DDressed in a stuffy, puffy white dress, Mitski holds her microphone high above her head, lowering it very deliberately towards her. The song she sings is called Working for the Knife, from her recent sixth album, Laurel Hell – his most commercial release yet, full of lush 80s productions and e-drama. And the microphone is a dagger aimed at Mitski’s soft parts.
Working for the Knife can be read as a general cry of defeat in the face of dehumanizing work. Specifically, it relays Mitski’s own internal struggles as an artist. In 2019, the American singer-songwriter decided to quit music after one last gig, exhausted to the point of disassociating herself from grueling touring and the expectation that as a faith-based singer, nothing in her life could be lost. was forbidden.
After stepping down, a case of force majeure pushed this intense and thoughtful performer – it’s no exaggeration to call Mitski a Lana Del Rey or Taylor Swift for attentive and eager outsiders – back in the ring. Due to his record label, one more album was probably the main driver. Then she had an unexpected TikTok pandemic.
Mitski’s 2018 song Nobody — a cry of existential loneliness on par with the Smiths — found her desperately opening windows to hear “people noises.” Although she wrote the song about a thoughtless solo vacation in Kuala Lumpur, TikTok unexpectedly made Nobody a lockdown anthem, introducing her to a new generation of fans. The audience bellows him so loudly that he drowns out Mitski, which happens a lot tonight.
Turns out, she also found it surprisingly hard to stop turning her thoughts into melodies. So Working for the Knife – and the album that surrounds it – is a brilliant document of deep ambivalence and abject abandon. In that it goes far beyond its reluctant remit, it’s a close cousin to Charli XCX’s latest pop bomb. Accident; there are also shades of Marvin Gaye Here my dear, a sharp double album addressed to his ex-wife, which would receive half of the royalties. Mitski, it seems, has accepted his fate: “to die for the knife.” At the end of the song, she collapsed on the floor.
It has become routine to complain about artists who claim to be famous. But in Mitski’s case, it’s just the latest chapter in a long, seething existential melodrama, in which this artist coldly questions individuality again and again: who to be, how to be, and, frighteningly sometimes, whether to be at all. All of these extremes of emotion are squeezed into taut songs and artful performances that draw on mime, Antonin Artaud’s theater of cruelty and the ideas of RSC director Peter Brook.
This daughter of a Japanese mother and an American father moved around a lot as a child, spending time in Turkey, China, Malaysia, the Czech Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, changing codes as she went. . If army kids and third culture kids had an unofficial Poet Laureate, it would be Mitski. But her work speaks intimately to anyone whose inner world differs from that of the dominant culture on the outside. Her 2016 song Your Best American Girl — a euphoric mid-series twist — confronts Mitski’s failed efforts to override upbringing differences. “Your mother wouldn’t approve of the way my mother raised me,” she sings bitterly, “But I think so.”
Tonight, Mitski’s stylized performance goes deep and deep into her back catalog, as if she’s still saying goodbye. A paper airplane replaces the real thing on 2013’s deep cut Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart. a touch also a lot tonight. It’s a godsend for longtime fans: what devotee wouldn’t want to hear Drunk Walk Home from 2014, the first time Mitski sang “Fuck you and your money?”
But that leaves less room for his other killer moves, like the more hypnotic Laurel Hell tracks where Mitski gets wild and menacing, inviting trouble. He is an artist whose stylistic voice only grows stronger with each record.
A white door stands at the back of the stage, teasing some of those darker themes of Laurel Hell. But this door is never open; Mitski just raps over it with his knuckles on one song, the dark knockabout pop of Should’ve Been Me.
This door can still give way over time; Mitski is not retiring. After supporting Lorde on tour in 2017, she’s set to perplex more stadiums with Harry Styles later this year. “See you next time,” she says, parting ways.