The extremely talented songwriter and singer Mitski just released her 6th album, Laurel Hell, featuring 11 songs and spanning 33 minutes. The artist gained major popularity with the 2018 album Be the Cowboy, leaving listeners stunned by her incredible lyricism and raw, unfiltered emotion. Laurel Hell is an exploration of the isolation and exhaustion Mitski experiences from her career, with beautiful imagery of the painful and deep realities of experiencing love, gorgeous vocals, and a surprising synth accompaniment giving the album an 80s feel.
Working For the Knife
The single of the album, “Working for the Knife”, explores Mitski’s relationship with her career, a draining yet rewarding role for the artist. In the song, she explains “I used to think I’d be done by twenty”, speaking of how exhausting and all-consuming being an artist can be. She feels overwhelmed and overworked as she is “dying for the knife”, the stress is actively killing her, and alienating her from the world. Her original goal of storytelling has been misconstrued by the fame, “But nobody cared for the stories I had...” Although she has achieved success and recognition, she feels as if she lost herself within it.
The Only Heartbreaker
In “The Only Heartbreaker”, she sings about being the “bad guy” in the relationship and feeling as if their partner can do no wrong. This causes the speaker to feel passive in the relationship, unable to have conversations about their emotions but rather assuming the role to keep the relationship going. Being the “bad guy” becomes their sole identity, isolating them from the rest of the world. This song also speaks to Mitski’s growing discomfort with fame, shown through its exploration of disconnection and isolation, and the emotional responsibility feels to her fans as a singer, in taking breaks she feels she is letting her fans down, being labeled “the bad guy”.
Love Me More
“Love Me More”, the seventh song on the album, shows how the need for public approval and love is exhausting for her. This love is also surface level, as listeners do not care for Mitski herself, but her artistry. But at the same time, this love and attention are essential for her success, as they “Fill me up, fill me full up”. She is incomplete without care from others, reliant on it for her career and as a consequence, her self worth. In the song, she also longs for normalcy and compares her life with that of other people, wondering “how they keep it up”. Her perception of love and her reception of it is different from her peers. Love is transactional and fickle, something that must be earned and worked for. The type of love described in the song is one of dependence and reliance on her partner or fans, but she is unable to love herself.
Mitski’s music is art, vulnerable and raw, but simultaneously exploited for a profit, a product. She says in an interview with Vulture, “You can’t be a human being. You have to be a product that’s being bought and sold and consumed, and you have to perceive yourself that way in order to function.” This dehumanization from the industry is the root of her struggle; her art is an outlet but also income, removing her identity and autonomy, stating, “I am a foreigner to myself now.”
Laurel Hell is truly a masterpiece and an incredible album showcasing Mitski’s rare talent of storytelling. You can listen to Laurel Hell here.
Image by Ebru Yildiz.