When it comes to pop stars, Taylor Swift isn’t the most forthcoming. While her fans love to read into her every song lyric, she never actually reveals who her music is about. Unlike Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga, her social media presence is pretty demure, mostly reserved for photos of her cats and promotional material.
So the announcement of a new Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, was a big deal. While the film will begin streaming on January 31, it was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last Thursday.
Here are the six biggest revelations from the movie.
In New York City, the outside of Swift’s apartment – her “front yard”, as she calls it – is permanently surrounded by paparazzi ready to snap photos of her to sell to tabloids. But in Miss Americana the singer acknowledges that she’ll no longer look at the images posted of her online daily.
“I tend to get triggered by something – whether it’s a picture of me where I feel like my tummy looked too big, or someone said that I looked pregnant or something – and that will trigger me to just starve a little bit. Just stop eating.”
Swift goes on to reveal that she struggled with an eating disorder for years, often feeling as if she was going to pass out during her concerts. She made a list of everything she put in her mouth each day, exercised constantly and got down to a size double zero. (She’s now a size six, she says.)
“I would have defended it to anybody who said ‘I’m concerned about you’,” she says. “I don’t think you know you’re doing that when you’re doing it gradually. There’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting.
“Because if you’re thin enough, then you don’t have that [butt] that everybody wants, but if you have enough weight on you to have an [butt], then your stomach isn’t flat enough,” she says. “It’s all just [expletive] impossible.”
Now, whenever she has the urge to judge her body harshly, she practises positive self-talk: “Nope. We don’t do that anymore. We do not do that anymore because it’s better to think you look fat than to look sick.”
After years of keeping her political beliefs to herself for fear of isolating her fan base, Swift first voiced support for a candidate during the 2018 midterms.
The film shows her weighing whether or not to speak out against Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn, and those closest to her fret that it will put her in physical danger.
During a heated family discussion, her father points out that old-school performers like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope never talked about politics. Swift, her eyes filling with tears, tells him she’s “sad” she didn’t publicly oppose Trump two years ago.
“But I can’t change that,” she says. “I need to do this. I need you to, Dad, to forgive me for doing it – because I’m doing it.”
Just as she’s about to press send on an Instagram post about Blackburn, her team is still concerned about the impact. Her publicist warns Swift that “the president could come after you”. “[Screw] that,” Swift replies. “I don’t care.”
As a kid, Swift says, she kept stacks of journals. But she didn’t just write in them with sparkly gel pens.
At one point, she used an actual brass quill and ink.
And what did she use the antiquated writing tool for? To write about her “moral code” – “the need to be thought of as good”.
“It was all I wrote about. It was all I wanted,” she admits in the movie. “It was the complete and total belief system I subscribed to as a kid.”
She lived for “pats on the head”, she says – any praise that she was doing a good job on her homework or her songwriting. She only found fulfilment through external approval, and subsequently became “the person who everyone wanted me to be”.
That’s why public criticism – She’s annoying! She’s gone through so many boyfriends! She’s only friends with models! – has been difficult for her to overcome.
“When people decided I was wicked and evil and conniving and not a good person, that was the one that I couldn’t really bounce back from,” she says, “because my whole life was centred around it.”
In 2015, Colorado DJ David Mueller sued Swift, claiming he lost his radio station job after her security team accused him of groping the singer. Swift countersued, alleging assault and detailing the inappropriate touching. She won and was awarded the amount she sought: US$1 in damages. But the emotional impact the verdict had on her was far more consequential.
“I was unspeakably and unchangeably different after the sexual assault trial,” Swift says in the film.
“No man, or organisation, or my family, will ever understand what that was like.”
Despite winning the case, Swift said she didn’t feel any sense of victory “because the process is so dehumanising”. And in her situation, she had seven witnesses and a photo backing up her claim. “What happens when you get raped and it’s your word against his?” she asks.
Swift has dated a handful of famous men – Jake Gyllenhaal, Harry Styles, Tom Hiddleston – who have also made their way into her music. But when she started dating actor Joe Alwyn in late 2016, she liked that he had more of a “wonderful, normal, balanced kind of life.”
His vibe put her at ease during a difficult time in her life, she said, when she was facing Kanye West-fuelled backlash. (Remember the “I made that b**** famous” line from his 2016 jam Famous? Yeah, it was about her.)
Alwyn barely appears in the documentary, though. At one point, she kisses his hand during a car ride. She also runs into his arms after a concert, and the couple sweetly drape their arms over each other’s shoulders as they wander around backstage.
While Swift takes excellent care of her feline children – she even feeds one at her dinner table as she eats alongside the animal – she isn’t ready for kids of her own just yet. At 29, she says, part of her feels “57 years old” – but another part is “definitely not ready to have kids.”
Case in point? She recalls visiting a friend who just had a baby and hearing how the newborn’s schedule consists of sleeping, eating and being changed. Swift’s response? “So it’s like a Tamagotchi,” she says with a smile.