Over the course of her previous four records, Mitski Miyawaki has worn her heart on her sleeve with a reckless abandon. She’s offered raw honesty in frank confessionals and outpourings of her innermost thoughts and struggles, and established herself as an inimitable force to be reckoned with.
Possessing the capacity to elicit emotion in a particular way that only Mitski can, 'Be The Cowboy, her fifth album, maintains this, yet there’s a distinct shift. Here, carrying herself with a cowboy’s swagger and sway, Mitski channels a new sense of control.
At the centre of the record stands the figure of a woman, repressed and distant, holding herself with an air of proud detachment but on the brink of an outburst, desperately trying to hold it all together. Through this overarching lens Mitksi expands familiar themes of nostalgic longing and amorous anguish, and explores wide-ranging evocations of desire permeated with an authoritative discernment.
Alongside experimenting with fictional narrative when writing these tracks, the sounds of this record also display a significant evolution. ‘Nobody’, a track that Mitski presented to the world accompanied by the caption “because sometimes you just got to dance the lonely away”, proffers infinitely danceable disco rhythms that sweep you off your feet, and elsewhere upbeat, offbeat tempos surge through ‘Me And My Husband’ with a show-tune joviality.
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The songs offer a wealth of deceivingly buoyant pop sensibilities alongside meditative, melancholic ballads, where previous records proffered swathes of distortion and reverb. “I think I was very conscious of not repeating myself,” Mitski articulates. “It was the first album I’ve made where I was actually cognizant of the fact that people might listen to it, like there were going to be ears.”
“I think for all my past albums I never considered the fact that people would hear it I just made what I felt like I wanted to make. But for this album I was actually thinking oh I need to make sure it’s different from my last one, to contribute something new.”
Born from seeking to reconnect with herself after a certain sense of dissociation caused by relentless touring and the behind-the-scenes labour that this all involves, on this process of trying to write and reengage Mitski expresses “if anything I realised that I can actually craft a song not from this lightning of inspiration.”
“Up ‘til now I’ve been very dependent on a song just coming to me in a way. I did go to music school, I did study composition and with these songs I did sort of rally myself to write even if I was exhausted and try and draw from different parts of myself to write and I didn’t realise I could do that.”
Musing on this aspect of self-discovery through creating the record she adds: “I guess there’s a certain sort of new found confidence through this album, realising that I can actually write in more than one way.”
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There’s a quietly assured serenity that emanates from Mitski, both within the sincere, honest poeticism of her music and in the careful consideration with which she speaks. “I think I’ve sort of gotten where I intended to go in that my goal was to make a living. I never really aspired to be a superstar. I just wanted to be able to make music and not have to do anything else,” she states, pausing a moment to reconsider; “actually you know what maybe I’m not quite there yet ‘cause the reality is that like 85% of my time is spent not making music. I would like to get to a point where I can just make music and make a living, which is nearly impossible”.
‘Geyser’, the opening track to album and the first taster of 'Be The Cowboy' we were offered back in May, presents a woman on the brink of overflowing with desperation and yearning, with the accompanying video encapsulating this as Mitski appears lone on a brooding, windswept beach. “The writing itself came without much of an outside source,” Mitski articulates. “But I think when forming the album in general and producing and making the visuals I started to see a pattern. And after that I started to draw from the movie, and also book, called ‘The Piano Teacher’”.
Detailing how this inspired her and relates to this protagonist within 'Be The Cowboy', Mitski recounts “it’s about this piano teacher who is repressed and icy and isn’t very nice to anyone but is seduced by one of her students. But in a cruel twist she actually opens up her heart to him and is like these are the things I desire but it turns out he’s too young and kind of a little bit stupid and he realises it’s way out of his hands and he can’t handle it. He just turns around and says: you’re disgusting...”
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Mitski narrates emphatically: “I think what I drew from it was the character who has all these desires within her but is incredibly repressed so there’s that. And I also drew a lot of inspiration from Hitchcock’s heroines. I think a lot of Hitchcock’s women are very much portrayed through a somewhat misogynistic, objectifying or maybe just distanced perspective but I kind of thought well what are these characters doing while Hitchcock is not watching them? Who are these women?”
She pauses, continuing: “These beautiful, blonde, cold women who are supposedly mysterious... Well what are they actually thinking? What’s going through their minds? What’s in their lives where the man can’t see?”.
Throughout Mitski’s music amorous expectations and disenchantments have always been pertinently portrayed. 'Be The Cowboy' sees her continue and extend this exploration through depictions of the multi-faceted manifestations love entails, and experiences of the less picturesque and appealing realities this encompasses.
“I mean love is the most powerful thing,” she emphasises. “And also I think I’m getting older and by older I mean I’m 27 so in the grand scheme of things I’m young but in the music industry it makes you feel very old to be a woman over 22 or something. So I’m an adult now in a very youth oriented industry and I think I kind of wanted to show different more grown up aspects of love that is just infatuation or just sort of, oh, I met you in the club and you’re so hot you know and first love is so cool I don’t know how I’m feeling but I think I like you”, she expresses.
“Those are very youthful feelings and they’re completely valid but I think because the industry is so youth oriented that ends up being most songs or at least most songs that sort of get any kind of attention. And I think there’s so much more to love”.
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Within her songs Mitski has always presented an emotive perceptiveness beyond her years, imparting wistful truths with astute wisdom. Further contemplating maturity and relationships, she continues “there’s so many different kinds of love that’s complicated and grown up, and there are long-term relationships and all those problems of growing old with somebody, or being alone but not in a cute youthful way. And I think there’s so much more to love that’s kind of ignored because it doesn’t sell and I wanted to explore more aspects of it and more aspects of kind of grown up love”.
Reconciling personal life with the relative renown of being someone “known” across the world by those listening to and following her music Mitski remarks: “It’s only at shows that it really becomes apparent that strangers know who I am. I try not to go on the Internet any more ‘cause the Internet is another place where I’m known by strangers and it doesn’t feel like a natural thing. It’s hard to process the fact that people I don’t know know me.”
“So I just try to stay balanced by not going on social media as much and just kind of focussing on taking care of the people who are in my life. And then going to shows and playing the show but then making sure that doesn’t follow me around in my daily life.”
And with this kind of calm and contemplative poise that Mitski conveys it’s clear she’s very much someone who takes everything in her stride, whatever comes next.
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'Be The Cowboy' will be released on August 17th.
Words: Kezia Cochrane
Photography: Holly Whitaker
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