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On her latest release, “Laurel Hell”,  Mitski vents her career frustrations in the form of an 80s pop record.

On ‘Laurel Hell,’ Mitski Retires from Rock for a New Career in Dance Pop

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Singer-songwriter Mitski has a lot to say about her career on her latest record, “Laurel Hell.” Released on February 4, “Laurel Hell,” tells the dark and dramatic tale of her career in the music industry. Many of her past projects like “Retired from Sad, New Career in Business” and “Be the Cowboy” have exploded on social media, shaping the musical taste of many teenage girls, including me. Along with the album announcement, Mitski announced a Laurel Hell 2022 tour across North America (the singer-songwriter appeared last month at The Eastern in Atlanta).  In “Laurel Hell,” Mitski takes a different approach, incorporating a pop edge into her latest work of art.

“I always thought the choice was mine

And I was right, but I just chose wrong

I start the day lying and end with the truth

That I’m dying for the knife”

— “Working for the Knife”

“Working for the Knife”, the first single on “Laurel Hell,” was released this past October. It left fans stunned. While many Mitski admirers love her music for the calm but heartbreaking vibe, “Working for the Knife” is completely different. The chilling lyrics combined with the ominous beat makes the song sound darker than everything else she’s ever made. This song is perfect for the start of her new era. She writes about her deepest frustrations involving her career, going beyond the surface-level fame and popularity people see on the outside. “Working for the Knife” was the perfect single to lead the album with. While Mitski retains her usual vibe, it gives “Laurel Hell” a dark and twisted start.

“If I could keep anything of you,

I would keep just this quiet after you”
— “I Guess”

I completely skipped “I Guess” when I listened to it for the first time. I thought it was boring, and I didn’t think much of it. However, the day it was released I came across a TikTok of a rat dancing to the instrumental segment. It sounded peaceful and almost therapeutic. I immediately had to give it another listen. The instrumental sounds soft and high pitched, and it pairs nicely with the bleakness of the synth. The lyrics are simple, sweet, and depressing. It definitely grows on me the more I listen to it.

“I am face down on my bed, still not quite awake yet

Thinking of you

I tuck my hand under your weight”

— “Stay Soft”

“Stay Soft,”  the third track, is definitely the highlight of the record. “Laurel Hell” has more of an 80s pop feel than the rest of her discography, and it really shines through in this song. The song sounded more upbeat than I expected, so it fits perfectly with the mildly disturbing music video, where she murders garden gnomes. The second verse of the song has a beat similar to the song “Sober” by Lorde. While the rhythm is upbeat, the piano accompaniment adds dullness to the song. 

Overall, this track nicely blends dance pop with a little bit of the moodiness featured in the rest of the record. However, I almost wish she leaned more into the pop vibe because I would love to see her take on hyperpop. I’m still holding onto hope that she will have a Charli XCX era.

TikTok has created a breeding ground for people to make jokes about how Mitski’s songwriting is gloomy and depressing. However, only perceiving her music from a “sad girl” point of view can be harmful. Many female artists feel pressure to constantly reinvent themselves, and I think a contributing factor to this is the way their music is reduced to a simple subject matter. Viewing her work, art, and essence as a “sad girl act” completely ignores the complexity of her as an artist. Even Mitski, herself, claims this perception is “reductive” and “tired.” There is so much more to this record than depressing lyrics, and “Laurel Hell” should be perceived as the work of art that it is.

As someone who prefers Mitski’s rock and electronic eras, I knew this album probably wouldn’t align with my music taste. When I listened to it for the first time, I wasn’t sure I liked the combination of the dance-pop rhythm and the depressing lyrics. After giving it a few more listens, it has grown on me, even though I still don’t completely understand it. This album leans closer to quirky and thought-provoking than the rest of her discography. It doesn’t seem practical for everyday listening, and I also can’t see myself playing it at a party. However, that can be beautiful.

Overall, “Laurel Hell” is everything. It’s niche! It’s artsy! It’s quirky! It’s edgy! I can’t wait to see what she does next, and I hope she has many more albums to come.

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