A Love Hate Story: Miss Americana and Taylor Swift's self-defence
In the interest of being upfront and transparent, I will state from the off that I am a big Taylor Swift fan and have been for a long time. Thus, it was with great glee and anticipation that I sat down to watch her new Netflix documentary, Miss Americana as soon as it was released. My thoughts, whether you want them or not, are that it was incredibly well done. Surely anyone who had anything against good old Swifty has promptly changed their ways after watching her personal struggles through times where she had apparently seemed calculated or malevolent.
Young famous people always seem older than they are, Taylor Swift especially, and part of Miss Americana’s success lies in its ability to place Swift’s youth into perspective. It is easy to forget that Swift was only 17 when Kanye West interrupted her, now infamous, VMAs speech. When I was 17, I was worrying about whether or not my fake ID would work at Latitude Festival. Meanwhile, Swift had to battle against an established adult man, determined to shame her publicly and in the loudest way possible. It is easy to assume that young celebrities possess a sort of superhuman confidence, but as Miss Americana makes clear, Taylor Swift is just as fragile as the rest of us. 'I thought they were booing me', Swift reveals in a voiceover, as we watch West storm on stage and casually mortify a child.
That said, I couldn’t help feeling, as I’m sure many did, that the film was also a well-executed PR exercise. It presented a perfect opportunity for Swift to clear the air around a few controversial topics and to make it clear that she has grown up, and is happy and hate-free in the post-Reputation period of her life. The idea that this documentary was specifically targeted to achieve certain goals didn’t depress me in and of itself. In her shoes, I would take any opportunity to regain control of the narrative of my own life. No. What depressed me is that Swift would even feel the pressure to explain, or to justify some of these events to begin with.
I hasten to add, that I subscribe to the idea that is a responsibility to use any influence you may have for good and likewise wholeheartedly support using your platform to help people and to stand against injustice, but I also believe that you cannot force the performance of that duty on someone. I agree with Swift when she points out: ‘I think that it is so frilly and spineless of me to stand on stage and go "Happy Pride month you guys" and then not say this when someone’s literally coming for their neck’ - ‘this’ being her now-iconic Instagram post which caused young voter turnout in the midterm elections to increase sevenfold.
However, at the same time, we need to understand that some people don’t want to engage publicly with politics at all, for whatever reason, and that remains their right. We shouldn’t expect someone to have to explain their every choice to the world just because they happen to be famous. We can never know the full reasoning behind any personal decision so why is it that we always assume the worst? For example, in the documentary we see Swift’s father’s worry about his daughter's safety should she come out so publicly against the Republican candidate. He bought armoured cars to help ensure her protection. This motivation for remaining quiet is a far cry from the accusation that Swift just wanted to continue to sell as many records.
Moreover, the vitriol against Swift for her reluctance to share her political views is incredibly gendered; no one is ever as demanding of men and their choices. A man in the public eye can keep his political views to himself and be seen as dignified. A woman attempts to do the same, and she is clearly a conniving, closet Trump supporter desperate to protect her record sales. It is hardly a revelation that this double standard exists, but it is brought into stark relief when you witness Swift’s anxiety at being perceived as ‘nice’ or the ‘good girl’, because so much of her self-worth depends on how the world views her and she knows all too well that the world is not kind to successful women.
My favourite TS songs ranked:
1. All Too Well
3. Love Story
4. Wildest Dreams
5. False God
8. New Year’s Day
9. Shake it Off
10. Back to December
- Mia Sharp