Taylor Swfit’s documentary gives us a terrifying insight into

Reading her diaries; scrawled with the lyrics and dreams of a precocious teenager about to become the youngest artist to win a grammy for Album of the Year; she admits she always wanted one thing: to be liked.

In the opening minutes of Miss Americana, Taylor Swift’s Netflix documentary which dropped over the weekend, the superstar lets us in on perhaps the most revealing statement the next one hour and twenty-five minutes will unearth.

This is not shocking. Performers, after all, live on applause. They’re Tinkerbell; sinking or soaring on whether you like them or not. A boo or a clap can mean everything.

But what quickly emerges from Miss Americana, is not a treatise on what it means to be a performer; but what it means to be a female performer.

For women: if you’re not likeable; you’re nothing.

Taylor’s early career was heavily marketed on this likeability. She was the definition of a nice girl; romantic ringlets, babydoll dresses and cowboy boots; a sweet-as-apple-pie-girl-next-door demeanour. Yet sinister reasoning lay behind this facade.

Taylor relays what record execs said to her at the time; nice girls don’t speak their mind, nice girls put up and shut up. Just smile, don’t have an opinion. Being liked as a female artist meant not stepping over the line.

The cautionary tale highlighted in Miss Americana is the fall of the Dixie Chicks; the all-female country group that were all-but blacklisted in America over their comments against the Iraq war and then President Bush in 2003. News footage of the time shows them being described by one Fox News Anchor as “callow, foolish women who deserve to be slapped around.” Taylor would have been 14 at the time.

It’s shocking to see such blatant misogyny on screen; but it serves a purpose – a reminder that the spotlight is starkly different for women – and that this antiquated opinion is not dead, but simmering scarily beneath the surface and – more terrifyingly still- ingrained in most of us. As Taylor says herself, she had to unlearn misogyny, she had to reject the sexism that so many of us unwittingly adopt.

Throughout Miss Americana, we see Taylor wrestling with this core idea of being liked and how significant that is for women. It’s little wonder that her feud with Kanye takes centre stage; a pivotal moment in her late teens where she felt rejected by the industry, where she reveals she thought the boos for Kanye were for her. She thought no one liked her. Then, as she fought back- reinvented herself in an attempt to prove she belonged- she was stung again by the second wave of Kanye backlash – when the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty went viral.

“Do you know how many people need to be tweeting they hate you, for it to go viral?” she asks.

“It gets….loud” she adds, tearfully.

Taylor Swift’s likeability has been a running theme of her career. For so long, she has been bizarrely divisive. Opinion pieces have dedicated miles of copy to whether we like her or not-she’s long been a celebrity many love to hate. But none of us can really say why.

Was she simply too successful? Was she – ironically – too nice?

What does that say about us, that a young woman owning her career so powerfully is so grating to us?

Not only does Miss Americana show the emotional toll this takes on Taylor; the eating disorder, the year in hiding, the feeling of being muzzled; it lays bare how spectacularly gendered this vein of hatred is.

It’s fitting that the documentary follows Taylor from Reputation – the album and tour that saw her battle the haters in black sequins and angry lyrics; killing nice Taylor and giving her a fury we had rarely seen – to Lover, the pastel-hued pop album that is the perfect marriage of her previous saccharine image, and lyrics that show she’s done being muzzled.

There’s the LGBTQ anthem in ‘You Need To Calm Down’ but there’s also ‘The Man’- a song that so perfectly articulates Taylor’s frustration with the double standards that pervade her public treatment.

“They’d say I hustled…put in the work…they wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve. What I was wearing, if I was rude, could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves”

If she were a man, she sings, she’d be ‘The Man’ – because what would be praised in a he is condemned in a she. She elaborates on this idea throughout the documentary; that women need constant reinvention; that they must be bold- but only in a way that audiences find acceptable- sexually appealing, but not slutty, successful- but not braggy. Male artists are not trapped within this impossible remit.

Because male artists do not succeed on their likeability- just their talent. Women- artists or not- must always be palatable. Successful women have a shelf-life; we can only permit them so much glory before the backlash begins.

Miss Americana shows Taylor is sick of the restrictive parameters set out for women in the spotlight. She defies her advisors and gets political – breaking her silence and following in the footsteps of the Dixie Chicks- with thankfully less damaging consequences. She begins using her voice for what she cares about – like LGBTQ rights- and stops caring if twitter thinks she’s over- if the industry doesn’t think she’s ‘likeable.’

‘We shouldn’t be condemned for being multi-faceted,” she says, “There’s no such thing as a slut, or a bitch, there’s not bossy, there’s just being a boss.”

Taylor Swift isn’t worried about being nice anymore.

She’s too busy being unapologetically talented and successful… whether we like it or not.

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