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Revisiting ‘Be the Cowboy’ In the Wake of Mitski’s Arrival

Three years since her last album, Japanese-American artist Mitski has finally released a new single titled “Working for the Knife.” Fans were ecstatic for the release, as it means an album and a tour are on the way (her second tour date being in Raleigh, NC).

The song uses “the knife” as a metaphor for the system we live in, as so many other media pieces do. Mitski says the song is about “going from being a kid with a dream, to a grown-up with a job, and feeling that somewhere along the way you got left behind,” a feeling I’m sure that some college graduates know all too well.

You can watch the video for the new song here:

In the wake of her arrival, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite Mitski albums: Be the Cowboy

Be the Cowboy is the singer’s fifth studio album, released in 2018. The album includes 14 songs, yet most of which are relatively short, keeping the album very fast-paced; the whole album is only 33 minutes in length.

This album is probably one of Mitski’s more popular albums. Pitchfork named it their favorite album of 2018 (with Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves coming in at number 2, another one of my personal favorites). As much as I hate to say it, some of the songs, including “Nobody,” “Me and My Husband,” and “Washing Machine Heart,” blew up on internet platforms like TikTok, leading some listeners to say users on the platform are trivializing the meanings of the songs.

This album is one of my personal favorite Mitski albums. Not only is it the first album of hers that I listened to all the way through, but it is the album that I have the most memories attached to. Memories ranging from listening to it while driving around with friends to crying on my bathroom floor.

“Geyser.” A stunning opening track. The song starts off with an organ eerily playing as she sings, “you’re my number one, you’re the one I want.” The music then almost glitches as soft piano comes in. The song builds up to the uptempo chorus where she sings, “Though I’m a geyser, feel it bubbling from below, Hear it call, hear it call, hear it call to me, constantly.” Mitski claims that “Geyser” is one of her vaguest songs, hesitating to say what it is about. This, however, does not mean that listeners can not assign their own meaning to it. The most prominent memory I have tied to this song is sitting in the Starbucks drive-thru back home with one of my best friends as this song played in the background. We waited nearly twenty minutes in the line because the franchise’s holiday drinks had just been released and everyone was eager to try them. The car was filled with laughter and the sound of “Geyser” playing through my car’s speakers because my phone broke. It was the only song my phone would allow me to play during our twenty-minute wait. We waited so long listening to the same song on repeat only to be disappointed that the store had run out of their free reusable cups they were giving away with purchases.

“Washing Machine Heart” is the song on this album that I have the most memories tied to. The beat of the song is what immediately drew me in and made me love it. The entrancing beat on top of the opening lyrics “Toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart baby, bang it up inside” as well as proceeding lyrics like “I know who you pretend I am” and “Why not me?” may make one overanalyze things. Still, the song’s fun nature makes one forget about its underlying meaning of being stuck in a cycle, similar to the washing machine she is singing about in the opening line. My favorite memory tied to this song has to be driving around shopping centers with one of my best friends from home with all the windows down and the volume all the way up. Sure, people may think we were annoying, but we didn’t care; we were listening to one of our favorite songs as the wind blew in our hair. 

Other honorable mentions include “Two Slow Dancers,” “Pink in the Night,” and “A Pearl.” I have cried to some of these songs plenty of times, so you can only imagine those memories. 

While I am sure I could sit here all day and write about memories I have tied to Mitski and her music, whether they be happy or sad, I will not waste your time. I am glad that “Working for the Knife” has allowed me to revisit one of my favorite, as well as Pitchforks, albums from 2018.

Ava is a freshman at NC State University as a part of the Exploratory Studies program. She is very passionate about Taylor Swift and Harry Styles.
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