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Taylor Swift Finds Her Voice In The Documentary “Miss Americana”

Country music artists are often taught young to not have any opinions, especially ones that could be deemed controversial. To do that is to risk losing a portion of your fanbase. Early on in the documentary Taylor Swift: Miss Americana, and on more than one other occasion throughout, we hear Taylor Swift reference this. At one point in her career, that desire was paramount. Now, having hit a new milestone, and having experienced a number of things she can’t forget, Swift is ready to shed that safe image. Miss Americana, the Netflix Original documentary, shows her finding her voice, amplified by her decision to weigh in on the 2018 midterm elections. Streaming this weekend after a debut a few days ago at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s a quality doc for both Swift diehards and newcomers alike. Plus, it has the added bonus of featuring a new Original Song, which could potentially make her an Oscar nominee next year.

This is a portrait of music superstar Taylor Swift, as she is now, as well as what she used to be like. The goal is to show audiences how a transformational time in her life changed her forever. Framed through moments like the infamous Kanye West interruption, as well as her legal case against a radio disc jockey who groped her, Swift presents how she handled the former with how she opted to handle the latter. Whereas once she stood quietly and just wanted to be liked and seen as “good” to all, she now embraces her role as an artist with a voice that can bring about change. She’s still a singer/songwriter and an iconic pop star, but now in her 30’s she’s begun to harness the full power of that voice, musically and politically. The latter comes out when she decides to risk her image in order to speak out against Conservative values in a close Tennessee Senate election, supporting the Democrat and raising the ire of Donald Trump. Lana Wilson directs, with music by Alex Somers.

Swift is front and center throughout the film for all of its 86 minutes. The goal here is to come off real, and she almost entirely succeeds. Elements of the documentary are raw and emotional, while others do somewhat feel like promotional material. Those parts are sporadic and come along with the territory of any look at a creative talent with a brand to sustain, but the intimate moments are what set this apart. You begin to understand not just what she’s doing, but why she’s doing it. Director Lana Wilson does her best to even make the concert and performance footage tie in to whatever theme is currently the doc’s focus, keeping a narrative thread to sequences that could otherwise get repetitive and redundant. This could have just been another throwaway bit of content for Netflix, but as shown by the streaming giant giving it a big bow at Sundance, they believe in this work, quality wise.

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana desires to upend the notion that Swift is just a packaged product, and it largely succeeds, though occasionally some sequences do feel as though they’re part of a deliberate sales pitch for the “new Taylor Swift.” The movie is playing with a desired narrative for her and her team, so it’s unavailable. Most of the time, this doc is content to showcase footage from her career interspersed with Swift talking to the camera. The rest shows her in recording sessions or huddling with her team. One such moment, which admittedly is among her most passionate, shows the moments where she decided to endorse the Democrat in the Tennessee Senate race. It’s played for a little more drama than is believable, especially since it’s surrounding a tweet. Then again, isn’t that the world we now live in?

As you’re reading this, Taylor Swift: Miss Americana is available to watch on Netflix. The documentary presents Taylor Swift in a new light, one both she and her fans will be more than pleased with. If the intent was to reframe her as something more than just a pop star who writes about break ups, then mission accomplished. Even just as almost 90 minutes spent getting to know someone who many have felt kept the world at arm’s length, it more than works. The high quality song Only the Young is just an added bonus, especially if it finds itself an Academy Award contender during the next season. Give it a shot and see if you come out on the other end knowing Swift better than you did previously. There’s a pretty good chance that that’s going to be the case…

Be sure to check out Taylor Swift: Miss Americana, now streaming on Netflix!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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