Since the start of the new year, Netflix has added a handful of movies, new and old. One of these additions combines the feel of both. “Miss Americana,” a documentary about international superstar Taylor Swift’s rise to fame and time in the spotlight, gives a fresh look at a star that many of us have grown up with. Directed by Lana Wilson, the movie sheds a new, largely unexplored light on what it’s like to be a celebrity, giving insight on the loneliness of being at the top and reminding viewers that celebrities aren’t merely icons to be publicly picked apart; they’re human beings, and they see and feel everything send at them.
As is the case with any documentary that gives an approved look at the inside life of a celebrity, there’s a certain angle that the director is taking, a certain image of the celebrity that they want the audience to take from it. It’s hard not to be skeptical of this as the movie begins, but Swift has taken the opportunity presented in “Miss Americana” to show the world the most honest version of herself.
The documentary leaves viewers with more questions answered than they could have expected to ask. To be candid about my views on Swift prior to watching the documentary, I will disclose that I have been a fan of Swift’s music since day one, but have taken just about every opportunity in the past six years to explain that her music is the only thing I’m a fan of. Her stance as a self-declared feminist irked me because, when I felt that it mattered most, particularly in election seasons and with other big public issues or movements, she seemed to disappear. I watched celebrities like Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson and even Kendall Jenner get involved during the 2016 election, with Perry even performing at Clinton rallies, and waited for Swift to speak out. She never did, and I undeniably held it against her as a person, thinking I knew best. But “Miss Americana” gives insights into why she made the decision to stay away from politics and other heated topics for as long as she did. Her reasoning for doing such is sound and genuine, opening viewers’ eyes to the scrutiny celebrities receive for their every move.
From the beginning of the movie to the end, Swift is explaining herself, and she does so as someone who knows she’s lost much of the adoration she once had. Without coming off as defensive, she essentially uses “Miss Americana” as a platform through which to defend herself from the harsh criticisms she has received over the years. She describes her need for acceptance and praise, and hearing her talk so openly about her own personality, needs and flaws explain a great deal about her demeanor, decisions and reputation. “Miss Americana” takes footage from years of Swift’s fame and organizes it to tell the story of a girl becoming a woman under the constant scrutiny of the media and the effect that has on a human being. Skillfully, Wilson’s documentary shows what the public eye misses. It details Swift’s every decision and does so with just enough footage of her performing her craft to remind viewers why she’s in the spotlight to begin with.
With a handful of songwriting scenes sprinkled thematically into the movie, giving an inside look to the stories behind some of her songs, the documentary has moments that remind viewers that it’s still about a musician. From the perspective of someone who doesn’t write music, these inside glimpses, when done well, are intriguing and inspiring, showing the craft of songwriting and how some people, like Swift, seem to simply be blessed with this gift. “Miss Americana” gives viewers a three-dimensional look at Swift, reminding us that we can’t simply reap the benefits of her gift without treating her like a human being, too. Swift and Wilson team up to give us an incredibly raw and honest look at this superstar’s highs, lows, strengths and weaknesses, and we are once again indebted to Swift for giving the world more art.