Taylor Swift is a big sister I would love to have — and to hate
Just a few days after “Miss Americana” aired, all the American sources I’m reading were filled with critique, praise, and even wittier critique all over it. I’m new to the fandom but I know it’s a long story between her and the press — they dismantle everything she does with dedication, from outfits to her way to support LGBT people’s rights.
And I totally get it — Taylor Swift is irritating. And there is so much to unpack in this irritation.
There is an easy way to explain it: she’s a woman, she’s blonde and feminine, but successful in her own right and the patriarchy just can’t take it — which is exactly the route which the documentary is taking.
But there is so much more in that uncanny valley between sincerity and calculation, openness and marketing.
The documentary, which is seemingly dedicated to Swift admitting to her shortcomings, letting go of her habit of people-pleasing and establishing her own will over the men in her vicinity doesn’t show a single frame in which she would make somebody angry.
Nope, not a hint. Nothing where she would be less than likable.
There are plenty of these scenes in the Lady Gaga documentary, instead — she’s shown scolding her employees about a wrong fabric on her jacket, angry on a parking lot, or stealthy covering other CD records with her own in a supermarket. We have evidence that this only makes the character more relatable, but Swift won’t even take a risk.
Taylor’s “power moves” with changing labels or strategic collabs are widely discussed in the press and mentioned in her own songs — but the documentary only provides us with cats and teenage diaries. All the parts of her character that don’t belong to the “good girl” are offscreen, to the point where it gets almost comical.
If you watched this documentary while wondering if celebrities are actually humans, you would leave it as confused as you walked into it.
In a world where your most glorified and lamented trauma would be the fact that Kanye West took a mic from you, where fans’ and haters’ lives all revolve around you like planets around the Sun — would you have enough strength to not take yourself seriously? Would you have enough courage to examine all the gifts you’ve been given, the privileges you’ve enjoyed yourself before pointing out that your neighbor’s lawn is greener? You should be, because if you don’t, every attempt to be publicly honest shows the lack of self-awareness that is genuinely baffling.
There is even a special word for people like that in Russian: незамутненный. Directly translated as “unstained” or “unperturbed”, it describes an honest-to-god, open-hearted person who is genuinely or purposefully clueless about the fact that other people have problems too. It’s an emotionally charged term, carrying a mix of envy, irritation, and awe that the purity of any kind still inspires in us.
Because the truth is this childish self-centeredness and unfiltered ambition are just as priceless as they are irritating.
And I would genuinely hate those traits, but I also wish I could have her and her songs around when I was a lonely teen growing up in a Russian town. I wish somebody would sing “Someday I’ll be big enough that you can’t hit me / And all you ever gonna be is mean” when I was bullied by classmates.
I wish I could see an example of a young girl who is given a nine million square kilometers of space to express herself, who sings about heartbreak like it’s legitimately the most important thing in the world when my own teenage feelings were denied existence. It would be enraging — but I really needed to know that it’s possible at all.
“Miss Americana” was like catching up with that imaginary big sister once again, and the irritation it provoked was healing in nature.
Because right now, I really needed to see a grown businesswoman who accidentally chokes with tears in the middle of the sentence in a room full of people as she speaks of something important to her — just like I do. I needed to see a successful adult who keeps trying to learn to assert herself — just like I do. I needed to see an ambitious perfectionist who allows others to see her weaknesses and doesn’t die of embarrassment immediately after that — just like I wish I could.
It might be that the true value of “Miss Americana” is how it shows that among other things, women are allowed to be self-centered and irritating, too.
And what can you possibly do with us, anyway?