Taylor Swift: Miss Americana

January 25, 2020
We were at the Sundance Film Festival, when the Taylor Swift documentary premiered ahead of its release on Netflix.

Taylor Swift surprised everyone at the Sundance Film Festival by wearing a chic understated pantsuit and displaying a new maturity. This is reflected in her new tell-all movie Miss Americana where she admits she is finally ready to face the world.

Still, that didn’t mean that one of the most successful recording artists on the planet was going to make herself available for the media. After braving an understandable melee outside, only select photographers were allowed on the press line for her film’s premiere. When it came to the screening, she snuck into the cinema once the lights had gone down.

She did, however, take to the stage for an interview with her director Lana Wilson. “How do you do this?” she asked, admitting she’d never done it before.

It was quite a momentous moment. 30 year old Swift spoke a lot and opened up before the crowd. Though it’s in Miss Americana that she really lets loose, showing how she is now prepared to voice her opinions on Donald Trump and LGBTQ rights, how she starved herself to keep herself slim and how she learned to be happy – and to eat properly – after meeting the man who is clearly the love of her life, Joe Alwyn. The British actor is the one person who is kept literally in the background in the movie, even if there are a few tender moments.

The ‘Lover’ singer gets up close and personal with her mother Andrea and admits it’s been hugely upsetting to watch the woman she calls her best friend suffer with cancer and seemingly recover, only then to have cancer come back in her brain. Even if she can afford the best doctors money can buy, Swift remains powerless against the onslaught of her mother’s killer disease.

The singer delivers a similar argument when it comes to her case of sexual assault against DJ David Mueller, who she accused of groping her at a 2013 concert. Although she could afford the best lawyers – and won – she was devastated by the experience and wonders how women without her means cope. She is now speaking out about that too and is no longer the stoic unopinionated pop star she thought she had to be in her early years.

“I needed to be thought of as a good kid, a good girl,” she relates on screen dressed in comfy denim overalls and a pink jumper. “I became the person everyone wanted me to be. I was so fulfilled by the approval.”

The film also shows how she was thrust into the need to defend herself and reinvent her image after Kanye West came out against her when she won Best Female Video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards [saying Beyonce should have won]. The film notes how President Barack Obama sprung to Swift’s defence calling Kanye West “a jackass”. Even so, the backlash against Swift became widespread and she took some time out.

Here are some moments from the premiere Q&A where Taylor Swift stood alongside her director Lana Wilson.

Director Lana Wilson and Taylor Swift attend the World Premiere of Miss Americana, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres section at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Jemal Countess.

TS: We started this process not really knowing if we would have a documentary. It was like, let’s see what you see. It was completely in Lana’s hands. I really appreciate all those hours we talked, lot of hours of having me talk about my feelings. Thank you for all your care and empathy.

LW: It was a transformational chapter in your life and it’s something so many of us can relate to, especially with social media, wanting people to like us more than ever. You’re a supercharged version of that, having been in the public eye, having gone away and come back and having changed in so many ways. It was really amazing to witness that.

Tennessee native Swift says the two women connected as storytellers and how she’s a fan of what Lana has done in the past (including previous docs After Tiller, The Departure.)

LW: There were no ground rules and I think you see it in the film. My favourite scenes are of Taylor composing in the studio together with her producer. Nobody had filmed her in the studio before. When we first met, she hadn’t done press in three years, so it was a big deal to do that first interview.

TS: I always believed having someone with a camera in the studio would stop me from coming up with ideas. Besides, it looks ridiculous adlibbing when you’re writing songs. So much of it sounds ridiculous until it sounds right. Also, I’ve spent so much of my life in the public eye. So, when I get sad, upset, humiliated or angry or go through a horrible time, I feel people lead in with this. You never did that to me.

LW: When girls are growing up, they ask other people’s opinions, so coming to this new understanding of deciding for yourself was empowering and inspiring for you. When we discussed your political endorsement (for Tennessee Democratic US Senate candidate Phil Bredesen against Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn) it was interesting to watch you disagree with the people who love you best. You want to do it your own way, so it was a coming of age event.

ON BEING A PUBLIC FIGURE

TS: My dad has always been terrified about my safety since I was a kid, given the fact that my job entails standing on stage. Any threats we get we try to keep under wraps as much as possible. Seeing people I care about so much worry about my safety was really wonderful to watch again.

Swift was asked if her beloved cats that she names as Dr Meredith Grey, Olivia Benson and Benjamin Button, were at the premiere. “They’re right in back row! No, I’m kidding. I wish they were but unfortunately, they don’t care about anything I do. But I love them so much.”

Miss Americana will premiere on Netflix on January 31, 2020

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