Whenever I hear of a new artist — moreso a female artist and a person of color — making waves in the music industry, I get intrigued.
“Who is this person?” I ask myself. “I’ve got to know them.”
So when I came across an interview with Asian-American lo-fi rocker Mitski stating, “I’ve found that me talking about [diversity] isn’t actually making a difference or benefiting anyone. It just benefits the publication, because then they look progressive and feminist, and it becomes part of their brand,” I gave myself a second look.
Mitski Miyawaki isn’t your average twenty-something musician trying to make a name for herself. Rather, music is all she knows. With a history of growing up in more countries and homes than she can count (born to an American father and Japanese mother), the 26-year-old found her voice, home and refuge in music. After residing in Japan and Turkey, she landed in the US at the age of 15 and still never felt at home.
That feeling of displacement, longing and disillusionment is felt through her songs, as told through her four records (2012’s Lush and 2013’s Retired from Sad, New Career in Business were recorded while in college at SUNY Purchase in New York; 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek was her indie breakout; and 2016’s Puberty 2 solidified her name in indie music).
With an illustrious 2017 tour that goes throughout the East and West Coasts while selling-out shows and festivals throughout Texas, Boston, New York and even Germany and the UK, it’s amazing how much the world is digging this girl.
Her songs, full of guitar indie fuzz and echoey sentiments about lost love, ugliness and fleeting happiness are incredibly raw and honest — something that seems to be so hard to find in today’s musical landscape.
Before making her way to Coachella this month, Mitski managed to score a couple of dates along the West Coast while selling-out a majority of those shows weeks and months in advanced. I was lucky enough to score tickets to her Sacramento show at Harlow’s Nightclub last Tuesday, April 11th, and the show was nothing short of female-fronted indie-goodness taking the stage.
Openers Steady Holiday (Dre Babinski) and Kadhja Bonet treated the early 6:30pm crowd to some pleasing, mellow tracks. Steady Holiday, who in years past could be found opening with bands in LA, gave up the sidewoman life and has finally unleashed her own material, equipped with her own violin and guitar with the occasional backing track. Her voice was sweet and soft and paired well with whistling, toe-tapping beats and echoey cabaret-like tunes. Kadhja Bonet was equipped with a full band as her sweet, buttery voice seemed to bring us into a French quarter. Her tunes were easy-going and bluesy as her warm voice comforted the crowd.
When Mitski took the stage, donning a messy bun and oversized t-shirt sans makeup, she was out to play no games. Her set was all things raw, emotional, angsty and vulnerable. Yet, there was a quiet confidence to her.
In songs like “Townie,” a song colored in fuzzy guitars and upbeat drumbeats, she blatantly confessed, “I’m holding my breath with a baseball bat / Though I don’t know what I’m waiting for / I’m not gonna be what my daddy wants me to be.” Her voice, sure and secure, then went into an off-pitch croon which was so pleasant and raw to the ears.
A single drumbeat opened “Drunk Walk Home,” as Mitski seemed to talk through an opening monologue. She “learns she will never be free” as she channeled a quiet desperation that built up into an outrage of, “Fuck you / And your money” — a statement that rings so clear and true to many who may have discovered a young adulthood of false promises.
Her latest single, “Your Best American Girl,” from 2016’s Puberty 2, is probably the standout for new Mitski listeners. It’s a love song laced in American rock goodness — about the turmoil one feels when one loves someone so deeply, but must come to terms with the fact that they cannot fit their life on a number of levels.
In it, she sings, “You’re an all-American boy / I guess I couldn’t help trying to be the best American girl.” It’s a song that, to me, captures the utter disillusionment and distance that race, culture and worlds ultimately create. In our very modern world and society, as “worldly” and “cultured” as we may be, there are some differences we cannot escape — those that can run skin and blood deep.
“Your Best American Girl is a love song … I wasn’t trying to send a message. I was in love. I loved somebody so much, but I also realized I can never be what would fit into their life … I just figured I should say what I meant by the song from my mouth, because maybe you’ve also had a moment where loving someone with all your heart was simply not enough, and I would hate for you to miss a song about that feeling because you were told it was about something else.”
I admit, I wish I had known more of Mitski before seeing her live show (it all sounded like soft vocals covered in guitar fuzz and heavy drumbeats), but I’ve come to have a real appreciation for the girl.
In a world covered in sugary-goodness with songs about life, love, fitting in and “living forever,” it’s so refreshing to see someone singing songs that are hauntingly raw and true. Mitski’s songs are songs of our time — they speak of chasing love and happiness and constantly feeling like an outsider. And at only 26-years-old, Mitski’s out to take the world.
“Thank you for coming out,” Mitski said in her encore. She strummed her lone guitar heavily and added, “This is my lifelong dream,” as she turned away from the crowd and broke down into tears.
It was at that moment that I saw Mitski for all she was and is — our best American girl.
Mitski's latest studio album Puberty 2 (2016) is available to purchase on Amazon. Be sure to also check out her past records below.