On January 31st "Miss Americana," a Netflix original documentary, starring Taylor Swift was released. As a long time fan, I was eager to get a taste of life behind-the-scenes for the mega pop star. To me, Taylor Swift was always relatable in terms of how she presented herself, her morals, and her overall character. Through the years, her music was where she shared her life experiences and the most vulnerable parts of herself. The documentary, however, opened my eyes to the person behind the catchy melodies and the lyrics that made everyone who listened feel a little less alone.
She starts off by talking about the effects of the "good girl" persona. Swift discusses how being good and doing good is where she has always found validation. She thrived off of applause and positive feedback, it was the way in which she found her source of happiness. Doing what was good and what was right, and then receiving a metaphorical "pat on the head," is essentially how she felt fulfilled. The way she presented herself, in terms of saying what people wanted to hear, such as not voicing her opinions on certain things, particularly politics. She explains “A nice girl doesn’t force their opinion on people. A nice girl smiles and waves and says thank you. A nice girl doesn’t make people uncomfortable with her views.” Swift sums it up by saying “I became the person everyone wanted me to be.”
I have always been labeled a “good girl. It wasn’t always explicit but it was implied in the actions of others around me. They’d apologize for using crude language, refrain from discussing certain topics because I was around for fear of being judged, etc. The experience of being a “good girl” for me made me resent my character. In contrast to Swift, I felt a negative connotation around the label and as if I was being put into a box I couldn’t get out of. Seeing a star, like Swift, being commended for the same thing made me feel seen, and understood. However, knowing now that behind her soft smile Swift was crumbling from the pressure of the weight of her image puts it all into a new perspective for me. I’m grateful I had someone like her growing up to represent the kind of person I like to think I am, but it saddens me to know what she had to go through mentally to uphold her public persona.
Due to the infamous incident in 2009, Swift seemed to start running a race against herself, battling the underlying feeling that she didn’t belong. She credits her work ethic to her insistence on continuing to fight for her seat at the table. She thought “I’m only here because I work hard and I’m nice to people,” and so she focused her energy on her music to prove that she belonged.
I don’t credit any single event to her newfound sense of peace within herself. She needed to take a step back, recenter her focus and her priorities and take a minute to breathe. She’d been creating and touring nonstop since 2006, that would run anyone down. She mentions how she was “frozen at the age [she] became famous,” and the fact that the good girl ideology followed her career makes sense. It was working for her, so why would she question it? When it became harmful for her, due to certain circumstances is when I think she truly grasped what loving yourself and having a genuine relationship with yourself is and means. We all experience this growth one way or another. She just happened to receive it on a grander scale. In front of the entire world. She was humiliated and branded a liar. Her worst nightmare came to fruition. Her ideology crashed and burned right in front of her. She had to take time to herself to rebuild what she knew to be true. She was misinformed about public perception and how she should act and be in order to avoid scandals. Growing up in the Country genre reinforced her self-taught ideology and it’s why she held onto it for so long. It was all she knew.
At 26, I connect more than ever to Swift's overwhelming feeling of not being enough. Not being pretty enough, or cool enough, or doubting my talents and creative abilities. Then feeling the need for outside validation because I lack the belief system within myself. Swift’s openness in this documentary on how “most days [she’s] okay. But then sometimes...it just gets loud…” gave me a whole new level of respect for her, because I’ve been there. I know, on a smaller scale, how easily bad days come around, and sometimes it’s hard to shake them off.
Swift, in my opinion, has always been one of the more grounded artists. She's never forgotten how she got her start, consistently shows up for her fans in new and creative ways, and continually gives back in any way that she can. This documentary gave me a new insight into Taylor Swift: the human being. Becoming a fan at a young impressionable age, Swift helped me accept myself. The way she acted, the way she dressed, and the types of songs she was writing were different from other artists at the time. As I’ve continued to follow her career, through college and beyond, she has not changed in the sense of her nature or her artistry. This documentary not only reinforced what I already knew, about her creative talents and generous heart but reminded me why I’ve always been a fan.