It’s a shock to no one that “Miss Americana,” the recent Netflix biopic of Taylor Swift, has garnered a polarized response. Diehard Swifties are thrilled to have more quality time with their patron saint, while diehard Swift haters have found endless material to criticize. As a fan of Taylor Swift’s music, I felt the urge to add my take into the already saturated market.
Of the many reasons people find to hate Taylor Swift, the one that always rises to the top is that she, “plays the victim” to sell records and generate sympathy from the public. This is a problematic criticism for many reasons that could constitute an entire article. However, in this case, I believe the people making that particular critique of “Miss Americana” are entirely missing the point.
The true goal of “Miss Americana” is not to redeem Taylor Swift in the public eye. That’s a mere byproduct of the actual story being told. The real story is Taylor’s personal journey from denial to acceptance, from girlish ignorance to adult responsibility.
So how did Taylor get to this point?
The opening of the documentary is Taylor the adult reflecting on Taylor the child. She says her entire moral code as long as she can remember was being a “good girl.” Her entire life’s goal was to be universally loved for her music, and by extension, herself. This, of course, is impossible. It’s in this fundamental misunderstanding of what would bring her true happiness that Taylor Swift set herself up for a heartbreak more devastating than the famed breakup songs in her catalog.
When Taylor first began gaining traction with her music as a teenager, she handed over her life to a PR team. The “good girl” brand was taken to a whole new level, with major success. Taylor skyrocketed to superstardom and received more accolades than she could count. Her dream of universal love and validation felt more attainable with each new album and tour.
And yet in 2016, #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty was trending at number one, internationally, on twitter. Her entire self-worth was centered around being popular and successful, so it’s not difficult to understand how and why this absolutely destroyed her. Still worse than that, none of the Grammys or the praise she so craved brought her any personal fulfillment. Thus, her unstable worldview inevitably came crashing down.
It’s from that rock bottom that she removed herself from the public eye and figured out a new, solid foundation upon which to build her life. The beautiful thing to me about her growth is that it was completely personal and private. When she finally did rise from the ashes of 2016, she emerged a changed woman.
The changed, adult Taylor we see in “Miss Americana” never shows the audience a semblance of her real personality. This reflective, measured version of Taylor is as authentic as she can possibly be within the crazy PR machine that is her life. It’s the polar opposite of the way she interacted with the media in her teens and early twenties. She used to bend over backward to appease as many people as possible, forcing a quirky and relatable, faux-vulnerable persona. The new Taylor has a healthy understanding of the importance of privacy and the reality that she can’t force everyone like her. There’s just Taylor, hiding in plain sight, speaking the truth.
Taylor understands now the value of telling the truth when it really matters. While wisely keeping the details of her personal life private, she uses this platform to speak candidly about issues that have affected her life. She is brutally honest about an eating disorder she didn’t know she had, and the time she found a strange man sleeping in her bed. Most notably, she talks about the time she was groped on a red carpet and the ordeal of a court case that followed. Adult Taylor understands that she has a unique opportunity to influence millions of people in a positive way and that she has an obligation to stand up for what’s right.
Many people assume Taylor is disingenuous, carefully crafting her words to come out in a way that will exacerbate her victimhood. While she is no doubt aware of the pathos in revealing these stories on camera, to assume she’s only doing so for sympathy or attention is, quite frankly, a sexist double standard. A man in her position would be hailed as brave and honest, no questions asked. If anything is deserving of villainization in this narrative, it’s not Taylor herself, but the patriarchal system that scrutinizes a woman’s every flaw.
This story, like any other, comes down to who you believe. I choose to believe her.
In conclusion, “Miss Americana” is not just an empty shell of a publicity stunt masquerading as a documentary. It’s a portrait of a woman just trying to live life on her own terms within a world that doesn’t allow for it.