Miss Americana

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Miss Americana
Taylor Swift - Miss Americana.jpg
Netflix poster
Directed byLana Wilson
Produced by
StarringTaylor Swift
Music by
CinematographyEmily Topper
Edited by
  • Paul Marchand
  • Greg O'Toole
  • Lee Rosch
  • Lindsay Utz
  • Jason Zeldes
Production
company
Tremolo Productions
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • January 23, 2020 (2020-01-23) (Sundance)
  • January 31, 2020 (2020-01-31) (United States)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

Miss Americana (also known as Taylor Swift: Miss Americana) is a 2020 American documentary film directed by Lana Wilson, that follows American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and her life over the course of several years of her career. It was released on Netflix and in select theaters on January 31, 2020. The film has been described as a "raw and emotionally revealing look" at Swift "during a transformational period in her life as she learns to embrace her role not only as a songwriter and performer, but as a woman harnessing the full power of her voice".

Miss Americana debuted at the opening night of 2020 Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2020 to critical acclaim, with praise directed towards the documentary's intimacy and vulnerability. It also became the highest-rated Netflix-original biographical documentary by a recording artist in IMDb history. Accompanying the film's release, "Only the Young", a song by Swift featured in the end credits, was released as a promotional single.

Synopsis[edit]

Miss Americana follows Swift and her life over the course of several years of her career. It is a biographical compilation of interviews, flashbacks, studio footage, home videos, cellphone videos and concert recordings that cover a number of events in Swift's life and career, including the making of her sixth and seventh studio albums, Reputation (2017) and Lover (2019), her past battle with body dysmorphia and allied eating disorder, her mother's cancer diagnosis, the toxic internet culture and media scrutiny she faces, her sexual assault trial, and her decision to go public with her political views, including LGBT+ allyship.[1][2]

Netflix described the film as a "raw and emotionally revealing look" at Swift "during a transformational period in her life as she learns to embrace her role not only as a songwriter and performer, but as a woman harnessing the full power of her voice".[3] The Sundance Institute outlined: "Director Lana Wilson offers a multifaceted window into Swift, her creative process, and her singular experience of being one of the brightest lights on the world's global stage. Showcasing Swift's trademark vulnerability and her fierce intelligence and wit, Wilson captures moments both tender and exhilarating as the superstar embarks on the latest chapter of her already extraordinary career".[4]

Cast[edit]

Additionally, the archive footages used in the documentary feature record producer Calvin Harris, singers Beyoncé, P!nk, Harry Styles, Shakira and Lenny Kravitz, music bands Dixie Chicks and Earth Wind & Fire, models Karlie Kloss and Kim Kardashian, rapper Kanye West, US senator Marsha Blackburn, US president Donald Trump, actors Taylor Lautner and Tom Hiddleston, drag queens Jade Jolie and Riley Knoxx, television personalities Barbara Walters, Dan Harris, David Letterman, Erin Robinson, Graham Norton, Hoda Kotb, Jedediah Bila, Jenny Johnson, Jimmy Fallon, JuJu Chang, Nancy O'Dell, Nikki Glaser, Phil McGraw, Sara Haines, Stephen Colbert, Sunny Hostin, Whoopi Goldberg, and the entire "Fab 5" cast of Queer Eye: Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Jonathan Van Ness and Tan France.[5]

Background[edit]

Swift expressed her interest in making a documentary with Netflix following her 2018 special, Taylor Swift: Reputation Stadium Tour.

Swift expressed interest in making a documentary with Netflix following the concert film Taylor Swift: Reputation Stadium Tour, which premiered on the streaming platform in December 2018.[6] She was provided with a list of potential directors, of which Wilson was one. Wilson began filming at the end of the Reputation album and tour cycle, and joined Swift for recording sessions of her subsequent album Lover.[7]

The title of the documentary is borrowed from "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince", the seventh track on Lover, in which Swift expressed her disillusionment over the current state of United States politics.[6]

Swift revealed the documentary in November 2019, when she said the owner and founder of her former label Big Machine Records, Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta respectively, blocked her from using older music and performance footage for the documentary.[8] She added that the documentary does not mention Braun, Borchetta, or Big Machine.[9] Big Machine denied the accusations in a statement.[10] In response, a representative for Swift published an email from a Big Machine executive refusing to issue licences in connection to the documentary.[11] In December, Variety reported Big Machine had cleared the use of Swift's older material for the film.[1]

Needing to speak up about beliefs I'd always had, because it felt like an opportunity to shed light on what those trials are like. I experienced it as a person with extreme privilege, so I can only imagine what it's like when you don't have that. And I think one theme that ended up emerging in the film [Miss Americana] is what happens when you are not just a people pleaser but someone who's always been respectful of authority figures, doing what you were supposed to do, being polite at all costs. I still think it's important to be polite, but not at all costs. Not when you're being pushed beyond your limits, and not when people are walking all over you. I needed to get to a point where I was ready, able and willing to call out bullshit rather than just smiling my way through it.

— Swift, "Taylor Swift: No Longer 'Polite at All Costs'", Variety[6]

On December 2019, Netflix revealed that the documentary was set to premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.[12] In an interview with Chris Willman of Variety, it was revealed that the opening act of the film deals with "juxtaposing the joys of creation with the aggravations of global stardom" while the second half is a "provocative turn focused on why Swift became a political animal". Willman wrote that the film further features clips capturing Swift's increasing LGBTQ allyship, Swift's reaction to her mother's cancer diagnosis, and Swift's response to her 2017 album Reputation not receiving any nominations in general categories at the 2019 Grammy Awards. Wilson stated that she views the movie as "looking at the flip side of being America's sweetheart", meant to shed light on the less-glamorous side of fame and stardom.[6]

Promotion[edit]

On January 15, 2020, Swift revealed the release date and a poster of the film through her social media accounts.[13] Six days later, an official trailer to the film was released on YouTube and on Swift's social media accounts.[14][15] On January 30, Swift announced the list of select theatres that will play Miss Americana, for a limited time. It includes 25 Alamo Drafthouse theatres and an iPic theatre in the United States, and the Prince Charles Cinema in the United Kingdom.[16]

Music[edit]

The documentary includes the song "Only the Young", playing during the end credits, which was released as a promotional single alongside the film. The song was written by Swift after the 2018 United States elections,[6] but did not make it on the track-list of Lover.[17] Upon release, the song received universal acclaim from music critics, who praised its politically charged lyrics that deal with gun violence and school shootings in the United States. "Only the Young" debuted and peaked at number one on the US Billboard Digital Song Sales chart, and entered the charts in several other countries.[18]

Critical reception[edit]

Miss Americana was met with critical acclaim upon release. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a "certified fresh" approval rating of 91% based on 91 reviews, with an average rating of 7.36/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Miss Americana provides an engaging if somewhat deliberately opaque backstage look at a pop star turned cultural phenomenon."[19] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 65 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[20]

After premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the film received critical praise and a standing ovation from the audience.[21] Miss Americana has been described as an "intimate", "genuine", "funny" and "empowering" film, that documents "her humble beginnings as a country-music star to her position as an influential figure in pop culture".[22] Critics complimented the film for Wilson's direction, and the "emotional heft" that came from Swift's vulnerable interviews discussing issues such as eating disorder, self esteem and sexual assault,[22] and also for the portrayal of Swift's creative process.

Wesley Morris of The New York Times chose Miss Americana as his "critic's pick", describing the film as "85 minutes of translucence" with Swift, stating that she is "self-critical, grown up and ready, perhaps, to deliver a message beyond the music".[23] Nancy Coleman, of the same magazine, opined that the film "opens a rare, honest window on what makes this star [Swift] tick".[24] Hannah Woodhead of Little White Lies opined that the film offers "unprecedented access to the notoriously private singer and her dizzying world" through "interviews, studio footage, home videos and concert recordings". She described the film as "glossy, conventional, flicking between past and present with a warm intimacy" as Swift "bares her soul in this intimate, earnest docu-portrait".[25] Slash Film's Chris Evangelita termed the film as a "dynamite crowd pleaser" and described it as "a sweet, surprisingly funny portrait of Taylor Swift growing up and getting political".[26] Leslie Felperin of The Hollywood Reporter wrote "what's ultimately very endearing about Swift is her intelligence and self-awareness, qualities that also make her music compelling, sophisticated and capable of appealing both to adolescent kids and hipster musicologists".[27] Writing for The Salt Lake Tribune, Sean Means stated that the film is "an eye-opening look at Taylor Swift finding a new voice" and "shows Swift as an artist and activist just warming up for the next act".[28] Amber Wilkinson of The Times wrote that the "intimate and open" documentary offers "a much more personal and open consideration of a star who has always been known for her onstage sound and who is now finding her political voice off stage too".[29]

The Atlantic's Spencer Kornhaber wrote that Miss Americana portrays "a pop star facing a daunting challenge—redefining success", acting as "a container for the dictates of supposedly meritocratic capitalist patriarchy". He added that the film does not depict a "drastic change" but rather "a tough, somewhat deflating process of self-recognition".[30] Decider's Anna Menta commented that "Wilson and her team captured moments that felt personal, vulnerable, and deeply authentic, and they did so with a skill and artistry that Instagram Live stories just can't match".[31] Steve Pond of TheWrap pointed out that "the heart of Miss Americana is Taylor Swift telling us what she stands for on gay rights and women's rights, and what she's learned about the fate of being a woman in the public eye".[32] Glamour's Marie-Claire Chappet wrote: "Miss Americana shows Taylor is sick of the restrictive parameters set out for women in the spotlight. She defies her advisors and gets political — breaking her silence and following in the footsteps of the Dixie Chicks – with thankfully less damaging consequences. She begins using her voice for what she cares about – like LGBTQ rights – and stops caring if Twitter thinks she's over – if the industry doesn't think she's 'likeable'."[33] The New Yorker's Amanda Petrusich concluded that the "beautiful" film is "far more interesting than any acceptance speech, red-carpet interview, or paparazzi photo".[34] In his critic's pick review, IndieWire's David Ehrlich wrote that "the power of Miss Americana" is "watching someone who stands astride the world gradually realize that her art is the only thing that she can control", adding that Wilson is "so good at splitting the difference that some of her documentary's most humanizing moments are beautiful for how they contradict Swift's intention". He concluded that "it's truly enough to make you feel like an asshole for ever thinking that Swift was some kind of Aryan crypto-fascist, and not just a mega-famous young woman who didn't yet love herself enough to be hated for her convictions".[35]

In a two-star review for The Guardian, Benjamin Lee describes Miss Americana as "too stage-managed" and a "brand management dressed up as insight".[36] Nick Allen for RogerEbert.com describes the film as "engineered to appease her fans and promote Swift's self-awareness".[37] Mike Ryan of Uproxx wrote that the movie is "frustrating" due to its "lack of depth when discussing interesting issues", instead opting for "montages of victories".[38] Beth Webb of Empire opined that "nothing new seems to break through her [Swift's] barriers" in the documentary.[39] Variety's Owen Gleiberman opined that the documentary is "a controlled and sanded-off confection of pop-diva image management", where Swift "presents of herself is just chancy and sincere enough" in the film "to draw us in".[40]

Accolades[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards and nominations for Miss Americana
Year Award Category Result Ref.
2020 Hollywood Critics Association Midseason Awards Best Documentary runner-up [41][42]
Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Most Compelling Living Subjects of a Documentary (Honor) Won [43]

Lists[edit]

Miss Americana in best-of lists
Critic/Publication List Rank Ref.
Decider The 15 Best Movies Of 2020… So Far 9th [44]
Best on Netflix: The Top 12 Musical Movies + Shows for Theater Bugs 16th [45]
Elle The 16 Best Documentaries Of 2020 (So Far) 15th [46]
Harper's Bazaar 15 Netflix Documentaries That Are Actually Interesting To Watch Placed [47]
The Hollywood Reporter Oscars: The Season of the Documentary Placed [48]
IndieWire Best Movies of 2020 So Far Placed [49]
Insider 12 of the Best Netflix Originals of 2020, so far 3rd [22]
27 Great Netflix Movies by Women Placed [50]
Mashable The 10 Best Films of 2020 (so far) 9th [51]
The 10 Best Documentaries Of 2020 So Far 6th [52]
The Best Music Documentaries You Can Stream On Netflix Placed [53]
PopSugar 25 Music Documentaries to Watch on Netflix This Week Placed [54]
Refinery29 The Best Documentaries about Women Placed [55]
The New York Times 11 Best Netflix Music Documentaries Placed [56]

Impact[edit]

The premiere of Miss Americana at the opening night of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and Swift's pre-announced appearance at the festival caused a surge in the number of attendees, traction and media coverage of the event. TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino stated that, "in nearly a decade of attending Sundance, I've never seen a scene like the premiere of Miss Americana", and added that the "crowd before letting into the theater was huge", with rumors about how "there wouldn't be room for ticketed attendees".[57][58] Upon release, the film became the highest-rated Netflix-original biographical documentary by an artist in IMDb history.[59][60][61]

American singer Katy Perry praised the film, stating that she was impressed by Miss Americana, because of its self-awareness and vulnerability, and commented that she was "really excited for her [Swift] to be able to show that to the world: that things aren't perfect, they don't have to be, and it's more beautiful when they aren't".[62] Perry further added that Miss Americana inspires her to make her own documentary.[63][64] Emily Strayer, of the American country music band The Chicks, commented on the documentary, stating: "The power she [Swift] has right now to change things is way beyond any power we [The Chicks] ever had. She's in a different person than we were ever".[65] In a Prospect article titled "It's time to face the facts—our male pop stars need to try a bit harder", Caroline O'Donoghue pointed out how Miss Americana talks about "the need for female pop stars to be highly visual, and to change that visual often", and quoted a line from the documentary that Swift says: "The female artists I know of have to remake themselves 20 times more than the male artists, or else you're out of a job".[66]

Conversations on mental health[edit]

Miss Americana fueled several conversations about eating disorders, body dysmorphia, exercise anorexia, self-esteem, toxic internet culture and sexual assault. Writing for The Washington Post, Jessica Gold, professor of psychiatry at the Washington University in St. Louis, stated that Swift "struck a powerful chord with viewers" with Miss Americana, "thanks to her honesty regarding her struggle for approval as a woman in today's society". Gold called Swift "the leader we need in 2020", who steps up to "fill gaps left by political leadership", during a time "when our political leaders are struggling to build consensus on and convey the gravity of issues" like mental health. She explained that Swift's leadership is commercially savvy, but also shows how celebrities "can now speak directly to fans, doing tremendous good in the process", and concluded that the singer is sending a powerful message—"one that is likely to save lives in myriad ways".[67]

I remember how, when I was 18, that was the first time I was on the cover of a magazine, and the headline was like "Pregnant at 18?". And it was because I had worn something that made my lower stomach look not flat. So I just registered that as a punishment. And then I'd walk into a photo shoot and be in the dressing room and somebody who worked at a magazine would say, "Oh, wow, this is so amazing that you can fit into the sample sizes. Usually we have to make alterations to the dresses, but we can take them right off the runway and put them on you!" And I looked at that as a pat on the head. You register that enough times, and you just start to accommodate everything towards praise and punishment, including your own body.

— Swift talking about her body dysmorphia in Miss Americana, BBC[68]

Kelly Douglas of The Mighty opined that Swift's "powerful candor" about her eating disorders and body dysmorphia will "not only resonate with others facing similar struggles, but could also encourage others to seek help for their eating disorder behaviors".[69] The New York Post's Elana Fishman confessed: "every so often, I'll still catch myself criticizing the way my tummy or legs look in a photo or how a certain pair of pants fits me. From now on, whenever that happens, I'll be repeating a line Swift says in the film—We do not do that anymore, because it's better to think you look fat than to look sick".[70] Anne Petersen of BuzzFeed News commented that Swift contributes to society's "collective understanding of what beauty and success looks like", and that she is also talking about her "susceptibility to the pressure of that understanding". Petersen added that Swift refuses "to hide, and thus continue to normalize, the behaviors that perpetuate it".[71]

The Daily Targum stated that, despite being an expert when it comes to handling negative comments, even Swift "succumbed to insecurities that blossomed into eating problems, which shows how even the strongest among us are susceptible to potential eating disorders due to the toxic environment of social media".[72] Ellen Ricks of HelloGiggles called Swift's reveal of her disorder as inspirational, noting "how it can potentially impact so many people still fighting", as "there is still so much stigma and misinformation" surrounding eating disorders, and praised Swift for "using her voice to shed light on the issue for her fans".[73] In a Deccan Chronicle piece titled "Warring with food", writer Swati Sharma noted "it's no surprise" that many celebrities like Swift have struggled with eating disorders, and highlighted how the singer would be "so hungry after performances that she'd feel weak and on the verge of passing out".[74]

In an interview with Glamour, Wilson talked about the positive comments she received regarding her decision to include Swift's eating disorder and body image issues in the film:

It's been such a positive reaction. People are connecting to it in a really deep way, which was, of course, my dream when making the movie. I think to see Taylor, someone who's an icon of beauty, voicing these thoughts that so many people have had is incredibly, incredibly powerful because it's not something you would expect to hear. God, I almost tear up like thinking about some of the notes I've gotten from teenagers about how they look in the mirror and they hate their body and they hate the way they look. But now that they've seen that Taylor has struggled with some of these same things too, and she's gotten through it and she's stronger and happier as a result, and that inspires them to keep going. It's just so moving.

— Lana Wilson on the overwhelming positive comments she received, Glamour[75]

Miss Americana further prompted many of Swift's past critics to respond to the documentary. American comedian Nikki Glaser wrote an apology on Instagram for her comments about Swift featured in the film. In the apology, Glaser stated that: "Unfortunately, I am featured in her [Swift's] new documentary as part of a montage of asshats saying mean things about her, which is used to explain why she felt the need to escape from the spotlight for a year", and admitted that her comments may have come from a place of "projection". She further added that "if you're familiar with my 'work' at all, you know I talk openly about battling some kind of eating disorder for the past 17 years, I was probably 'feeling fat' that day and was jealous". Swift responded: "One of the major themes of the doc is that we have the ability to change our opinions over time, to grow, to learn about ourselves. I'm so sorry to hear that you've struggled with some of the same things I've struggled with. Sending a massive hug".[76][77] American writer Jenny Johnson also posted a lengthy apology on Instagram, writing that her comments about Swift being "annoying" were "made in jest", and stated: "please know I'm not against you, I'm with you and I apologize." Journalist Richard S. took to Twitter to apologize to Swift for an article he wrote in 2016, titled "Taylor Swift Isn't Like Other Celebrities, She's Worse". He explained that the article was intended to "deconstruct the pettiness of the celebrity–industrial complex" and expressed his regret that the headline appeared to be "overly critical" of Swift. He concluded that he has "learned so much from Taylor's artistry over the years, and remain[s] a huge fan".[78]

Political advertisement[edit]

"Only the Young", the film's promotional single, was used to advertise Biden/Harris, as part of Democratic campaign for 2020 United States presidential elections. Representative Eric Swalwell revealed that Swift authorized the usage of the song for the campaign free-of-cost, marking the first time Swift has allowed her music to be used in a political advertisement. The video advertisement was released on October 30, 2020. It opens with a quote from Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, wondering why "so many powerful people are making it so difficult to vote". The rest of the advertisement features a montage of scenes from the past four years in the US: Videos of Me Too and Black Lives Matter protesters, President Donald Trump removing his face mask following COVID-19 hospitalization, Judge Amy Coney Barrett being sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, a 75-year-old protester being pushed to the ground by police in Buffalo, New York, and a scene of young supporters of Presidential nominee Joe Biden organizing and taking part in early voting. The video concludes with the motto: "You've marched for four years. Now it's time to run". Harris expressed gratitude to to Swift, and tweeted that the singer is showing the young voters "what's at stake" in the election.[79][80]

In popular culture[edit]

An alternative poster of the film, featuring a male alter-ego of Swift, appears in the music video for Swift's 2020 single "The Man". The camera pans over a "Mr. Americana" poster starring "Tyler Swift", directed by "Larry Wilson", and premiering at the 2020 "Mandance Festival", a wordplay on the 2020 Sundance Festival.[81]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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