At the premiere of “Miss Americana,” director Lana Wilson’s latest film about superstar Taylor Swift, a self-described Swiftie (a Taylor Swift fan) was sitting at the front row. She traveled from Colorado to Park City and purchased a pass for Sundance just to see the film and Swift. She has been a fan of Swift for thirteen years, Swift’s lucky number is 13 (she tells me as she shows me “13” drawn on her hand), and saw her live at least twenty times. She is one of millions.
At the beginning of the documentary, the camera shows Swift going through her journals and she says, “My entire moral code is a need to be thought of as good.” That word looms over the documentary. Swift says she wants to be a good singer, a good person, a good role model, a good citizen, and the heavyweight of how much she wants from herself is almost unbearable. When she finds out that her album “Reputation” did not get nominated for Best Album at the Grammys, she says, “I will make a better record.” This is before even waiting to find out if she got nominated for any other categories. When she is watching herself, while filming a music video for “Me,” she tears herself to pieces, dissecting her every move. She might be hated by millions, but Taylor Swift is her own harshest critic. When talking about the infamous Kanye West situation at the 2009 MTV Awards, she says “I didn’t know they were booing him, I thought they were booing me.” It is obvious that the scars of the event never left her and she’ll always be haunted by her 19-years-old self standing on the stage with her award in her hand, questioning if she really deserved it.
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What Wilson does best in the film is allowing Swift to be vulnerable, without being invasive. In a very emotional part of the documentary, the singer reveals that she has suffered from an eating disorder. Wilson’s camera is just focused on the artist the whole time, as she summarises her journey with the illness in the span of a few minutes. The paparazzi and the internet’s influence on triggering her ED is very visible. But Swift picks herself up and turns her sadness into anger at the unachievable standards all women are expected to follow. The scene, not just an intimate moment, is also proof of how Swift deals with her sufferings. It is not enough for her to just fight for herself, she wants to fight for everyone. From her sexual assault case to the political endorsement of Democrats in Tenessee, she wants to use her influence to do something good.
While watching the documentary, one has to be aware that everything in the film is a narrative, just not a fictional one. This is not to say that the emotions on the screen are dishonest, but the audience is only allowed the see the emotions that Taylor Swift allows them to see. One of the strongest emotions that come through in the documentary is that the singer wants to be in control of who she is, her narrative, and her choices. So, it’s only fair that she is in control of her documentary because it will be watched by millions. [B]