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Courtesy of Dead Oceans

August 26, 2018

TEST SPIN | Mitski — Be the Cowboy

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It’s been two years since Mitski graced us with Puberty 2, a deep, thoughtful and powerful album that was so mesmerizing words will never do it justice. The Japanese-American artist has grown increasingly louder over the years, and now with her newest album, Be the Cowboy, she is louder than ever, making listeners feel emotions they didn’t know they were capable of.

In the past, Mitski has consistently kept a rather slow, mostly acoustic and melancholic sound (save for the few bursts of lyrical and emotional impacts, i.e. the chorus in “Your Best American Girl”). In addition to keeping a consistent sound, Mitski keeps her lyrical style the same: emotional, deeply sad and lonesome lyrics that very often hit home and have listeners in tears just one song into her albums.

Mitski has never been scared to bare it all and be vulnerable, because it’s human. Women are too often told that being powerful and independent means that we have to meet certain superhuman expectations, such as immunity to negative emotions and heartbreak, as well as coldheartedness, all while being sexy.

The truth is that no one meets these expectations, and Mitstki has been telling us all that this is unrealistic. We will get rejected, cry, feel lonely, miss people, miss places, feel inadequate and lost and we will want to go back to the familiar, safe feelings of childhood when everything was soft and simple. Mitski beautifully preaches that these are all perfectly normal emotions and accepting ourselves at our most vulnerable is what being powerful means.

Back in May, Mitski released the first single and music video off Be the Cowboy, “Geyser.” The sudden opening organ chord in the song was enough to give me chills. Already, I knew this album would not disappoint. When Mitski began to sing the words in the first verse “You’re my number one/ You’re the one I want/ and I’ve turned down every hand that has beckoned me to come,” my goosebumps intensified. Mitski has a way to make seemingly common experiences into something beautiful, intimate and personal. We know everyone experiences heartbreak and rejection, but nobody reminds us how we feel it as well as Mitski consistently does.

The “Geyser” music video is simple yet hypnotizingly well done. Truly, all Mistki does is run on the beach then roll around in the mud and sand. What gives the music video life and meaning, however, lies in the music and lyrics. It’s sad. We’re all sad, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Mitski shows us that it’s actually beautiful but it is still sadness.

The second single and music video off Be the Cowboy was “Nobody,” received far more attention than “Geyser” and was named “Best New Track” by Pitchfork. “Nobody” is a bittersweet, beautifully written love letter to loneliness. Mitski acknowledges that loneliness is one of the worst emotions that we can possibly feel, but also the most absurd because the one person that is always with us is ourselves. In the music video, Mitski is all alone and yearns for someone to spend time with. Immediately, the opening words of the song have an unexplainable impact: “My God, I’m so lonely/ so I open the window/ to hear sounds of people.” Throughout the video, we see Mitski trying to find someone else to be with besides herself. Eventually, she notices writing on her hand but it is so small she needs a magnifying glass to read it. Upon looking closely, she finds that the word “You” is written on it seven times. “Nobody” is perhaps the boldest track on Be the Cowboy, for Mitski breaks away from slow, sad, melancholic harmonies and explores a more energetic, danceable beat that’s perfect to dance to alone.

“Pink in the Night,” the 10th track in the album, is very similar to some of the songs found in some of Mitski’s previous albums. It features the most familiar sounds in the whole album along with Mitski’s trademark themes, unrequited love and regret. The lyrics “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, I love you, I love you’” present an emotional climax in the chorus-less song capable of bringing listeners to tears, even if they are not experiencing heartbreak at that very moment. “Pink in the Night” immerses listeners in a heartbreaking experience. Mitski really had me crying over a breakup that I didn’t experience, which goes to show how powerful her music is.

To say that the main theme of Be The Cowboy is summarized by the three singles released before the album — “Geyser, ” “Nobody” and “Two Slow Dancers” —  is accurate. “Geyser” introduces yearning and unrequited love, “Nobody” is all about loneliness and learning to find oneself in melancholy and “Two Slow Dancers” is about feelings of nostalgia for better, sweeter and younger times we thought to have forgotten. The slow, exposed song is the last track on the album. The isolated chords and Miski’s sad voice make the song the perfect track with thich to end the album. I knew before the release of Be the Cowboy that “Two Slow Dancers” would be the perfect last track on the album: the one that leaves you in tears when you listen to the album late at night and makes you think about all the mistakes you ever made — the one that absolutely destroys you. However, once the song is over, along with the album, you realize that memories, as painful as they may be, are worth hanging on to and that he only only consistent element of those memories is you.

Overall, Mitski ventured out of her comfort zone of sad heartbreak ballads. In Be the Cowboy, she made upbeat songs that still rang true with her signature empowering themes, and it was beautifully done. I didn’t think that she would ever be able to top her 2016 album Puberty 2, but she did. She is selling out shows faster than ever (her Brooklyn release show sold out within five minutes) and is delivering her message now more than ever. She’s not singing about being a powerful woman the way Beyonce or other female artists do. She isn’t saying that to be powerful one must be completely immune to sadness and loneliness and “glow up.” It’s okay to be messy and sad, but since nobody will stay by your side the way you do, accept everything you feel because it’s normal. That’s what being powerful is.

Viri Garcia is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at vgarcia@cornellsun.com