Miss Americana – review

As a black man, in my early fifties and having grown up in south London, my musical influences and leanings were towards soul and funk with a smidgen of reggae. My clubbing days were solidly soul and funk, moving into house and garage music and embracing the musical mores that surrounded that scene.

That is not to say I did not like other types of music but in terms of purchasing music – I was a bit of a vinyl junkie back then – those were the musical styles that parted me from my hard-earned. These days, with downloading and streaming and my clubbing days somewhat behind me, I can and do indulge in less dance specific music.

That being said, Taylor Swift was never on my list of artist, nor was her music – except for the goat song, you know the one – something that ever came into my world. Of course, I knew who she was – goat song – and what she looked like, especially after Kanye West made her the centre of news broadcast throughout the western hemisphere in 2009 when he interrupted her awards speech to highlight his friend Beyoncé.

Swift, ever the nice girl, tried to play down the incident. Swift’s niceness, not to mention her relentless work ethic, is on display in a fascinating documentary by Lana Wilson, Miss Americana, which not only follows Swift for a couple of years but documents her rise, trials and the tribulations that have beset her career.

A talented singer/songwriter, Swift, hailing from Pennsylvania, began her performing career at an early age, signing her first record deal at fifteen. With a mixture of country and pop, Swift became popular and gained a vast following very quickly.

As she herself admits in the documentary, the most important thing for her was to be liked. Never one to display any of the rebellious traits that have plagued countless young celebrities before her, Swift was an ever-smiling pop princess with a Stepford-esque drive towards pleasing her fan base.

Being a songwriter from such a young age and one whose music touched so many, with lyrics they felt they could relate to, Swift music and writings have always been personal, reflect things that are happening in her life.

It is a hard-hearted and cynical person, a trait that some seem to covet in these times, that does not feel for Swift whilst watching this documentary. She is tearful as she recalls the bile and social media backlash that came after West’s infamous incident, her loneliness at being at the pinnacle of her career but not having anyone to share the moment with or who could relate and, with being a star during a media explosion age, the constant sniping at her with regards to her possible sexual partners.

She also addresses her insecurities about her body, something that many can relate to, how seeing photos of herself could trigger her eating disorder, prompting her to not eat whilst working to exhaustion, as the media took potshots at her and other women lined up to deride her ‘niceness’.

Feeling overwhelmed, Swift withdrew from the public eye and reassessed her life. She knew that her need to be liked by the multitudes of strangers was unhealthy. The dopamine hit she craved from the adulation of fans and critics was, ultimately, destroying her.

She realised that she needed to find true happiness, contentment. Also, as she was now older, she felt that she should perhaps voice her opinion on things that mattered to her. One thing that she felt very strongly about was the rights of women and gays in her home state. A sexual assault case she had to fight after she was sued by a former deejay who had been – rightly – fired for groping her.

Swifts’ pronouncements in social media created an upturn in younger voters in her state and though she did not get the outcome she had hoped for, it showed that she could utilise her influence for something important.

In my opinion – and perhaps I am naive – unless Taylor Swift is one of the planet’s most accomplished actors, it is hard not to like her. Miss Americana shows an extremely hard-working young woman, growing up in the spotlight and trying to find herself in a world that always wants to know more about its celebrities.

Miss Americana is a highly watchable hour and a half of entertainment that may change your mind about that infamous goat song. It made a Swift fan out of me.

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