Review: Taylor Swift Shows How She Found Her Voice in "Miss Americana"

One of the hallmarks of Taylor Swift’s career is the way she inscribes the stories of her life into her songs. As she’s climbed to the peak of pop stardom over the past decade, her fans — or ‘Swifties’ — have been with her every step of the way, watching her grow up and growing up with her, too. For her supporters and the general public alike, Swift seemed as vulnerable and open as can be. But Netflix’s Jan. 31 release of Miss Americana turns that idea on its head. The documentary, which details Swift’s journey to self-confidence and political activism, shows a glimpse into parts of her life she’s hidden from the world. And, it’s a story told on her terms, as opposed to being pried out of her hands and convoluted for reads and clicks.

Photo courtesy of @taylorswift on Instagram As a longtime Swiftie (seven years and counting), I was ecstatic to hear about the upcoming release. Swifties love getting to learn about Swift’s life, especially when she’s been such an integral part of ours. Even though she’s spilled her heart into her music, Swift has never fully elaborated on how she felt about most events in her career — how the media’s attacks on her relationships felt, how the infamous 2008 VMAs affected her, and so on. To me, Miss Americana gave me a chance to get to really know who Swift is beyond the fantastical shows and awards and the public persona she wears. The film begins with an overview of Swift’s career from its humble beginnings to the reputation era of 2017. Under fame’s magnifying glass, she tried to be what the public wanted, adapting to everyone’s criticisms. Those critiques shaped her career — they’re why she wrote 2010’s Speak Now by herself, why she stopped dating for years after 2012’s Red, and why she disappeared from the public eye after her 2016 feud with Kanye West. And at the end of this arc, after learning how to be content on her own terms and not on everyone else’s, Swift is happier with herself than ever before. And each following arc — her past eating disorder, her mother’s cancer diagnosis and her sexual assault trial — shows her gaining strength and confidence in herself and the power of her own voice.

Photo courtesy of @taylorswift on Instagram All these arcs make up Swift’s backstory and lead up to the main point of the entire movie: her entry into the political sphere. After all, the title’s a reference to Lover’s “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” which uses a high school rivalry as a metaphor for today’s polarized political environment. When Swift was still a country musician, she was taught to keep her mouth shut about politics and not force her opinions on anyone — and she listened out of fear of ending up like the Dixie Chicks after they spoke out against George W. Bush. But in the midst of the Trump presidency, Swift finally decided she cared more about standing up for her beliefs than the possible consequences. Marsha Blackburn, who was ultimately elected to the senate in 2018, holds similar beliefs to President Donald Trump, and Swift, on the brink of tears as her father and members of her team argue against her, had to fight to publicly speak out against the then-candidate and repeatedly explain her reasoning. Out of all the scenes in Miss Americana, this moment is one of the most relatable. Swift’s voice is constantly pushed down by men, even when they have her best interests at heart, because they don’t think her decision-making is good enough — and that’s how many women feel when they’re in a male-dominated space. They’re talked over and scolded, and they have to fight to express themselves.

Photo courtesy of @taylorswift on Instagram While I think the film could’ve improved with some technical fixes, such as introducing the political aspect of Taylor’s journey earlier on and weaving it into the other arcs, the story of her growth is still very clear. Miss Americana doesn’t intend to make people like Swift — it shows her life through her personal lens, not through a media mediator, and humanizes her. I loved getting to learn about Swift from the woman herself, hearing her life through her own words, and I feel even more connected to her. And to top it all off, the film shows the freedom that comes with speaking your mind and the change you can make by doing so. And in a world filled with injustices, I think standing up for what we believe in is more important than ever.