Mitski racked up a fair deal of hype with her summer release, BE THE COWBOY, becoming an instant favorite of the Twitter and Tumblr. community. In an age where a majority of young people live with anxiety, depression, and a general sense of dread, it’s no surprise that Mitski’s unapologetic admission of loneliness and desire resonated with its audience. BE THE COWBOY broke expectations for what a female-fronted indie rock album should be—some songs clock in less than two minutes, many others sound like a complete departure from what we’ve come to associate Mitski with in the past. Album opener “Geyser” sings like a haunted carousel, full of mystery and gravitas. So much so, it feels like the overture of what could be called, BE THE COWBOY: A NEW MUSICAL. That’s right, you heard me. The world needs a Mitski musical.
BE THE COWBOY is chock-full of lush imagery, impressively creating swirling atmospheres in a matter of seconds. It’s all moods and feelings, crystallizing and then vanishing all too soon. Those who grew up on WICKED will find themselves all over this. In fact, Mitski’s harrowingly relatable narrative brings to mind the bright, misunderstood Elphaba, grappling with keeping her passionate heart in line with her sensible logic. None of us want to admit that there is a person (maybe more than one) who still haunts us in our minds, and yet every action we do is subconsciously for them, a perpetual performance we put on in the hopes they will lift us from the ground again. There is a strength in Mitski’s ability to not only accept this, but embrace it and transform it into something powerful.
The entire album is drenched in theatricality, with Mitski putting on different hats for each “role” she plays within her music. This is an easy avenue for character development—there’s the girl who finds herself trying too hard to win her object of desire, with casually relatable lines in “Washing Machine Heart” like, “I’m not wearing my usual lipstick / I thought maybe we would kiss tonight.” Then there’s the wife who’s barely holding it together on “Me and My Husband,” letting out a labored sigh before confessing, “I steal a few breaths from the world for a minute / And then I’ll be nothing forever.” Then there’s the Cowboy herself, whose presence is most easily seen in “Lonesome Love.” The track gallops along with confidence, with Mitski dryly remarking, “Nobody butters me up like you and / Nobody fucks me like me.”
Each persona is painted with different colors, but they all have one thing in common: she knows how to express them in compelling ways. Her emotions have high stakes, and there is a clearly defined conflict for the Cowboy: how to get the boy. But that’s not all there is to it—the Cowboy is looking for a home, for a way for someone to remember her when she’s gone. Throughout the course of the show, we watch her sing and dance (and maybe potentially fly? Still working on the logistics) her way through a sea of feelings and personal crises. There are moments of self-realization, such as in “Remember My Name,” (“I gave too much of my heart tonight / Can you come to where I’m staying / And make some extra love / That I can save til tomorrow’s show?”) while other times, as on “Blue Light,” all the Cowboy wants is to be kissed, gosh darn it.
The Act I finale would be none other than “Nobody,” an electric, mid-album bop that would be make for one hell of a dance number. Act II would begin with the haunting “Pink in the Night,” which starts out nearly a capella and slowly builds to a fully-instrumented conclusion. “A Horse Named Cold Air” would work marvelously as a cabaret-style number, the stage bare except for a grand piano with Mitski in a flowing gown leaning dramatically against it. Finale “Two Slow Dancers” would find our two lead characters back in the place where they first met. As the strings slowly swell, the stage would light up little by little until it was swimming in blue light. It’s hopelessly romantic as the gentle organs bleed a sense of aching nostalgia. It also showcases Mitski’s vocal dynamics beautifully—she is able to shift between forceful and delicate seamlessly. With the last soft chords, the curtain would fall. No need for a flashy, forced happy ending.
So watch out ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, because there’s a new gunslinger in town. Her bullets are made of emotive, impassioned indie rock that isn’t afraid to call the shots. It’s Mitski’s BE THE COWBOY, coming soon to a stage near you.