Miss Americana isn't built to service Swift's music as much as it is a visual diary of a woman coming into her own and finally finding her voice.
The tale of Taylor Swift stretches far before her run-in with Kanye West. But, for most of the world, it was that moment that transported her from award-winning country music ingenue into the pantheon of pop culture icons. As divisive as any celebrity phenomenon, Swift's reign as a status symbol of music and fame has painted her as the most relatable megastar of them all and a veritable wolf in sheep's clothing. Underneath the carefully crafted press releases and overly-friendly persona lies a person who wants to be accepted as just that, a person.
When Miss Americana, Netflix's documentary from Lana Wilson (After Tiller), was first announced, Swift was surfing the balance of ending a year with another number one album and the lack of notable Grammy nominations (Swift was the first female artist to win Album of the Year twice, but has recently been snubbed by the Recording Academy for her last two albums). Wilson's film takes a raw look at the in-between of Swift's last album, Reputation, and the creation of her latest hit album, Lover. Though the vulnerable insight doesn't cover the most recent period of trial and error, it paints an image of what a person like Swift mentally and emotionally goes through on a daily basis. It's easy to think her response to missing out on another Album of the Year nomination resulted in fluctuating moments of self-care and reflection.
The structure of Miss Americana is simple and sweet. Swift allows the filmmakers to not only document her songwriting process, but her empathetic nature earns the spotlight as she welcomes the cameras as if they were another one of her close friends. It's the songwriting that isn't all so unfamiliar to fans of Swift (much of her success relies on her openness to her diehard Swifties), but for those who haven't seen her work, it's a remarkable chain of events and conversations that lead to her many hit songs. The fact that she acts the part of a pop superstar while also managing the nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes work is enough to finally convince some of her merits as an artist.
Wilson craftily follows Swift, turning even the simplest of interview moments into endearing slices of life. It's during those moments when we finally hear the context to many of Swift's very calculated moves over the years, including her reclusive year between Reputation and Lover. The film doesn't shy away from highlighting the times she's been victimized by other artists, the press, talk show hosts, and herself. In a scene that serves as a catalyst for separating Swift the star and Swift the person, she admits to battling an eating disorder. Even as she explains her thought process and how she's working to overcome it, it feels as if she's unintentionally let a personal anecdote slip and she raced to recover. Instead of minimizing the trauma, she enhances her personal story by offering something revolutionary: she may seem perfect, but she's not. Wilson's filmmaking style serves moments like that well, turning something that could come across too polarizing or self-sympathizing into a vulnerable moment typically hidden from view.
Miss Americana isn't built to service Swift's music as much as it is a visual diary of a woman coming into her own and finally finding her voice. In fact, the film barely scratches the surface of celebrating Swift's achievements, choosing instead to spend much of its runtime watching her battle public relations storms, politics, and her opinions. When the system had previously told her to shut up and sing, she's now choosing to use her platform for good, even if that costs her fans (which it hasn't).
There is a bit of fan service involved in displaying such a deep-hearted glimpse at an artist like Swift. It is hard to ignore some filter of skepticism in how it lays out the story of its star's rise and fall from grace. But just like it paints Swift as a human, it treats even her enemies with the same respect, allowing their words and actions to speak more to their values over barrages of Swift and her crew bashing people left and right.
At the beginning of the film, Swift talks about her desire to be a good girl. By the end of Miss Americana, it's great to see that the good girl can still have flaws, can still say fuck and shit, and can find the balance between humility and wanting applause.