A promotional poster for Miss Americana.

Miss Americana

Dept. of Consequential Confessionals


Miss Americana opens with a monologue. With Taylor Swift thumbing through the pages of her teenage diaries and speaking directly to the camera. With her telling us, in all sincerity, about how she’s spent her life wanting to be perceived as “the good girl”. 

There is nothing America loves more than a success story. That rags to riches, pauper to princess, celebration of raw skill and talent. The idea that anyone can be anything they want, as long as they have enough passion and gumption. The misguided belief that the American Dream is for everyone, as long as you hope long enough, and work hard enough.

There is nothing America loves more than a success story. Except maybe the ensuing fall. 

Taylor Swift in Miss Americana.

The music industry – like Hollywood, like fashion, like sport, like any enterprise that treats individuals as goods to be traded, used, and disposed of – chews women up and spits them out. The machine will take care of you. It’ll feed you. It’ll clothe you. It’ll make you anything you want to be. As long as you play by the rules. As long as you shut up and sing. 

Just, be a good girl. Just, shut up and sing.

There is a reason this documentary is called Miss Americana. Taylor Swift is a cultural product. Commodified by the music industry, by you and me, to be a canvas upon which we inflict all of our hopes, dreams, and desires. She is an artefact, characteristic of America, and the current state of its civilization and culture. 

Miss Americana Featured Image

At 30, Taylor Swift has already had a longer and more successful music career than artists twice her age. She is a songwriting talent on par with Patti Smith, and Bruce Springsteen, and Leonard Cohen. She is a poet. She is an intellectual. She is a shrewd businesswoman. And she’s just getting started. 

But this is not a documentary about the road so far. This is not about what it’s like being Taylor Swift. We already have her song lyrics for all of that. This is the story of how Taylor Swift found her voice and how she decided to use it. 

Anchored around three key moments – Kanye West being a jackass at the 2009 VMAs, her sexual assault trial, and her decision to speak out against Marsha Blackburn during the 2018 midterm elections – Miss Americana steps us through the evolution of Taylor Swift, from a girl who was constantly seeking validation through applause, to the woman who is finally comfortable in her own skin. At peace with who she is and who she wants to be. And unafraid of her power.

Well aware of how the act of observation can, in itself, affect and potentially even change what is being observed, director Lana Wilson makes the all-important decision to keep herself out of the narrative. There is no point at which you see the filmmaker’s hand. This is very much Taylor Swift’s story, as seen from her point of view, and told in her own words. So much so that this doesn’t feel like a Lana Wilson movie but more like a Taylor Swift confessional. It feels like therapy. 

Taylor Swift in Miss Americana.

Taylor Swift’s story so far is both symbolic and symptomatic of what it means to be famous in the 21st century. Of being adored in the age of social media and then having that love turn to hate hostility. Of learning how to re-engage that fandom and then appropriating and exploiting them, in true Trumpian fashion, to do your bidding. 

This is important. Because it doesn’t matter how big you are, or how famous you are, or how influential you are. Step out of line, speak out of turn, be anything other than the good girl they want you to be, and you will end up yesterday’s news. Or worse. The Dixie Chicks are, after all, a cautionary tale used to scare little girls from Nashville into submission.

This is important. Because what truly matters is how strategic you are. And Taylor Swift has figured out how to undermine the instruments of her oppression and use them to her advantage. This documentary included.

Miss Americana is a fascinating document. One that subverts the notion that greatness requires a second act. That you need to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of society’s capriciousness before America recognises your worth. It is the story of one woman standing up for herself and saying: “Fuck that, I don’t care.”

Miss Americana
85 minutes
Director: Lana Wilson
Cast: Taylor Swift, Andrea Swift, Scott Swift, Joe Alwyn, Jack Antonoff, Joel Little, Max Martin, Brendon Urie, Todrick Hall, Abigail Anderson Lucier, and Tree Paine.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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