The Taylor Swift undertaking boosts translucency and also gives credit to privacy — there is little that you do not know about her, and nevertheless, you don’t know her at all. For more than ten years this has been the push-and-pull war central to the performer and songwriter’s art and her image in public, however not so long ago, her self-preserving instincts have been melting a bit.
The two resident “Swifties” of New York Times — the pop music critic Jon Caramanica and the pop music reporter Joe Coscarelli — scrutinized “Miss Americana,” which landed on Netflix Friday, and shared their opinions.
‘Taylor Swift: Miss Americana’ Review: A Star, Surprisingly Alone
Jan. 30, 2020
JON CARAMANICA The only place to start is with the inadequacy of men.
Time and again in “Miss Americana,” you see Taylor Swift in conversation with men or working with them, and you’re left to wonder, what exactly are these guys doing? When she arrives at the studio to work on a song, she already has the bulk of it done. You see flickers of the contributions of Max Martin and Jack Antonoff, her two most accomplished collaborators, but Joel Little, who wrote and produced on four songs on “Lover,” is mostly shown, well, agreeing. The singer Brendon Urie, in the studio, to contribute vocals to “Me!,” basically just giggles and follows orders, thrilled to be there.
One of the goals of “Miss Americana” is to depict Swift as human-sized, which makes the non-balance of these meetings much more confusing. And the editing in these scenes is vicious — when the shot switches from Swift to one of these men, it’s like the sun vanishes behind a cloud.
JOE COSCARELLI Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, who died in 1977! These are literally the (dead, white, male) celebrities that the suits in Swift’s camp are seen comparing her to, complete with the warning that she could halve ticket sales by alienating Republicans. For everyone who griped online for years about Swift’s steadfast political silence, here, on full display, is the why. (In this scene, we watch her cry and push back simultaneously.)
But of course, this being Taylor Swift, one of the savviest chess-playing pop stars who’s ever lived, we’re left to parse not how much of what we’re watching is real — I never got the sense that anything in this film was staged more than any other documentary about a camera-trained performer — but what aspects of it are selective spin. Is this a film full of vérité explanations or carefully edited excuses?