PARK CITY, Utah ― Taylor Swift’s reign as “the good girl” is over ― at least that’s what she wants us to believe after watching “Miss Americana,” her Netflix documentary that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night.
The film, helmed by “After Tiller” director Lana Wilson, is an eye-opening look into Swift’s psyche as a female superstar “living for the approval of strangers.” It offers a lens into the post-“Reputation” period of her career, in which she leaned into a new identity: politically charged pop star.
“I needed to learn before I spoke to 200 million people,” she says of her decision to finally share her Democratic beliefs after years of silence. Her team’s longtime approach was to simply stick to the music, hoping to avoid another Dixie Chicks-President George W. Bush backlash in the country music world.
But after she fought and won a groping case against former radio host David Mueller in 2017, things truly began to change for Swift. Then, conservative Marsha Blackburn entered the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee during the midterm elections, and Swift could no longer sit on the sidelines.
She’s “Trump in a wig,” Swift says in the doc, arguing with Blackburn’s stances against equal pay for women and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking and date rape. Blackburn also believes businesses have a right to refuse service to same-sex couples and opposes gay marriage.
“These aren’t Tennessee Christian values,” Swift asserts. “I live in Tennessee. I’m Christian. These are not my values.”
I want to wear pink, and tell you how I feel about politics." Taylor Swift
Cheers erupted all around the 1,200-seat Eccles Theater in Park City as “Miss Americana” glided through Swift’s social, political and personal journey to self-acceptance. The film opens with Swift playing the piano in her New York City apartment as the newest feline member of her family, Benjamin Button, scurries across the keys. She then reads the words on the cover of one of her first journals: “My life, my career, my dream, my reality.” The notebook is full of lyrics and ideas, storytelling that Swift says has shaped public perception of who she is as an artist.
It’s clear throughout the film that Swift has always sought the approval of others, from her biggest fan and strongest critic to, well, Kanye West. In fact, the infamous 2009 VMAs moment, when West interrupted her speech accepting the award for Best Female Video, is featured prominently toward the beginning of the film as an example of Swift subscribing to that aforementioned moral code of constantly being agreeable.
Being good “was all I wrote about. It was all I wanted,” she admits in the movie. “It was the complete and total belief system I subscribed to as a kid.”
So, when the audience at the VMAs began booing West off the stage, Swift, then a teenage people-pleaser, automatically assumed the boos were for her. That moment was a “formative experience,” she says, one that eventually led her to develop thicker, shall we say snake-like, skin.
As an enormously successful 30-year-old woman, Swift still fights every day to maintain a healthy approach to not only her music, but her body image. In an industry that, at times, viciously examines her figure, she tries to maintain a positive mindset. “It’s better to think you look fat than to look sick,” she says in “Miss Americana,” admitting she’s gone from a size double zero to a size 6 and now eats burritos after biting into her first one at the age of 26.
“I tend to get triggered by something — whether it’s a picture of me where I feel like my tummy looked too big, or someone said that I looked pregnant or something — and that will trigger me to just starve a little bit. Just stop eating.”
She continued: “There’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting. Because if you’re thin enough, then you don’t have that ass that everybody wants, but if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, then your stomach isn’t flat enough. It’s all just fucking impossible.”
Swift also credits her mom Andrea’s yearslong battle with cancer for helping her see everything in a new light, whether it be her weight gain, reviews of her new album, “Lover,” or think pieces on her “conniving” ways.
“It woke me up,” she says. “Do you really care if the internet doesn’t like you today when your mom is sick from her chemo?”
“Miss Americana” doesn’t hold a critical lens on Swift, but that’s understandable ― this is her story, of course. What the documentary does do is explore the inner turmoil of a young woman thrust into superstardom at age 16; a woman who dealt with a constant balance of judgment and praise, yet still managed to make art that always speaks to the greater theme of perseverance.
“Miss Americana” hits Netflix on Jan. 31.