17 Best Mitski Songs
For years, Mitski Miyawaki was someone I looked up to, but had a difficult time listening to. I found so much commonality with her, as an aspiring creative of a similar background, yet her music was often too intense for me to just casually listen to. I knew that, if I really sat down to familiarize myself with her whole discography, I’d probably unravel.
In the end, though, that’s exactly what happened this past year. While attending Outside Lands, the last act I saw was Mitski—the first time I’d ever seen her perform live—and I hate to sound like a trope, but I cried the entire time. It was over an hour of music, but somehow, I had enough tears to last.
There’s a certain power to Mitski that I think everyone can feel, for better and for worse. It hurts me to see the way some fans try to commodify her sounds and image as “soft-girl sad-girl” fare, but ultimately, I see her strength in how she continues to pursue her passions regardless. I feel confident in saying that Mitski is one of the great, and truest, artists of our time.
Listed in no particular order, I’ve compiled what I consider to be some of her best songs, although I highly encourage other fans to leave their own favorites in the comments. If you’ve ever been interested in Mitski, but never really had the time (or emotional bandwidth) to give her a listen—well, there’s never a wrong time to start.
NPR Tiny Desk Performance: “Townie,” “Class of 2013,” and “Last Words of a Shooting Star”
I want to open with this collection of songs, because not only do they all belong on this list, but because this was my introduction—and many of my peers’ introductions—to Mitski. NPR Tiny Desk had its heyday in the mid 2010s, but Mitski’s performance was absolutely one of the stunners from that time. Yes, the studio versions of these songs are bangers too, but something about the rawness of this performance suits her sound so perfectly.
In a time when all the popular femme singers were highly-produced and not allowed to be their authentic selves, or at the very least the WOC weren’t, here was Mitski, bare-faced and emotional, singing about the things men take from us, the things we want from our mothers, and the things we think as we fall asleep. I really can’t describe how cool and grounding it was to see someone who looked like me, singing about the things I wanted someone to talk about, back when this first came out.
This might sound like any other Mumford and Sons-esque, overly saccharine track about the bumblebees and love and etc., yet there’s a foreboding undertone to it that’s incredibly clever. A theme in Mitski’s music is wanting what “Americans” have, that kind of “All-American Love” for life, lovers, and our innermost passions. This song is, therefore, two things at once: a proclamation of yearning for someone who exemplifies these virtues, and a parody of our culture’s tendency to yearn for these virtues at all.
But even if I’m reading into it too much, it’s just a fascinating song that highlights her musical talents, even this early into her career.
I feel weird listening to Bury Me At Make Out Creek, because it reminds me of so many things at once. “Texas Reznikoff” is named after the poet, Charles Reznikoff, but it’s a song about wanting to build a life with someone, yet ultimately being unable to.
Texas is a land-locked state
It’s a little bit far away
From the water, from the home that I’ve wanted to make
It somehow, in the city, you make it there and you make it
But I’ve been anywhere and it’s not what I want
I wanna be still with you
“First Love / Late Spring”
You might have heard that line, “And I was so young when I behave twenty five, yet now, I’ve found I’ve grown into a tall child,” thrown around. It’s from this song. And as someone who’s about the turn twenty five, I can’t listen to this all the way through without forming cartoonish rainclouds around my head.
Mitski once said that the “Yous” in her songs mostly refer to her love for music, and her desire to pursue it even in the face of all life’s adversities. I’d like to think that applies to this song as well, as such an earnest ballad of longing. Either which way, it’s a powerful song that can easily flatten you (if you’re in need of a flattening, at least).
If you grew up with Adventure Time, you might have heard Marceline The Vampire Queen cover it. But I’m sharing this particular session, because it’s so gorgeously dark and moody. I first listened to it on one of many sleepless nights, and it made me feel less alone. I’m fairly certain I fell asleep right after.
The irony is, one of the most violating people I’ve ever known loved this song, and this entire album was their favorite Mitski album. It boggles the mind that they, and many others, can listen to these songs and still be unable to access the emotional authenticity her music elicits. But if you relate to this at all, let’s make a pact and reclaim this album for ourselves.
Not only is the music video cool, but the Youtube comments are cool, too—a very rare occurrence. I’m going to share the two top comments, because they say all I want to say:
this song is so under appreciated. so many people love to pretend like mitski doesn’t write about race, but she very clearly does, and this is one of the prime examples. it bothers me that so many white people in mitski comment sections get pressed when women of color express their relation to this song, when it so clearly is about race.Not Your Daughter
as an asian american woman myself, i have to say this video nailed the message about race and beauty… especially at 1:52 when you see the white woman’s profile and then the asian woman’s and you can feel the inadequacy in how alien you seem to look in a white society. and of course this setup doesn’t end well for the white women either. even if they look ideal at first because they have the whiteness you’ll never have, they’re trapped in the same system and even they will never be enough to satisfy men’s expectationsspikyshores
Y’all should have seen how snotty I was when Mitski played this at OSL. My god. My nose was a bubbling cauldron of catharsis.
“Once More to See You”
Mitski has a way of crafting her songs to perfectly match a long, pensive walk. This song is so hauntingly gorgeous: her vocals, the bass coupled with the drum, the layering, and of course, the lyrics. If we were doing a ranking, this one would definitely go somewhere near the top.
But holy shit, thank god we’re not ranking these. Hoo boy.
“Your Best American Girl”
We all have pieces of media that radicalize us and shape us into the people we’re meant to be. This was absolutely one of them for me. Never before had I had my innermost fears and insecurities vocalized in such a poignant, honest way. Suddenly I had a way to articulate how I felt, and why I felt it.
This isn’t a simple song about losing someone you love to someone else. It’s about missing out on what we feel we “should” be experiencing, because those experiences weren’t made for people like us. It’s a song about the grief that follows, knowing this. And it’s so necessary to feel all of these things, before we can move onto what we’re actually meant for: something more.
“I Bet on Losing Dogs”
This song is often described as being about a struggling relationship, with the “betting” being a gamble on whether or not the relationship will survive. It’s a powerful sentiment, and one I think a lot of people can relate to: putting so much effort into something that’s losing, wanting so badly for it to come out on top that you start to lose sight of reality in favor of potential.
In that sense, she herself is also playing the part of the losing dog. Which is, again, fairly relatable.
“A Burning Hill”
Just a really good, ghostly, folkish song. You’ve probably heard this lyric reiterated fairly often, too:
And I am the fire, and I am the forest
And I am a witness watching it
I stand in a valley watching it
And you are not there at all
I hate to sound like a gatekeeper, but I think the meaning of this gets lost, the more the words are passed around without listening to the song.
“Me And My Husband”
A lot of my queer friends weren’t big fans of this song when it first came out, believing that it was an “unexpected return to heteronormativity.” And I found that to be such an overly-simplified take on this song, which is really such a clever way of subverting “normality” and pointing out the absurdity of it all.
This song really does reflect how so many married women feel in their relationships, that they must rely entirely on their husbands, that they’re the “idiots” sitting in a corner until their husbands walk in. It’s just brilliant.
I try not to be an angry old man shaking my fist at the sky when it comes to TikTok, but goddamn, they really bastardized this song. Don’t let the “bridge only” trend stop you from listening to the full track.
I mean, my god, if the entire album Be The Cowboy is about subverting expectations, then this song ought to be taught in masterclasses on the subject. It deliberately carries a poppy, disco sound to sinisterly pair with the lyrics, which are all about solitude, solitude, solitude, baby. Mitski wrote this song after finding herself prostrated on a floor, murmuring the word “Nobody” over and over again, after succumbing to feelings of loneliness.
And if you’re rolling your eyes at that, then congratulations, you’ve somehow avoided the modern plight of alienation as a cultural norm. It’s a topic I think many people have tried to skirt around, but ultimately, we needed more artists to address it in the empathetic, cathartic ways that artists do. Why else do you think so many people love this song? People needed it. And Mitski delivered.
“Washing Machine Heart”
“I know who you pretend I am.”
“Do-Mi-Ti, why not me?”
I’m sorry, everyone, I know I’ve been getting pretty personal with this article, but to reiterate the point that Mitski highlights unsung modern plights in her songs, I need to just stress how incredible these lyrics are. If you’re anything like me, you, too, have been put on a weird pedestal by some freaks who demand, and demand, and demand of you, but are more than willing to tune you out when you need them in return.
The amount of times I’ve been told, “You aren’t who I thought you were,” when I’ve just been out here doing my own thing. And here’s Mitski, calling it out for all of us.
I’ll cop to the fact that this is the song I cried to the most at OSL. But I know she doesn’t want to be known as the “cry singer,” so Mitski, if you’re reading this, I promise that after the tears came some hands for people to catch.
“Working For the Knife”
Admittedly, this song took a little while to grow on me, but like a fine vine, it gets all over me whenever I listen to it. It’s just cool. It’s filled with this dark energy, and Mitski herself seems so confident and assured throughout it.
It’s ultimately, from my perspective, an ode to getting older and surviving through it all. It’s such a perfect song for anyone with anxieties about moving on and leaving the past behind. And even if some of the words are callous and bitter, lamenting the times when the capitalistic world dictated the way we moved forward, I think even the attitudinal change is a victory. With spite comes action. With spite comes the will to keep going.
Hell yeah, you’ll keep going.
I had a real rebellion against “Soft Culture” earlier this year, so this song kind of came out at the perfect time. It says a lot at once: it regrettably examines how softness allows others to take advantage of you, yet without some softness, nobody can get in. It’s at once playing on how you handle life, and how you handle your partners sexually. Specifically, though, from her own words, it’s “about hurt people finding each other, and using sex to make sense of their pain.”
“Open up your heart, like the gates of Hell.” My god, my god, my god.
(Featured Image: Dead Oceans)
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