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Be The Cowboy by Mitski is The Ultimate Breakup Album

Sometimes you just need a soundtrack for the weeks you’re going to spend eating ice cream in bed and re-watching old episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and indie musician Mitski is going to give you that in the 2018 album Be The Cowboy. The album explores the landscape of heartbreak from the adrenaline ups and downs to the denial to the anxiety and newness of singlehood. In the concept of the album, Mitski stated the title comes from a personal joke she would tell herself to “be the cowboy you wish to see in the world.” In other words, when faced with heartbreak and despair, ask yourself what a stoic, Clint Eastwood character would do. What would a strong white guy do? It’s all about exploring the parts of yourself that are broken in the ways that feel safe, exploring vulnerability when it feels strange, unfamiliar, and scary to do so after your heart has been broken and your life has changed. The only way to explore that vulnerability without veering into cliché and running your emotions in circles is to, well, be a goddamn cowboy.

“Nobody,” the leading single, is a love song appropriately addressed to no one at all. The very first line proclaims “My god, I’m so lonely.” I must confess I listened to “Nobody” a great many times wandering through crowded parts of New York and longing for company and individual intimacy. Mitski echoes “nobody, nobody, nobody” over and over again on the fade out of the song, and the repetition is beautiful and extraordinarily affecting. The thing about breakups that Be The Cowboy captures so poignantly is that desperation. There’s that desire to fill the hole inside of you, and that emptiness that you eventually just have to sit with. And “Nobody” revels in the emptiness. It turns it into something joyful and incredible. Just listen to it. And watch the gorgeously surreal video.

Mitski in the music video for “Nobody.”

That desperation in the repeated words of “Nobody” is present again in “Pink In The Night” as well, a hauntingly beautiful track about loss and time in which Mitski cries again “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you” and “Can I try again, try again, try again.” It is fucking devastating. One of my favorite tracks is the saccharine “Me and My Husband” which brings me back to the fantasy of commitment in a relationship that’s going south. You hold onto having a husband, not a boyfriend, having someone to be by your side through your whole life, and how painful that denial is to cling onto in the wake of your relationship crumbling. “When he walks in / I am loved / I am loved,” Mitski cries, and it breaks my fucking heart as I think about my own struggle to reconcile how badly I want to be loved and taken care of with the reality that I have to make it on my own now.

Promotional image of Mitski.

But in a later track, “Come Into The Water,” Mitski meditates on being able to love again, and on the fear of making the first move. This is one of the songs that hits me the hardest. There’s something about the intimacy of the moment in the song. There’s such fear in her voice, mixed with such the shaky hope and anxiety. Somehow, in a song that’s less than four minutes long, Mitski conveys an entire emotional experience that’s almost impossible to put into words. Be The Cowboy proves to me that music can tell show the poignance of an inner experience that’s difficult to articulate. 

If you need some hope after losing your high school boyfriend, seeing your campus crush with someone else, or just sulking in the wake of your latest Tinder fiasco, look no further than Be The Cowboy. And then go back through Mitski’s discography and listen to Bury Me At Makeout Creek, Puberty 2, Retired from Sad New Career in Business, and Lush. By then you’ll probably be so wrapped up in the production of Mitski’s music you will have forgotten about the heartbreak altogether.

Emma Margaretha

New School '22

Emma Margaretha--whose real, public name is Emma Jones, but someone at the University of New Hampshire already has that name on Her Campus, so what can you do--is a student at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at The New School where she is pursuing a degree in Literary Studies. She is a born and raised New Yorker and an avid reader. Emma writes about film and television, personal health, and navigating our tech-fused social sphere with the critical eye of a jobless humanities major.
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