Taylor Swift’s new Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, is perhaps our first truly candid link behind-the-scenes of the musician’s personal life. Replete with years of personal struggles including sexual assault (and discovering burritos), Swift spends most of her screen time on a subject no one expected: politics. Over the course of Miss Americana, Swift shares her struggle to be vocal and active in a political space, particularly with the Senate election of Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee.
Miss Americana opens with a scene where we see the superstar tinkering on her piano and reading a journal entry that she wrote when she was 13. “My entire moral code as a kid and now is a need to be thought of as good,” Swift says. “Do the right thing, do the good thing. And obviously I’m not a perfect person by any stretch, but overall the main thing that I always tried to be was a good girl.”
But as the film explores, that moral code got a bit mixed up somewhere along Swift’s meteoric rise to the upper echelons of stardom. Feeling a fulfillment by the approval of her fans, Swift says she “became the person who everyone wanted me to be.” That person, for a long time, avoided any political conflict, sparking millions of fans to ask her the same question: why? In the 2016 presidential election, Swift did not endorse any candidate for office, and many saw this as the public figures silent support for right-wing policies — particularly raised in the South on more traditional values.
“You’ve been very secretive about how you vote, what you’re voting for,” she is asked around the time of Barack Obama‘s re-election campaign against Mitt Romney. “I just figure I’m a 22-year-old singer. I don’t know if people really wanna hear my political views. I think they just kind of want to hear me sing songs about breakups and feelings.”
But in Miss Americana, Swift reveals why she was so “secretive” when it came to politics for most of her career — and it had less to do with Donald Trump than many thought. “Part of the fabric of being a country artist is don’t force your politics on people,” she explains. “Let people live their lives. That is grilled into us.”
She specifically references the Dixie Chicks, who were effectively cancelled for criticizing President George W. Bush at a London concert in 2003. “We’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas,” Natalie Maines said at the time, in response to Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
Swift describes being constantly compared to the Dixie Chicks and their “mistake” through their career. She felt she was implored to seem “nice,” and all that entails. “A nice girl doesn’t force their opinions on people. A nice girl smiles and waves and says ‘thank you.’ A nice girl doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable with her views. I was so obsessed with not getting in trouble. I was like, ‘I’m just not gonna do anything that anyone can say anything about.’”
But that all changed when two big moments collided in Swift’s life: first, she went through a trial for her sexual assault case against DJ David Mueller, which Swift said really changed the way she saw inequality in the U.S. legal system. And second, was a particular poll in the midterm election that triggered those same feelings.
“I just thought to myself, ‘Next time there is any opportunity to change anything, you had better know what you stand for and what you wanna say’,” she says in Miss Americana.
As Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn led Tennessee polls in the 2018 midterm elections, Swift felt a major shift in how she could use her voice. Blackburn stands for everything Swift hates: she opposes Violence Against Women Act, anti-LGBTQ, and doesn’t support nearly any policies that promote gender or sex equality.
In her first break to political silence, Swift posted on Instagram to endorse Blackburn’s Democratic opponent, Phil Bredesen. But it was the heated back-and-forth leading up to her Instagram post that really revealed why Swift remained silent all these years. She’s pictured crying, desperately pleading to her team why Blackburn’s nomination hurts her so much after all she’s gone through.
And her team pushes back: “For 12 years, we’ve not gotten involved in politics or religion,” one of the men says. Another brings up that, from a security standpoint, Swift could be at risk of going against a larger adversary. They tell her to imagine the headline: Taylor Swift Comes Out Against Trump. And that’s when she broke.
“I don’t care if they write that,” she says. “I’m sad that I didn’t two years ago, but I can’t change that. Right now, this is something that I know is right. I need to be on the right side of history.”
From that moment, Swift becomes a force of politics: she is unswayed by her management team’s repeated request that she reconsiders vocalizing her beliefs, but she will no longer budge. “If I get bad press for saying, ‘Don’t put a homophobic racist in office,’ then I get bad press for that,” Swift says.
Although Blackburn was ultimately elected to office in 2018, Swift’s efforts were not for nothing: youth voter turnout in Tennessee increased substantially in 2018 over the previous midterm election in 2014, with over 50,000 last-minute registered young voters, according to the documentary.
“If I get bad press for saying, ‘Don’t put a homophobic racist in office,’ then I get bad press for that,I really don’t care.” Swift says. And in that same turning point, Swift’s mom sees that light that the pop superstar can bring to create real political change. “So for the next two years, we have to build on what started here,” her mom tells her.
In the two years following Swift’s first political endorsement, she released “You Need To Calm Down,” an anthem for LGBTQ+ rights with a message to vote for equality at the end. She’s repeatedly implored young people to vote, and from the looks of it, she has no intention to slow down.
“I feel really good about not feeling muzzled anymore,” she shares near the end of the film. “I’ve educated myself now, and it’s time to take the masking tape off my mouth. I wanna love glitter and also stand up for the double standards that exist in our society. I wanna wear pink and tell you about how I feel about politics. And I don’t think that those things have to cancel each other out.”
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