Miss Americana can almost be considered BoJack Horseman: The Taylor Swift Remix. And I say that with all due respect. I don’t think I ever considered myself a great fan of Taylor Swift. Just thought she is a fun pop star. This documentary is for these people. And for her fans. And for the non-fans to turn them into one. This documentary offers a vulnerable look at the life of Taylor Swift, which sets out to present her in a different light—to humanize her (for the lack of a better word), bring her down to earth. There is more to her than just that pop star with all the gimmicks on stage.
(I understand the BoJack analogy is not the best, I use it mainly for how genuine, honest, and vulnerable both works are.)
Lana Wilson tackles what fame and success brought to Taylor, and where they have taken her. Are her public persona, stage persona and the real Taylor ever merged? Real Taylor is at her best when she is writing songs and sitting by the piano. That is when she feels fine. Taylor’s music is at her best when she is at the piano without all the lights, gimmicks, percussion and electronic beats. All that is unnecessary. The gimmicks just kind of drown out the real message. So I hope for her next album she just sits down by herself to a piano and hits the right keys.
The public persona is something that is very skewed by the media and may never actually present Taylor as authentic. The stage persona is most likely how Taylor feels she wants to feel all the time. There are many different facets of Taylor Swift. Whether we actually get an authentic look at a person, ever, is up for debate. You know people for years and you never get to know them. Only what they want to show you. Miss Americana is Taylor Swift at her most authentic as can be.
Fame and success come with certain loneliness, as Taylor realizes at her happiest moment, at the moment she reaches her goal. She realizes that she should have someone to call, to talk with, to share her happiness.
When you are famous, people don’t give the person the benefit of the doubt—they just think that you know how great you are supposed to be and that you don’t have any insecurities.
More important than just showing a person at their most vulnerable moments—one of the first scenes is Taylor finding out she received no major Grammy nominations for her 2018 album—Lana Wilson explores what it is that drives a person. What is their moral code? What is it one wants to achieve? So in that moment the documentary sets up, in 2018, Taylor is not accepted by her peers by not being nominated. Or so she believes. That is the notion the awards send out.
That is the core of the whole documentary. Taylor Swift is continually chasing approval. From everyone around her, her peers in the industry, her fans.
Or to word it differently, she is a person who wants to be liked and loved—just like we all do.
And Taylor is aware of all this and how unhealthy it is to base all her joy from others’ approval.
“But when you are living for the approval of strangers, and that is where you derive all of your joy and fulfillment, one bad thing can cause everything to crumble.”
After that, Taylor knows she needs to change. Well, not change, there is nothing wrong; she needs to make sure that what she does is healthy for her.
Then there is that whole thing with Kayne West. And for me that in no way defines her as a person, nor should it be associated with her. That whole affair is someone trying to invalidate someone else’s feelings and accomplishments.
Then we get political. And that does not bode well for a country singer, especially one whose brand is “the nice girl,” Taylor knows she isn’t supposed to make any protests or waves, that would hurt her brand. But as Taylor states herself, “Next time there is an opportunity to change anything, you had better know what you stand for and what you wanna say.” There is an important part of the documentary about Taylor making a stand against a female senator who stands against female interests. That woman became the first female senator in Tennessee. But it was not all in vain; being political is now part of Taylor’s identity, part of the “Taylor Swift” brand.
There is a feeling throughout, that sense of being victimized by her own mind and by the world. But that is something that pushes some artists further. The sense of being victimized by themselves and also caring deeply about others is akin to highly sensitive people (a psychological trait). In a way, Taylor shows how that is her power, not weakness.
There is this impossible striving for perfection, the need to be liked and successful. That is at the core of us all—whether we accept it or not. Taylor Swift knows this now and accepts it, and she still tries, and in her way, she tries to help as many as possible. Those without a voice.
Every time I listen to music, I need to know what the song is about, what the artist was going through. What does it mean to them? I want to relate to and care about their work and understand them. I care about what the artist is trying to say, and sometimes the stage persona doesn’t really show that—it creates a diversion. I always thought Taylor Swift was simply escapism. I only needed a documentary to understand Taylor Swift better and thus enjoy her work more.
Miss Americana is a carefully constructed, honest, intimate window into Taylor’s mind and what she cares about. And she cares a lot.