‘Miss Americana’ Review
By Vanessa Coker
This is a reflection and critique of Taylor Swift’s documentary Miss Americana.
In 2019, Taylor Swift released her documentary Miss Americana on Netflix. As a young girl, I spent many hours cataloging and exploring new music as part of the iPod generation. Taylor Swift was and is still on the list because her talent is unquestionable. However, her image and reputation has been problematized over the years, culminating in her album Bad Reputation. There are many critiques of her choices as an artist and celebrity that I agree with, and other critiques that I think lack nuance. Overall, this documentary clarified my feelings that she does not seem to understand her position and status in American culture.
It always fascinates me how celebrity and industry are almost hyper-connected. The beginning part of the documentary is mostly talking about her humble beginnings as an artist. She genuinely wanted to be “good” at making music, which can be perceived as an innocent aspiration that was as “humble” as her beginning. She was still a high school student when she began performing and was later signed to a recording label.
For me, it is best not to view Taylor Swift’s entrance into the American music industry as the usual tale of stardom. Instead, I think of it as someone who starts out working at an ice cream shop. It could be in a small town or a big city. Taylor loves her craft and does it well; because it is also her job, she gets paid and gains in fame. With this in mind, it is hard for one to really expect too much. What more can we ask from someone in this position? At 16, many of us are trying to survive puberty and pass our SATs. Few of us can actually express our life purposes and career goals let alone develop successfully in the eyes of the media.
At that young age, we all have so much to learn, but because of her status as a young white girl of the middle class, her learning process is both fragile and valuable. With the documentary Framing Britney Spears released in 2021, I wonder if Taylor realizes that her entry into stardom is not an anomaly. Instead, it is actually highly likely because she has the characteristics of what mainstream media desires: white femininity. This still obscures that while so young in age, Taylor deserved not censorship, but rights—as does every child that decides to work. We cannot expect young stars to act as adults because they simply aren’t at that stage of development. However, outside of celebrity, these lines are more clear. Celebrity and industry combine together to create an incentive that many are willing to take.
Looking at Taylor’s deep investment in politics, I become extremely skeptical. Personally, politics are important to me because I believe they inform all of our decisions. It is strange to me that Taylor both asserts and, to some extent, defends the belief that people do not wish to hear politics in their music. I think many people, Taylor included, also have a narrow idea of politics, believing it to be something outside of and unrelated to them. People see it as extra work (for example, people state that learning someone’s correct pronouns is hard). However important Taylor Swift is to American culture, she is not the only person to engage with politics. Popular artists such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Noname have deliberately talked about politics in their interviews, music videos, and lyrics.In fact, hip-hop has a whole sub-genre dedicated to conscious artists such as J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Nas.
There are many questions I have for Taylor Swift that may never get answered. I think that is truly unfortunate for her since I think answering questions about her intentions and the impact that she has might lead to important self-awareness and realization. Fortunately for me, there are so many artists, both in entertainment and in activism that are focused on working out the many complicated issues that seem to be plastered on social media and elsewhere. I will continue to look at Taylor Swift with a slight slide-eye in the meantime.
References & Citations
I Used to Be a Taylor Swift Fan. ‘Miss Americana’ Reminded Me Why
There’s a Blank Space at the Center of Taylor Swift’s ‘Miss Americana’
Opinion | Mara Wilson: Britney Spears and I Learned the Same Lesson About Fame
For this article, I watched the documentary and took notes. After the film was done, I turned my notes into an outline. Then, I looked at some other reviews of the documentary to see what other people found interesting or important.
Further Reading & Listening
For Harriet | We Really Should’ve Left Britney Alone…
Jouelzy | Is Billie Eilish Culturally Appropriating?
Still Processing | Apology
Vanessa is a passionate writer and story-teller. Currently, she is seeking a degree in international affairs at the George Washington University. She is a self-proclaimed Black feminist who strongly believes in social justice and hopes to work towards a more just and free world.
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