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01/04/2020 The magazine by Communication Science students of the UvA

‘Taylor Swift: Miss Americana’: How The Pop Supernova Found Her Voice

Emma analyses ‘Miss Americana,’ the documentary about Taylor Swift. In this, Swift narrates her life as a pop star and a woman in her 20’s.


As of the beginning of February, the Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana is officially streaming on Netflix, ready for her millions of fans to watch it again and again. No matter how hardcore of a ‘swiftie’ you are, what you see in this movie will take you by surprise and prove once and for all that even though she is one of the most famous people of the moment, she is not that different from just a regular 30-year-old woman.

This biopic shows Swift in her quintessential form, jumping from footage of her on stage as the glamorous pop star, to the cozier and juxta-positioning images of her cuddled up in sweatpants, playing with her cats or drinking white wine with her mom. The singer is one of the most prominent artists on the planet who, after 14 years into her career, has played in countless stadiums around the world for tens of thousands of people. Still, as we soon learn in the documentary, this does not make her invulnerable.

In Miss Americana, we finally get to see a more in-depth glance at Swift’s treacherous battles, ones that she has had to fight for more than a decade under the magnifying glass of the media, but that almost every woman in their 20s has had to endure.

Here are the most memorable moments of the documentary, along with the pop star’s most thought-provoking quotes.

Criticism

“I was so fulfilled by approval, that that was it. I became the person who everyone wanted me to be.” With a stellar 14-year-long career, you would think that Taylor Swift does not care at all about what other people think. Yet in Miss Americana, we find out that this is far from the truth. Swift recalls how throughout her whole life, she has always sought out others’ approval, so much so that it became all she worked for. Awards and other achievements were all she wanted for her music, as she seemed to consider them the accurate scale to measure whether her art was good enough.

However, as we learn in the documentary, Swift managed to let go of her insecurities, which has been further proven this year by her absence at the Grammys. After all, if she and her millions of fans appreciate her music, why would the opinion of some strangers matter?

Body Image

At the beginning of the documentary, she cautiously opened up for the first time about her eating disorder, which she has silently struggled with for years. However, this revelation should not come as much of a surprise, considering that we now live in a time where women’s bodies are treated more as commodities than anything else, and female celebrities have always received the short end of the stick.

“A picture of me where I feel like I looked like my tummy was too big, or… someone said that I looked pregnant… that’ll just trigger me to just starve a little bit — just stop eating. […] There’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting. It’s all just fucking impossible.” Swift, who rose to fame when she was barely 18 years old, has undoubtedly heard countless comments – that she didn’t ask for – made in regards to her figure. Therefore, it was undoubtedly liberating for her to finally open up about that struggle, as it must have been comforting for her fans to see their role model going through the same body image issues as them.

Sexual Assault

In 2013, Taylor met the then radio host David Muller and took a picture with him and his former partner. The photo shows the three of them with pinned shining smiles, but the behind-the-scenes of that snapshot is far grosser: while the group was posing, he placed his hand on her bare skin under her dress.

I was angry that I had to be there. I was angry that this happens to women. I was angry that people are paid to antagonize victims. I was angry that all the details had been twisted. […] What happens when you get raped and it’s your word against his?

After she came forward and told the radio executives what had happened, he was fired. Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there: in 2015, he sued her for $3M for defamation. The young woman countersued for a symbolic $1. In August 2017, the two confronted each other in front of a jury, which is just four days found Mueller guilty of assault and requested him to give Swift the $1 she had asked for.

As for all cases of sexual assault, the repercussions of the event carried on for a long time, as the singer-songwriter reminisced about the trial a few times in the years that followed, as well as in the 2020 documentary. She is heard recognizing her privilege as a white rich woman and realizing how this helped her victory, which unfortunately isn’t the case for all women.

Politics

In October 2018, the singer rushed to Instagram to share a post with her 112M followers that would break the Internet: for the first time, Taylor Swift went political. In her well-thought caption, she spoke out against Republican Tennessee senatorial candidate Marsha Blackburn (whom she called in the documentary “Trump in a wig”) and urged her fellow Tennesseans to vote in the US midterm elections.

If I get bad press for saying ‘Don’t put a homophobic racist in office’, then I get bad press for that.

Since then, Swift has not shied away anymore from letting her political opinions be heard: she has spoken out countless times against the Trump presidency, especially in regards to his treatment of the LGBT+ community.

This was certainly a very bold move on her behalf, especially considering how she grew up in an extremely conservative environment that is country music.

“A nice girl doesn’t force her opinion on other people,” she recalls in the documentary being told by label executives since the very beginning of her career. A nice girl doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable with her views.”

As she chronicles in Miss Americana, this was the mindset she had to unlearn in order to replace it with a more progressive and educated attitude, before sharing her political views with the whole world.

I need to be on the right side of history,” she declares in front of her opposed label executives while she informs them of the Instagram post she’s about to share, with the courage and fierceness in her voice that had certainly always been inside of her, but that just recently saw the light.

All things considered, Miss Americana narrates both the life of a seemingly unapproachable young pop star, but also of a relatable woman at the end of her 20s who is still learning, growing and educating herself. 

Swift’s life may be chaotic, loud, and dictated by the privileges and burdens of fame that almost none of us can relate to, but one aspect of her journey is familiar to everyone: how hard it is to find your own voice throughout all the noise, and learn how to use it to do good.

 

Cover: Netflix
Final Editor: Eva de Boer

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