With the release of Be the Cowboy on the 17th, it seemed necessary to discuss Mitski as a self-made, feminist artist, and a voice for Asian-American women.
I first discovered Mitski’s song “Townie” when I was seventeen, and was shocked to hear something so closely parallel my high school experience, with lines like “We’ve tried hungry, and we’ve tried full, but nothings seems enough”. I kept listening to her and felt like I was listening to my own unarticulated voice. Not once was I disappointed.
Mitski started studying classical music in middle school and began writing her own music in her late teens, which continued into her education. She first emerged in the indie rock scene with her self-released album Lush in 2012 while she was still studying music at Purchase College. Bury Me at Makeout Creek, released in 2014, established her as an evocative lyricist with a passion for playing guitar, and was widely acclaimed by critics. Now with her fifth album Be the Cowboy, Mitski has developed a tone that is unique from her other works, but still held together with candid poetry and emotional vocalization.
This album definitely deserves a few listens to allow it to properly wash over so listeners can absorb the nuances in and between her lyrics. There are a lot of shorter songs that read like poetry, specifically “Pink in the Night” where her voice comes down through large, cinematic instrumentations like a goddess descending from heaven. However, Mitski would not describe herself in this way, or anything close to it.
In an interview with Public Theater, Mitski said the following:
I still have it perceived like, "Oh you’re so lucky to have such a gift," and I’m just like, I made this from scratch....Even as I write my own material… and I’m the one controlling it, there’s still this perception that it comes from somewhere else. It is my voice and yet there’s this perception that I am this fevered priestess, like this vessel, through which a voice comes. I get questions like that, based off the assumption that I don’t know what I’m doing… It speaks to the fact that women or female identifying people truly are seen as not having any autonomy or authority.
Rather than acting as a "fevered priestess", Mitski projects her own voice in her music, and believes that she is her truest self when she performs, not a character. None of her emotions are artificial. And she has taken her raw emotions — the infamous feminine “hysteria” — and turned it into art.
Mitski has turned her vulnerability into profitability, but not in a way that her fans feel tricked by or to which they pander. Mitski voice resonates with young women, and helps us to know we are not alone in feelings of isolation or loneliness, as expressed in her song “Nobody”. The song is deceptively pop, and turns our darker emotions of feeling so lonely — you “open the windows to hear sounds of people” — into something danceable. Other noteworthy tracks include: "A Horse Named Cold Air"; "Old Friend"; "Remember My Name"; and "Blue Light".
So why do we love Mitski so much? (And why do my male counterparts shy away when I blast "Thursday Girl" and cry in my car)?
I believe Mitski taps into the emotional unrest of our generation of women, speaking our own truths before we have a chance to word them. She feels lost in her own body, objectified and disillusioned by the loss of her youthful fantasies about womanhood. Even if you have never been heartbroken, you know her loneliness, desperation, and longing to save herself, which is exactly what Be the Cowboy wants you to understand. We are all our own heroes, riding off into our own sunsets.
Assorted Lyrics from Be the Cowboy...
But it’s just that I fell in love with a war, and nobody told me it ended, and it left a pearl in my head and I roll it around.
How many stars will I need to hang around me before I call it heaven?
"Remember My Name"
Nobody butters me up like you, and nobody f*cks me like me.
Venus planet of love was destroyed by global warming, did it’s people want too much too?
No, I don’t want your pity I just want somebody near me, guess I’m a coward.
I glow pink in the night in my room. I've been blossoming alone over you. And I hear my heart breaking tonight, I hear my heart breaking tonight. Do you hear it too? It's like a summer shower, with every drop of rain singing, ‘I love you.'
"Pink in the Night"
I thought I had traveled a long way, but I circled the same old sin.
"A Horse Named Cold Air"
And the ground has been slowly pulling us back down. You see it on both our skin, we get a few years and then it wants us back.
"Two Slow Dancers"
Hannah Calistri is a second-year anthropology student at NYU and a Copy Editor for The Rational Creature.