“A nice girl doesn’t force her opinions on people. A nice girl smiles and waves and says thank you. I became the person everyone wanted me to be.”
– Taylor Swift from Miss Americana
Documentaries done on famous people that are intimate and made in collaboration with the subject can often be scrutinized. People may think that what they are getting is a curated look that the subject wants them to see. I’m not saying that the picture painted in Miss Americana isn’t one Taylor Swift would like us to see, but it is one that feels honest and peeled back in a way that is uncommon and new from her. An artist who in recent years was particularly known for her extreme privacy. Director Lana Wilson steps into her world and in turn shows us a sympathetic portrait of a woman who felt hardwired for perfection which ultimately made her miserable.
Taylor Swift is no question a divisive figure among people. People have long bristled from the start from her earnestness. Something that seemed hallow about the nice girl who hosted eclectic tea parties, toted around her cats and her had a perky smile for every occasion. Things escalated in 2016 after the debacle with Kanye West (a bookend to the aftershocks from the infamous 2009 VMAs). In an instant all these mild quibbles were saturated and magnified; heated statements hurled from people across the globe like flamed arrows. Watching the documentary a quote stuck with me which I included at the start of this post. “The Nice Girl”….
What is “the nice girl”? Not a hard question to answer for most of us. The nice girl is the one who is almost always extremely polite, she has a smile ready and listens attentively to others while ever so carefully offering up a response that is neutral and well thought out. This girl practically oozes earnestness. She is the girl everyone likes but also the girl others may not really know well if they stopped and thought on it. Does the nice girl have much of an identity outside of wanting to make sure she doesn’t shake the boat and wanting the approval of her peers? It is an interesting thought to ponder and we get that here as Swift ruminates over her past of always being what she thought the world wanted her to be. She states that she simply wanted to be liked even if it meant silencing her inner voice behind a sunny and safe public facade.
It is a bit of a catch-22 though as in the pursuit of wanting to be loved the nice girl may set herself up for scrutiny. Naturally the kind of magnified public critique is not unique to Swift alone, but one can’t deny that she’s gotten far more than her fair share. Whether it be which friends she was or was not close to anymore, who she was dating or had dated and if her body was too rail thin or suddenly more fleshed out… To name a few top repeat favorites. It can be a lot and although to many of us the subject of “fame” may seem a lifestyle those who have it must contend with or “champagne problems”, you can’t help but relate.
Miss Americana straddles this aspect of Swift’s core while also given equal if not more light to her recent advocacy on the political front. Anyone who is familiar with her knows that she has never in the past been very vocal as far as American politics went. Maybe not such an issue or at least not a thing many people minded back in the Obama years. Though at the time Taylor Swift was still a big deal in the country music genre which often though not always leans conservative. Along with that at the start of Swift’s career a majority of her fanbase were still quite young and may not have minded much if one of their favorite singers hadn’t made her political leanings clear to the world. But times change and the climate shifts in such a way where such silence can no longer be tolerated. Most of this happening in the dawning of the Trump campaign and subsequent presidency. A change that was horrific and upsetting to people all over due to his toxic words and harmful rhetoric. Before this it was commonplace to let people have a certain privacy to their political choices, but after it became critical to know that the people you supported didn’t support someone who was so drastically against your livelihood and safety. This all happened when Swift was in her period of hiding out from the world and in the documentary she herself even claims that she feared at the time that even if she had spoken out the vitriol surrounding her would prove more harmful than helpful. We may never know what slight change if any would have been caused with Swift becoming more political then than now. But some things should be embraced even if we wish they had happened earlier.
Swift seems to acknowledge this and to a room full of men who desperately wish she would continue to show an apolitical face to the world says she can no longer be complacent. This is followed with her now memorable Instagram post from 2018 which she went in deep on while also advocating for a democratic candidate for her voting state of Tennessee. The election in question ended up ultimately going Republican which results in defeat for Swift who thought her voice may have changed things more. She did cause one of the largest numbers of voter registrations at the time but one can’t help but look at her and wonder if she had regret for not acting sooner. The documentary is even tied up at the end with a polished new pop song penned by Swift that is littered with details that are fresh for young people who are also finding their own voice and using it for change. It is catchy and a nice send-off as Swift is always at her most understandable in her songwriting.
This documentary may not sway any haters of Swift over to her side but if it does anything it may show a more honest look into an otherwise polished facade. We may never understand the certain struggles that come with the kind of fame that Swift has but some are fundamental to some if not all of us. Whether that is a desire to be accepted, frustration over whether our voice can enact the change we desire, grappling with a sick parent. This things are rather commonplace and if you leave this film at least acknowledging that I believe that may be what Swift desired most from this.
4 1/2 out of 5 Stars