- Gareth Crook
Miss Americana (2020)
I’m not a Taylor Swift fan, or a fan of the world of career managed children crafted for stardom. In fact I’m generally turned off by the notion of making it big or popular, as a measure of success. Celebrity culture is bullshit. This is now the part where you might expect me to drop the revelation that this documentary has changed my mind, that Swift it turns out is delightfully grounded and a wonderfully humble person. That’s not really going to happen. Swift comes across as perfectly nice and it offers some kind of carefully choreographed insight, but I’d suggest it’s really only of interest to fans, to those who like her music and would enjoy a little behind her scenes, Taylor in the studio, Taylor at home, Taylor talking to record execs. It does feel like an advert to assert her authenticity, writing country music schmaltz as an early teen, growing into something with more gravitas. That’s the idea at least, like I said I’m not a fan, modern pop is not my thing, but hey at least it’s not bloody country music. If it’s anything, it’s a damning look at the need for recognition, applause, validation and the isolation that comes when that’s achieved. At nearly 30 years old, she still comes across as a teenager. I guess it’s weird growing up in that bubble, maybe it’s impossible. Who knows, you probably can’t understand if you’ve not lived it and watching stuff like this really isn’t going to give you a sense of what that’s like. It’s not all pointless vacuous pop princess stuff though, subjects of eating disorders and social media pressures. There are things that people can relate to, that I’m sure her fans can relate to, finding the mental strength to sort yourself out. This of course she attempts to do through music and I’ll wholeheartedly assert that music has the power to help those who let it. I know that sounds flouncy or whimsical, but whatever music floats your boat, it has that ability to lift you up above the bullshit in life. What’s interesting here, is watching Swift work out songs on an acoustic guitar or piano, snippets of lyrics woven in from diary scraps and you sense that catharsis. Granted when we then cut to the same song fleshed out in a stadium with all the pop production and sequinned jackets, you lose me, but the core is still there, she’s just buried it. There are some sequences we could do without completely, namely a meet and greet session, that’s so cringe inducing, I had to mute it. But there are also parts, like when she posts on Instagram, pledging support for Democrats running against vile Republicans, that although again carefully cut, are a lot of fun to watch. Unless you’re a Trump fan I guess, in which case fuck off. It’s here that she does appear to break free from that teenage persona, becoming more politically outspoken, driven, fearful of inaction. Perhaps happy to have found substance to the reinvention that’s often expected of female artists to keep themselves as she says “shiny and young”. The point of documentaries like this is to humanise the artist, cut away all the showbiz rubbish. It manages this, but only just. It’s still heavily crafted, cutting archive, phone, newsreel and fly-on-the-wall footage together with a clear and positive story arc. It’s not made me want to buy a ticket to her next show, but despite the obvious media managed edit, there is some merit to both this film and Swift.