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Sitting on her couch, Taylor Swift has made up her mind to do something that everyone has advised her not to do. She is about to talk politics for the first time in her 15-year career and, as a man pointed out to her, she risks losing half her audience. “I don’t care. If I get bad press for it, I get bad press for it,” she says. And so she let’s the blue bird fly, taking her message to her 100 million followers.
One witnessed something similar back home recently when another gorgeous sweetheart of a nation decided to make her political affiliations clear. She, too, must have expected bad press and volatile fans and said, ‘I don’t care’. But in a time when women are holding sit outs in face of gun-wielding men, one might doubt how ‘heroic’ it is for celebrities to simply voice their opinions. Could it actually be called courageous? Netflix’s latest documentary on the life and times of Taylor Swift, Miss Americana makes a strong case for it.
Beginning from the time she got her first guitar, Miss Americana charts the journey of the most successful pop star of our generation. Taylor is a superstar by all definitions of the word and, as is tradition with superstars, a documentary was overdue. However, things are a little different for Taylor whose struggles actually began after she became famous. There is no gritty rags-to-riches backstory to pull you in. There is, however, a story of a very lonely girl who really, really needed the world to love her.
Using the film as a confessional,Taylor admits she always loved the sound of applause as it made her ‘forget how much we feel like we’re not good enough.’ She explains how her success and the awards still felt hollow as she had no one to share it with. Her Instagram posts with the famed supermodel squad might suggest otherwise but, at the end of the day, that’s just what they were, Instagram posts. So of course, there is only so much that a PR-approved life can survive. When the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty began, it all came crumbling down.
The documentary, directed by Lana Wilson, does quite an impressive job of explaining the villainous role played by body dysmorphia, critics and Kanye West in Taylor’s life. Beginning from when he first humiliated her on VMA stage in 2009 to releasing a song about having sex with her, calling her a b**ch and finally branding her a liar with a questionable recording of a phonecall, Miss Americana brings it all together, chronologically and organically. Kanye’s evil ways and their effect on Taylor make for a big first chunk of the film. She breaks into tears–a rare thing to witness–telling her mother how much it hurts her to be hated by millions of people. Perhaps those indulging in cancel culture online will do good by watching an insecure, young girl crumble to pieces by their trending hashtag. “Do you know how many people have to be tweeting that they hate you for that to happen?” she says. But Taylor’s obsession with being the good girl and finally breaking away from it comes through in the second half of the film, when she decides to use her voice for those around her. In what should ideally have been the core subject of the documentary, Taylor addresses her 2018 court case against a DJ who groped her at a meet-and-greet and sued her for a million dollars when he lost his job due to her complaint. The entire portion is sensitively made and shares a rare perspective of a victim who emerged victorious from the ordeal. Taylor recounted how she was asked by lawyers why she didn’t scream when he touched her, turned away or react quicker. While she knew what happened to her was unjust, she also knew to keep her privilege in check. “This is with seven witnesses and a photograph. What happens when you are raped and it’s your word against his?,” she asks.
The episode, as she says, pushed her to do what she knows in her heart is the right thing to do. And the next right thing to do was take on the President of United States and his minions. In one moment, she is seen fighting it out with a few older men of her team, telling them why she needs to let her support for Democrats known. She is in tears, talking with passion why standing against the ‘Trump in a wig’ Republican candidate from her homestate matters so much to her. She thinks about the women who are stalked (something she is all too familiar with) and the gay friends whom she would disappoint as an ally, not to mention disappointing herself with the silence. And so, she throws those threats and calculations out of the window. The good girl joins the rebel cause. It’s all too thrilling and too cathartic than real life has any right to be.
Miss Americana is a documentary by numbers that can also sometimes feel like watching an interview. The song writing segments–except the one at the very end–seem added simply as reminders of our subject’s many talents. A few questions, such as Taylor’s now seemingly superficial friendships, are not addressed. However, there were still a few unexpected surprises such as her asking why women in entertainment need to ‘reinvent’ themselves so much more than men and why she has stopped looking at her pictures.
The second part of Miss Americana had true potential to take the film to greater heights. But still, just like our superstars, we must accept them with their hits and also their flops.