After two years of radio silence, Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski has triumphantly returned to the public ear with a new single and tour announcement.
In 2019, Mitski ended her 5-year streak of non-stop touring and deleted her social media to take a break from music indefinitely. Nearly two years later, her accounts were reactivated to announce the release of a new single, “Working for the Knife,” and new tour dates in North America and Europe.
The single and new tour had virtually no publicity. A teaser for the single was posted a day before the video’s release on October 5th. Two weeks later, the music video for “Working for the Knife” has nearly 2.4 million views on YouTube. Mitski’s North American and European tours were announced on the same day as the single’s release. Nearly four days later, the North American tour tickets sold out as soon as they were available for purchase.
It’s safe to say that fans can’t get enough of Mitski. While her sound has evolved from devastating ballads to angsty punk-rock to energetic pop, what unites Mitski’s discography (and avid fan-base) is her brilliant lyricism. NPR calls her the “poet laureate of young adulthood” as she effortlessly captures the whirlwind of anger, yearning and self-doubt that comes with growing up. Her songs are romantic, typically revolving around an undefined subject that Mitski obsesses over, adores and sometimes hates. On the surface, her discography seems dedicated to a lover but songs like “I Will” and “Geyser” are actually dedicated to herself and her work as a songwriter.
Mitski has been praised over and over again for her songwriting abilities. After self-releasing her debut and sophomore albums in college, she garnered critical acclaim with the release of her third album, “Bury Me at Makeout Creek.” The release of her fourth album, “Puberty 2,” in 2016 solidified her as a lyricism powerhouse — a songwriter that is here to stay. With her growing popularity, she was invited on tour with alt-rock band The Pixies and pop idol Lorde in 2017. Her latest album, “Be the Cowboy,” was named 2018 album of the year by prestigious music magazines like Pitchfork and Vulture.
Mitski has a reputation to uphold and she didn’t disappoint with this new single.
The “Working for the Knife” music video opens with the sound of Mitski’s spurs clinking as she begrudgingly walks to a performance hall. Donning a black cowboy hat, reminiscent of her “Be the Cowboy” album, she starts to sing and takes a drag from an imaginary cigarette. She moves in a heavily choreographed way — inspired by the post-war Japanese Butoh dance — and jerkily removes her cowboy hat. Mitski is no longer “being the cowboy,” a performance persona that she crafted for her latest album. Now, the question is: Who is she? What will this new era of Mitski look like?
She whirls and stamps around the empty chairs of the auditorium, lamenting “I always knew the world moves on / I just didn’t know it would go on without me,” a devastating reference to her time out of the spotlight over the past two years. She wails and wishes she was “making things too ... but nobody cares for the stories [she] had.” Her lyrics describe her endless devotion to “the knife” which she works, lives and dies for. The knife, dangerous yet powerful, alludes to her addiction to creativity, the craft of songwriting and fame.
After the song ends and we hear the applause from an imaginary crowd, the viewer is left to hear her awkwardly pounding her feet and panting as her dancing turns from structured to manic and wild. She throws herself onto the floor, harming herself and smiles genuinely for the only time in the video. Even without the presence of a crowd to perform for, Mitski still has a masochistic obsession with her work.
Breaking her hiatus, Mitski will sing for millions of fans on tour and inevitably work for the knife.
Album: “Working for the Knife” single
Label: Dead Oceans
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Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5