By Mica Kendall
Contrary to the title, Mitski Miyawaki’s fifth album, Be the Cowboy is far from a country album or a 2008 Taylor Swift break up album full of cliche heartbreak. Be the Cowboy instead digs deeper into the dirt of existential thoughts, unrequited loves, and nostalgia. Fearlessly, Be the Cowboy exposes underlying emotions that most “love albums” do not talk about -- like one’s psychological state. Emphasizing a theme of self identity throughout the album, Mitski evokes a sense of reliability that can resonate into the hearts of listeners. Every song represents a personal narrative to Mitski and lyrically feels like well written poetry. Thus, here’s your precautionary warning that after listening to Be the Cowboy all the way through, you may be shedding some tears or feeling fear that Mitski knows your emotions a little too well.
Immediately, Mitski establishes a captivating and somber mood in “Geyser,” the opening track of the album.
The track emits a foreboding mood in the beginning with the dominating orchestration of an organ piano followed by the abrupt, violent static noise. Mitski’s soft and haunting vocals permeate a sense of yearning in her repetitious plea in “You’re my number one/You’re the one I want.” However, as the song progresses, the mood lifts in conjunction with the drum line and electric guitar into an empowering, uplifting tone. The song reaches its peak in the chorus with Mitski bellowing out her passionate nature for her lover that makes her feel as unpredictable as a geyser “bubbling from below.” Additionally, she alludes to the recurring lover that runs throughout the entire album to be vital to the shaping of her identity in “I will be the one you need/ I just can’t be without you.”
Following “Geyser,” the album has a balanced mixture of energetic and slow melodic songs. Tracks like “Why Didn't You Stop Me?” with its synth heavy 70’s-like beat feels like it could of been used as a soundtrack to the toxic relationship of Veronica and Jason in Heathers, with its lyrical focus on holding onto an idealized relationship. The western feel and upbeat acoustic guitar in “Lonesome Love” hits on putting up a deceiving mask to convey a sense of confidence seen in Mitski “spending an hour on my makeup to prove something.” Along with,“walk[ing] up in [her] high heels/ all high and mighty” to only crumble down upon encountering her past love. Though, lyrically Mitski evokes self deprecation in admitting “cause nobody butters me up like you, and nobody f**** me like me;” she also simultaneously embraces being lonely “for lonesome love.”
Released as a single prior to the album's release and earning 3 million streams and counting, the track, "Nobody," is most emblematic of the theme of loneliness on Be the Cowboy.
“Nobody,” like “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?,” centers around trying to conform to the ideal form of oneself in order to please others evident in the lyrics “I’ve been big and small/ and big and small again/” to only result with a lack of fulfillment in “and still nobody wants me.” Additionally, Mitski cleverly pokes fun at romantic cliches in her redundant usage of wanting a kiss -- specifically “one good movie kiss” to make her feel alright again. Though Mitski and listeners may not be able to acquire the ideal Ryan Gosling in the rain kiss from The Notebook, loneliness seems okay as long as you’re dancing along to Mitski repetitiously harmonizing the word, nobody, throughout both choruses.
Lastly, Be The Cowboy comes to a slow fitting end with the ideal heartwarming track, “2 Slow Dancers.”
Bringing back notable romantic cliches, Mitski uses a school gymnasium to clash the familiarity feelings of youth against the realism of letting go of the past that comes with aging. Mitski softly conveys how “it would be a hundred times easier/if we were young again” to only give listeners a reality check that “the ground has been slowing pulling us down/ you see it both in our skin,” aka the memories of our youth can't last forever just like the inevitability of wrinkles forming on our face.
Though Be The Cowboy seems like a emotional putdown of an album with Mitski focusing on how we are all going to grow old, how we may never find love, or that a past relationship may never be able to reconnect again, it’s the genuine realism that Mitski conveys that strikes a chord in our everyday lives that makes the album so powerful.
Openly singing about these considered negative topics that are otherwise disregarded in most pop breakup songs allows listeners to connect with Mitski on a more intimate level. Be the Cowboy allows listeners to enter Mitski’s headspace, while Mitski gets to enter our broken hearts and fill in the gaps with how it’s okay to feel lonely or think about the inevitability of time. Thus, if you want to cry with a room full of strangers, Mitski is hosting a fall tour for Be The Cowboy where she will be playing at the House of Blues Boston on October 20th.