Exhaustion and loneliness take the shape of something bold and elegant on Be the Cowboy, the new album from Mitski. The playful title is an ode to iconically lonesome film Cowboys, and provides a platform that Mitski uses to unpick love and longing in many forms. We already knew Mitski Miyawaki was all kinds of versatile from her previous five albums, but this release validates that truth. Disco? Check. Country? Definitely. Pop? Literally always. Through them all, and more, Mitski confronts her solitude, her yearning for answers – and for another. Why has fame not brought promised happiness? And if not fame, then what will it take to make her happy? The confessional and confrontational tracks are strung together with Mitski’s wistful vocals, cascading across tracks and through genres. The shininess of pop, marries with nihilism’s cynical despair and, in case it wasn’t clear, I’m really into it.
The record cover focusses on her cosmetically blackened eyes, red lips, and a hand adjusting her lash with a tweezer – perhaps a nod to the narcissistic reflections of her own anxieties amplified by fame. The music video for ‘Nobody’ juxtaposes a primary coloured set, pretty similar to a doll’s house, with peculiar imagery, and notes repeating the song title. It finishes by panning out, exposing cameras and a set. The video represents the conflict between the pristine image of fame and her inner turmoil. Be the Cowboy extends this theme, whilst also narrating the impact this has had on her relationships, and on herself.
Mitski has matured, a lot. In the process, she’s gone backwards to go forwards, reverting to keys, her original instrument. Yet, I don’t mourn guitar-heavy sounds which dominated Puberty 2 and Bury Me At Makeout Creek. Her instrumental choice is a fine fit for the content, being more inward looking, whilst also being present in a different way than before. There’s an element of certainty that we’ve not experienced until now. Be the Cowboy is about her. Most specifically, it’s about her relationship with self within a framework of fame. This is all she ever wanted, or so she thought.
Puberty 2 was received so well that Mitski has been touring non-stop ever since, headlining shows as well as opening for The Pixies and Lorde. Following show after show, she has been whittled down, not sure how much she has left to give, landing her in a pretty nihilistic state of mind. The tracks are about how being someone, at times, feels like being no one. The first track, ‘Geyser’, previously released as a single, establishes this theme. The vocals are isolated, as was the singer. She ditches her classic layered track for a sound that better communicates her position. As with the rest of the set, it is like an excerpt from her diary.
Previous albums have told tales of the woes of unrequited love and the financial burden of trying to make it in the arts. Here, sheer physical and mental exhaustion take their place. Though the downfalls of fame is not something most can relate to, she makes it so. Most (sadly) can relate to loneliness, to never feeling enough; it’s poetry, and it makes my heart ache.
In ‘Remember My Name’, Mitski pleads: “I gave too much of my heart tonight, can you come to where I’m staying, and make some extra love?” Following: “How many stars must I hang around my neck?”, Mitski is questioning what it will take to feel complete. All in all, the album is Miyawaki’s way of kicking back at never feeling enough, simultaneously venting her frustration at the reality of fame.
Her sentiments, and the interwoven genres that carry them to us, are entirely accessible. No pretension, no riddles, they aren’t necessary; she’s clearly a genius. As each track unfolds, so does another insight to her inner workings over the past two years. She’s mastered accessing her vulnerability, and simultaneously seeming intimidatingly powerful.
If you’re a fan of Mitski, you won’t be disappointed, this album perfectly progresses her musical index. If you aren’t, give it a go for the outstanding pop songs alone. Then go and buy her four other albums.