TV Critic Stephanie Hawkyard sings praises for this eye-opening documentary about pop star Taylor Swift

Written by Stephanie Hawkyard
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Images by Korng Sok

‘Provocative’, ‘intimate’ and ‘inspiring’ are just some of the words that can be used to describe Miss Americana. The highly anticipated documentary provides an insight into the life and thoughts of one of the biggest pop sensations on the planet: Taylor Swift.

It is difficult not to sympathise with her while watching Miss Americana

Miss Americana opens with Swift discussing her profound desire to be recognised as a good person. What unfolds in the rest of the documentary centres around the fact that she has spent most of her life seeking approval from others. Viewers witness what happens when she loses this source of validation, the effect it has on her mental state and how it causes her outlook on life to change. A number of Swift’s scandals are addressed, notably the humiliating incident with Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs, which she describes as a ‘formative experience’ that served as ‘a catalyst for a lot of psychological paths that [she] went down’. There is something very human about the way Swift’s isolation and insecurity are portrayed, as well as her determination to prove herself. No matter your opinion on Taylor Swift or her music, it is difficult not to sympathise with her while watching Miss Americana.

Director Lana Wilson deserves credit for producing such a high-quality documentary. The chronological structure makes it easy to follow, and the artistic use of Swift’s home videos and concert clips alongside new footage makes for an engaging viewing experience. The documentary readdresses stories about Swift that have been explored in the media, as well as providing a fresh insight into Swift’s songwriting process and personal relationships. Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack features some of Swift’s most well-known songs. However, there are also some beautiful instrumental pieces which add to the ambience of scenes, particularly in more sombre moments. The documentary feels a little rushed at times, but this is understandable considering the challenge of condensing a woman’s whole career into an hour and a half long documentary.

The social issues explored in Miss Americana are arguably at its core

The social issues explored in Miss Americana are arguably at its core, at times proving inextricable from Swift’s own journey. She recalls her struggles with her body image, revealing that public scrutiny of her weight eventually led her to develop an eating disorder. The documentary places a large emphasis on Swift’s experiences with sexism. From rampant slut-shaming to being called a range of derogatory terms, to sexual assault, Miss Americana reveals the harsh realities of being a female pop star. 

A documentary about the recent years of Taylor Swift’s life would not be complete without addressing a particularly controversial topic: her political involvement (or, at times, lack thereof). Swift is portrayed wrestling with the decision to publicly state her political views, an issue brought up in reference to the 2018 American midterm elections, as she is fully aware of the backlash this could provoke. The pressure put on female singers from a country background to maintain an apolitical “nice girl” image clearly takes a toll on Swift and is a source of contention between her and some of the people she is closest to, who are reluctant to see her sacrifice her reputation.

There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel, as the documentary culminates with Swift finding her political voice. She is shown writing and singing her hit song ‘The Man’, which highlights the misogynistic double standards that pervade popular culture. Behind-the-scenes footage from the music video for ‘You Need to Calm Down’, a track championing gender and LGBTQ+ equality, is also featured, demonstrating Swift’s growing tendency to use her music for activism. One of the most heartfelt moments of Swift’s political turn is displayed in a clip of her making the Instagram post in which she voiced her support for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections and encouraged her fans to vote. Originally a source of anxiety for Swift, the post was widely received in a positive light, with many praising her decision to finally express her political opinions.

The documentary culminates with Swift finding her political voice

Miss Americana provides an intimate insight into the life of one of the world’s most renowned pop stars and, crucially, a thought-provoking exploration of the darker side of fame. As far as celebrity documentaries go, it is definitely one to watch.

Rating = 4/5

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