Words by Eliza Lourenço
Miss Americana, directed by Lana Wilson, doesn’t waste a frame of its hour and a half runtime in showing what it takes to reach and sustain superstardom.
The film follows Taylor Swift from the beginning of 2019 and stops short of the drama with her former label, Big Machine Records.
Miss Americana appears to be attempting to shed light on Swift’s true character. It tries to expunge the labels snake, fake and annoying, stemming from her obsession with a clean image.
In doing so, the documentary offers an alternative narrative. Swift paints herself as a hardworking female artist who has reckoned with her past and now wants to use her platform for good.
There are plenty of articles presenting their case on why Miss Americana is a useful tool in understanding Swift, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, arguing that she remains too calculated and superficial.
Regardless of whether the documentary hits all the right notes for viewers, there’s a lot of artists who could learn from her work ethic, one evident from a very young age.
Taylor Swift did not fall into the spotlight by chance. The documentary shows how she sought stardom wherever she could. Home videos reveal an almost worrying preoccupation with stardom from an early age. Her premature ambition secured her as Sony’s youngest artist, signed on at the age of 14.
Taylor Swift rose to superstardom four years later, in 2008, with her album Fearless. Her efforts won her the VMA Moonman for Best Female Video, with her speech famously interrupted by Kanye West. Over the next few years she continued on an upward trajectory despite the controversy and transitioned away from country music.
Fast forward another eight years to 2016 and Swift wins the Album of the Year Grammy for a second time.
“I remember thinking afterward,” says Taylor Swift in a voice over. “‘Oh, God. That was all you wanted’. […] You get to the mountain top and you look around and you’re like, ‘what now?'”.
When Taylor Swift reflects back on climbing that mountaintop, it becomes apparent that her success came from an intense tunnel vision. It’s also apparent that no amount of ambition from such a young age can ever prepare someone for the extremes of fame––good and bad.
“As a teenager,” writes Laura Snapes, from her 2019 interview with the singer. “Swift was obsessed with VH1’s Behind The Music, the series devoted to the rise and fall of great musicians. She would forensically rewatch episodes, trying to pinpoint the moment a career went wrong.”
For some creatives, ambition focused on one goal can sometimes yield high results. It would appear that this creates a higher chance of tapping into a niche. Swift’s niche focuses on girls that want Shakespearean-level drama over a crush. However, this approach to creativity comes with a caveat: it leaves a void once the goal is met.
From this point on in her career, there seems to be a flow-on effect into pursuing other challenges: facing a man who assaulted her in court, her mother’s cancer battle, advocating for the rights of women and the LGBTQI+ community, and going political.
When you’ve pushed yourself to the places where few humans go, the next logical step is to help others with everything you’ve created. Especially when your fame comes in large part from privilege.
Despite this, Swift has also faced her fair share of corporate gaslighting and pigeonholing.
“From the start of her career,” writes Amanda Petruisch, for the New Yorker. “Swift has radiated a kind of frantic ambition, which made it especially easy for critics to dismiss her as a high-achieving cheerleader type, rather than a visionary, a savant, or a mogul.”
Even if you aren’t a fan of pop culture or Taylor Swift, Miss Americana is worth watching as a classical cautionary tale about pursuing a life in the limelight. Much like other films on Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
What did you love or hate about Miss Americana?
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