In 2019, following her last show promoting the album 'Be the Cowboy,' Mitski went silent.
Whilst she had been consistently putting out music since 2012 this was the first time she had quietly stepped out of the limelight. However, despite the silence her fanbase grew and grew, a huge TikTok following and a leading streaming platform having a playlist called 'Mitski ranked in order of sadness' that garnering over 87,000 likes. Whilst she was popular prior to her hiatus, the time out of the spotlight has allowed her to accumulate a legion of new fans.
Then, she began to make noise again. With her accounts run by a management team she began to re-enter the public eye before reaching full force with the simultaneous announcement of a tour with Harry Styles and the release of her new album 'Laurel Hell'.
Now, aged 31, the idea of making what many have dubbed 'sad girl music' is no longer what Mitski is drawn to. Whilst many of the themes that penetrated her last five albums: love, isolation and her experience as a Japanese American woman remain, Mitski had started to outgrow the more morose instrumentation.
This is most clear on the track 'Should Have Been Me' which, whilst some have deemed as Mario music, is clearly her foray into 80s inspired synth-pop that does occasionally verge on pastiche, although it still remains very clearly Mitski with its lyrics discussing how it '...must be lonely loving someone' and retaining the expected Mitski essence.
Whilst there are several instances where she branches into 80s inspired synth-pop, the aforementioned 'Should Have Been Me' and 'The Only Heartbreaker', where the drums and synths are very reminiscent of Take On Me by A-ha, there are many moments that show her holding on to what made her famous to begin with. Lead single, 'Working For the Knife' is a pertinent exploration of the experiences of aging in the music industry. The knife is a clear analogy for the pressure that Mitski feels within music as despite her clear love for it, the work is exhausting - as not only conveyed through her tired vocals but also the drudgery on the music, conveying the same tired nature Mitski feels.
Overall, whilst on the short side, a staple for her at this point in her career, 'Laurel Hell' is a more than competent album for Mitski to return with. Although some fans may dismiss its more upbeat style and her exploration of new genres, this is an album that will reach a wider audience (something that seems to already be happening as the album went number one on the Billboard album charts). Mitski sounds inspired, holding on to what is quintessentially hers and discovering new territories.
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