“I cry at the start of every movie,” Mitski’s voice sings after anticipation builds up with the intro of her new single “Working for the Knife”. Her footsteps echo as she walks through the halls of The Egg, a performing arts venue in Albany, New York. The music picks up and her blue cowboy hat falls to the ground, marking the end of “Be the Cowboy,” her last album before a two year hiatus.
The camera follows Mitski as a spotlight chases her through the theatre. As the song ends, her struggling breaths are all that can be heard as she punches the stage and collapses under the lights. The screen cuts to black. Mistki has returned.
After two years away from the public eye, indie singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki emerged in October to announce the release of her new single, “Working for the Knife.” She’s since released “The Only Heartbreaker”, “Heat Lightning” and “Love Me More”. The four tracks will appear on her sixth LP “Laurel Hell,” to be released on Feb. 4, 2022.
Accompanied by a stunning music video, “Working for the Knife” is the beginning of a new era. Mitski’s talents as a lyricist convey the pressure and feelings of entrapment that come with creating art within a capitalist system. “The Knife,” she sings, commodifies art. Working under this metaphorical knife cuts passion and humanity as your art is carved into a product for consumption. What used to hold hope and passion has become work for survival.
“It’s 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,” Mitski said about the song in a statement with Rolling Stone, “It’s being confronted with a world that doesn’t seem to recognize your humanity, and seeing no way out of it.”
A month after “Working for the Knife,” Mitski returned with another single, “The Only Heartbreaker.” Co-written with Dan Wilson, Mitski’s first co-write in her entire discography, this song features more up-tempo and 80s synth influence. Mitski sings of being in a relationship with someone who constantly casts her as the “bad guy.”
“So I’ll be the loser in this game, I’ll be the bad guy in the play,” she sings, accepting the role of the heartbreaker that her partner has given her.
“I’ll be the water main that’s burst and flooding, You’ll be by the window, only watching,” she continues. At the end of the relationship, she is the one who will be the most affected. Although she’s been put in the role of the heartbreaker, her heart is the one that’s breaking, while her partner watches with indifference.
As with “Working for the Knife,” Mitski’s expressive performance in the music video for “Heartbreaker” further illustrates the song. In the video, Mitski walks through a verdant forest, her steps burning everything in their wake. This imagery brings parallels to one of Mitski’s earlier songs, “A Burning Hill”, in which she sings, “I am a forest fire, and I am the forest and I am the fire, and I am a witness watching it”.
After “Working for the Knife”, Mitski has released a single each month preceding the release of the album. Musically, the four singles sound more theatrical than her previous music, with dramatic instrumentals and vocals. The lyrics, however, still maintain a personal feel to them that is so characteristic to Mitksi’s music. Although “Heartbreaker” and “The Knife” have a more upbeat synth sound to them, Mitski has previously explored these elements, which can be heard in tracks like “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” and “Washing Machine Heart” from her 2018 album “Be the Cowboy.”