Review: Miss Americana

Year: 2020
Runtime: 86 mins
Director: Lana Wilson
Stars: Taylor Swift, Andrea Swift, Scott Swift

By Stephen Palmer

Cards on the table. I am a member of Team Swift. Even though I am probably not the target demographic for her music. To me, she’s a clearly talented and interesting songwriter and performer, and whom I believe showed great promise with her early dabble in acting on an episode of C.S.I.

Except… there’s always been something slightly manufactured about Taylor. Is it her straight-line upward success trajectory from her early days in Country to being a Queen of Pop? Was it the constant headlines about her relationships with various men or her celebrity girl gang? And then there are the Kanye West shenanigans. She’s one of a handful of superstars that have grown up in the Social Media Age (see also, Gaga, Lady and Perry, Katy), and on the whole, has seemingly managed a public persona that’s.. well just darn nice. Possibly just too nice.

tayor
Taylor Swift in Miss Americana (2020) © Netflix

“Miss Americana” gives Lana Wilson (“The Departure”) a chance to shine her lens onto the superstar. The first half of the film is a potted history, telling the story of a young girl from Reading, PA, to the global superstar we know today. We get to see some footage from the personal archives as well as some seemingly unguarded and intimate moments with Miss Swift. We get to hear about her fight with body image and eating disorders. We hear about her groping court case against DJ David Mueller. We, of course, get both of her public run-ins with Kanye West. The film paints a picture of a young girl who has had an awful lot thrust upon her, and for whom the social media led world she has grown up in has proven to be a double-edged sword.

[…]‘Miss Americana’ feels more like a party political broadcast, an exercise in spin on behalf of Team Swift, rather than the portrait of an artist.

Except… This is all a bit… disingenuous. There are moments in the film where she bemoans how controlled her life is – she is nearly 30 before having her first Burrito, and there are people around her who can tell her exactly where she will physically be in two years time. This is shocking stuff, yet those behind this controlled upbringing – ex-producer Scott Borchetta, her current management team, and to some extent her parents – are either not mentioned or given much less critical examination. Swift credits her current boyfriend, British actor Joe Alwyn, with giving her a real relationship that enabled her to take a year away from the hurley-burley of life in public – but he doesn’t even get a name-check. He’s like a ghostly cypher on the periphery of the film. I know he doesn’t want to be part of the circus, but you don’t have to be too cynical to wonder if he’s being pushed to the side so he doesn’t have to be removed from the narrative at a future date.

This lack of other voices and a very specific polishing of the historical narrative then means the second half of the documentary has to be treated with equal suspicion. This is a shame because the way Swift has spoken out on political issues and adopted the Rainbow Flag should be lauded as moments of personal growth, and as potentially making her more interesting as an artist. Instead, it’s easy to view these moves as business decisions, to add an edge to an artist who has not been nominated for Grammy’s for her last two albums. Furthermore, even though the time period the documentary is set in, it pays no attention to what’s going on with Scooter Braun and ownership of her older music (though there might be a legal reason for this), and for some reason doesn’t mention her work on ‘Cats’. But maybe that’s with good reason too.

taylor
Taylor Swift in Miss Americana (2020) © Netflix

As I said at the beginning. I’m very much a fan of her music. This film does give me some insight into her as a person, and she actually seems a delightful and (despite everything) a well adjusted young lady who is embarking on an awakening. But ‘Miss Americana’ feels more like a party political broadcast, an exercise in spin on behalf of Team Swift, rather than the portrait of an artist.

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