is a sweetly subtle touch because it honors the privacy of their relationship.
Jumping back and forth on the singer’s timeline, the film covers Swift’s prolific career, shows her hardships and displays her successes. The documentary excels at proving Swift is just another human with feelings and expectations for the rest of her career and personal life.
“Miss Americana” ends on an empowered note, with the closing scene being Swift’s performance in the “Lover” era following the album’s release in August 2019. She swaggers into the limelight, confidence oozing out her every pore, and reaches for the microphone right as the screen fades to black.