The Taylor Swift of Lana Wilson's new Netflix documentary, Miss Americana is alone—a surprising qualifier for someone whose reputation is at least partially built on her friends and ex–lovers. Wilson documents Swift as the hero of own life story, leaving everyone else around the star to the periphery. Nearly every frame of footage is filled with Taylor Swift.
In its brief 85 minutes, Miss Americana manages to provide a rare glimpse into Swift's inner life—something fans have pined for with each album release, and has fueled tabloids for years. Miss Americana is a self–scrutinizing yet compelling portrait of the artist, woman, and activist Swift has become over her long career.
Swift admits fairly early in the film that her happiness used to hinge "on the approval of total strangers." This mindset of trying to live up to the "good girl" everyone expected her to be has clearly affected her career's trajectory—not to mention her psyche and wellbeing. Swift's successes are colored by isolation just as much as they are joy. Narrating over her second Album of the Year win at the Grammy's, an award she didn't believe she would win again, Swift says "got to the mountain top and wondered 'What now?'" "Shouldn't I have someone that I could call right now?" she asks the wind.
When Swift accepted the 2009 VMA for Best Music Video she was infamously interrupted by Kanye West. The 19 year–old Swift thought the crowd was booing her instead of West. The debacle sent her down "psychological paths" that weren't "beneficial" in the long run. Later, the specter of Kanye appears in her life again in 2015.
That year, West's wife Kim Kardashian West leaked a phone call between her husband and Swift on social media. In the call, he asks if he could include the line "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex" in his song, "Famous." As Swift maintained in interviews at the time, she did not know about the following lyric calling her a "bitch." Quickly, the internet turned against her, accusing her of playing the victim once again and then criticizing her for being too skinny, too successful, too annoying, too good.
#TaylorSwiftisOverParty soon became the number one trend on Twitter as millions of strangers wanted her canceled. Swift receded away from the public eye and into herself to record her 2017 studio effort, Reputation. The documentary shows Swift hunched over in a hoodie—embodying the prey imagery from "The Archer"—while she records her album. "I had to dismantle an entire belief system," she said. From the footage Wilson chooses of that time, the camera seems especially focused on Swift, mimicking her hibernation from the world.
In concert, Swift is lonely on stage. In footage from the Reputation tour—when she sang for hysterically screaming fans in sold–out stadiums—all cameras and lights focused on her. When she discusses her relationship with Joe Alwyn during that era, he is just a hand on the screen for a split second, or a figure understood to be behind the camera—never fully in view like she is.
In a particularly arresting scene, Swift heaves in tears as she unloads the burden of living for other's satisfaction, saying she was up on stage because of an "intrinsic insecurity," hearing people clapping made her forget she felt like she wasn't "good enough." It's hard not to sympathize with someone who has worked her whole career to be the best she possibly can, pleasing everyone she can, only to have the comfort of the public's satisfaction ripped from under her.
The documentary also reveals Swift's struggle with an eating disorder. Swift shows the camera a photo that she thought made her look "fat," and caused her to "starve herself." To try and recover, Swift has stopped looking at her paparazzi photos. In this deeply private matter, she does not say she asked for help with her disorder. She stopped by her own will. Interestingly, however, in discussing her eating disorder on camera, Swift uses the first person plural.
Swift also opens up about her decision to discard the "shut up and sing" attitude towards politics that characterized most of her career. Near the end of the film—shot during the 2018 midterms—we see Swift argue with her father and management team about her Instagram post renouncing Marsha Blackburn, the Republican candidate for Tennessee governor. Passionately and convincingly, Swift defends her stance, laying down her stance on gay marriage and the Equality Act as an issue of "right or wrong."
By the end of Miss Americana, Swift is a complex, articulate, outspoken and singular artist making the most of her place in the world.