Commentary by Alana George, Campus Carrier copy editor
The first Taylor Swift song I ever heard was “Teardrops on My Guitar,” and at seven years old I was obsessed. I have been a proud Swiftie for the vast majority of my life, and I finally got to see her live in Atlanta for her 1989 tour, which was definitely one of the best concerts I have ever been to. I have loved all of her work up to this point and I have followed along with her struggles, so you can imagine how excited I was when I heard that her Sundance documentary “Miss Americana” was coming to Netflix. I watched it on the first day it went live and I was taken on a rollercoaster of a journey.
The opening shot of the film shows Taylor playing the piano in her house in very casual clothes, with her newest cat Benjamin Button walking across the keys. I was so happy that they chose this shot to open the film because it showed Taylor in her most casual and relaxed state with two things she loves in this world: her music and her cats.
I was slightly surprised by the plot of the film, in that it was not necessarily chronological. She only briefly touched on her rise to fame and early success before moving on to important things that have shaped her life in recent years. These included the ensuing scandal from the 2009 Video Music Awards when Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech, her struggle with an eating disorder from intense media pressure, her private relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn and her bravery in sharing her political views with the world. It was a very personal, almost informal setting, as she sat for interviews in her home or in the recording studio and showed viewers intimate clips from backstage at shows, on her private jet and hanging out with friends and family.
As a lifelong fan I loved getting to see a different side of Taylor, a side that not many had seen before, but a side that I have always wanted to see. She was very open about her struggles and the kinds of statements she wants to make in this world, political or otherwise. The film made me appreciate her career growth even more and it made me excited for her future, whatever it may hold. Her vulnerability and authenticity are something we can all learn from, whether we have millions of fans or just a few friends; they build deeper relationships, romantic or platonic, and I’m so thankful that Taylor was vulnerable and authentic with her fans because it just shows how much she loves us and wants us to know that beyond a shadow of a doubt. I will be a Swiftie until the day I die and this documentary cemented Taylor’s place in my heart as my favorite artist of all time.
Commentary by Claire Voltarel, Campus Carrier managing editor
“Miss Americana” left me with mixed emotions. I have enjoyed Swift’s music in the past, but was never a fan of her presence in the limelight. I found her always caught up in drama, sometimes through no fault of her own, but it ended up as a nuisance on my timeline instead of captivating. I went into the documentary with anticipating a change of heart, expecting to see her as more of a human. Unfortunately, the documentary solidified many opinions I already held about her and her career.
On the positive side, the behind-the-scenes looks at her creative process and song production were intriguing. She is undoubtedly a talented song writer with a mind for music that manifested in the documentary.
Nevertheless, the documentary as a whole felt like an hour and a half of the celebrity crying “poor me!” with a single narrative of victimization. Instead of using her platform to expose the dark sides of her industry and shed light on important issues, her attitude came off as pretentious and condescending, as if she was the only person struggling with eating disorders, family issues, mental health and reputation crises. The cinematography of the film furthered this gap. Sitting on her private jet or in her 20-million-dollar house created a divide I couldn’t get past.
Her pain is absolutely valid and deserves recognition, but it is not unique. Instead of relating to it, I found myself thinking about the millions of people watching who deal with the same strife, yet have no amount of money or fame to either cope with it or blame it on. The industry-specific issues are important to expose but still exist on a high-horse of fortune making it unrelatable and hard to empathize with. Maybe that makes me cold, but I found her explanations of it robotic and pompous instead of human. She also left viewers hanging onto these topics by only briefly mentioning them instead of diving into her stories, leaving holes. This documentary was an opportunity to inspire and instead left more questions. Other documentaries such as Demi Lovato’s, expressed a more human narrative, whereas Swift based the entire film on her fame.
While this may have not been her goal, she did attempt to inspire change in other ways, such as her fight for women’s rights and equality, which I appreciated and applaud her for. But stopping at politics for change left other issues she expressed as seemingly less important or not worth encouraging fans to overcome. A significant amount of time was spent rehashing past drama, which obstructed discussion of these issues, or other parts of her past, like relationships, out of the picture, as if they didn’t exist.
There were a few aspects that did change my opinion about her as a person. While the documentary’s discussion of her Kanye drama felt long-winded, her perspective as a victim, thinking the crowd was booing her, made me more empathetic toward the situation. I had originally seen it as a good opportunity for press, however I had not considered the downside to being called out.
I understand that being in the eyes of the public 24/7 comes with its unique set of benefits and consequences. The documentary shed light on both aspects, but in a way that was too personal to find relatable, making it more of a soapbox instead of the apparent intended purpose, as a platform for change.