Perhaps the biggest downside of being rich and famous is that no one will ever feel sorry for you again. Once a gleaming black S.U.V. has deposited you directly at the foot of a stairway leading to a private jet, you are suddenly and irrevocably beyond compassion. Most celebrities seem to understand this fact instinctively, though occasionally, in interviews, it’s possible to catch a brief but vivid flash of panic in a star’s eyes when she is asked about how many days she has to spend on the road, or what it’s like to feel the constant adoration of a fan base. Still, no matter how miserable or inhumane the circumstances of her life have become—no griping!
2020欧洲杯体育投注网Forced gratitude can feel like a modern plague, but most people still bristle when a celebrity suggests that perhaps she is also a victim. “Miss Americana,” a new documentary about the pop singer Taylor Swift, premièred on Netflix last Friday. The film was directed by Lana Wilson, and takes its title from “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince,” a track on “Lover,” Swift’s most recent album. (“No cameras catch my pageant smile / I counted days, I counted miles,” she sings, presumably describing the time she spent settling down with her boyfriend, the English actor Joe Alwyn, and attempting to avoid public scrutiny.) The film covers Swift’s entire life and career, but it lingers on recent events, including a political awakening, which was apparently hastened by an incident in 2013, in which she was sexually assaulted at a meet and greet by a radio d.j. named David Mueller. (He later sued her, for defamation, and lost.)
Swift is known for her expertise at persona creation, so it would be reasonable to expect that “Miss Americana” might feel like hagiography in a cloak of quasi-confessionalism. That stance, after all, is now the default mode on social media, where the smartest celebrities figure out a way to artfully portray themselves as accidental heroes. But “Miss Americana” is a compelling and thoughtful portrait of an artist reckoning with what she’s capable of, and, more interestingly, what the culture will accept from her. “As I’m reaching thirty, I’m, like, I want to work really hard while society is still tolerating me being successful,” she says. Ouch.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网Because she is young, white, and conventionally pretty, Swift has enjoyed some degree of privilege her entire life. Yet, though her background has buoyed her in some very obvious ways (her father, a stockbroker, and her mother, a former marketing executive, moved their family from Pennsylvania to Tennessee, so that Swift could work Music Row), it has also been a funny sort of albatross. From the start of her career, Swift has radiated a kind of frantic ambition, which made it especially easy for critics to dismiss her as a high-achieving cheerleader type, rather than a visionary, a savant, or a mogul. Swift is right to be frustrated by this—it’s another brutal example of how even women who hew close to patriarchal strictures can be punished for their victories.
“Miss Americana” reframes Swift’s hunger for validation as nearly pathological. “I wish I didn’t feel like there’s a better version of me out there,” she says. The film opens with her showing the camera her early journals, a pile of notebooks in shades of pink and purple, some with tiny locks. At one point, Swift says, she used a quill and ink to write. When she was thirteen, she scribbled “my life, my career, my dream, my reality” on one cover. She described her earliest ideology as “do the right thing, do the good thing,” which might seem admirable but quickly became punishing. (Swift identifies as Christian in the film, but her idea of goodness has less to do with morality than with the overwhelming demands of late capitalism—for Swift, goodness is mostly just synonymous with commercial achievement.)
Swift is certainly not exceptional in her yearning for approval, but her life has unfolded on an unprecedented scale. In one scene, the camera follows her as she prepares to appear onstage at one of the stops on her “Reputation” tour. She stands on a platform, and someone raises a sequinned hood over her head. A barrier slowly parts, and suddenly Swift is facing an arena full of people fully losing their minds. It is hard to imagine what it must feel like to stare down that sort of hysterical, churning energy, especially alone. Watching her, I felt neither envy nor curiosity, merely terror.
Swift is candid about her gradual decline into disordered eating. “There’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting,” she says. “It’s all just fucking impossible.” She turned her perfectionism on her own body, and, for a while, made comprehensive lists of everything she’d consume in a day. “There are so many diet blogs that tell you that that’s what you should do,” she says. Sometimes, when she saw an unflattering photo of herself, she says, she simply stopped eating altogether. She is similarly punitive when her album “Reputation” doesn’t earn any Grammy nominations in the major categories. “This is fine,” she tells her publicist. “I just need to make a better record.” Later, on the set of the music video for “ME!,” the first single from “Lover,” Swift and the video’s director, Dave Meyers, play a take from the shoot. “I have a really slappable face,” Swift observes. (Meyers, for his part, looks deeply uncomfortable with the remark.)
“Miss Americana” contains enough tiny, revealing details to make Swift seem weirder and more human than she usually does. She admits that she didn’t try a burrito until she was in her mid-twenties. She dumps ice cubes in her white wine. She will pour her cat a generous mound of Temptations-brand treats right on the kitchen table. But perhaps the most moving stretch of the film follows her decision to speak out against Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican who ran for Senate during the 2018 midterm elections. Swift’s interest in politics feels earnest and impassioned, even as she receives absurd pushback from her management team, a pair of slumped older gentlemen, and her father. “Does Bob Hope do it? Does Bing Crosby do it?” he asks, of endorsing political candidates.
Of course, Swift’s apolitical stance was hurting her, too. As she deliberates, Wilson intercuts footage of the Dixie Chicks being villainized for speaking out against the Iraq War, in 2003, but the juxtaposition feels sneaky: when “Miss Americana” started filming, fifteen years had passed, and the world looks wildly different now. Besides, Swift is no longer a country star, nor is she reliant on country radio; pop stars routinely make bold political statements without career-ending backlash from fans. Ultimately, in an , Swift encouraged her followers to register to vote, and wrote that Blackburn’s “record in Congress appalls and terrifies me.” Blackburn still won, and Swift’s career didn’t suffer from her disclosure—even Trump’s response to her post was limp. When a reporter asked the President about Swift’s comments, he at first seemed unaware of what she’d said, , “I like Taylor’s music about twenty-five-per-cent less now.”
On “The Man,” a song from “Lover,” Swift wonders how much simpler her life might be and how differently her work would be received if she’d been born male. (For the grammarians among us, the most harrowing moment of the entire film is when Swift and one of her producers, Joel Little, are methodically working out the song’s chorus, and Swift starts to second-guess her own phrasing: “If I were a man,” she says, then pauses. “If I was a man?” Little, who also does not quite seem to know which way is right, simply nods along.) Still, it is a consistent pleasure to watch Swift work, and to behold the joy that spreads across her face as she puzzles through a verse or melody. Each time she completes a song, she appears to regard it with genuine wonder. Swift has never allowed outside cameras in the studio with her before, and her choice to let Wilson film her as she works feels like the right way to reveal something true about who she is and what she does. In the end, it is far more interesting than any acceptance speech, red-carpet interview, or paparazzi photo. It’s beautiful.