I’m having a hard time coping with Mitski’s most recent album being named number one.
Okay, I have a minor confession to make. When I saw Mitski’s “Be the Cowboy” named Album of the Year by Pitchfork, I was pissed. In a sort of whiny Mitski is mine! No one else loves her like I do, sort of way. Like a kid with a fistful of dollars, it was hard to uncrumple my hand and let this one go.
This emotion of jealousy, of perceived ownership over music and media in general, is one that I see a lot of, and one that is, I think, toxic. I mean, after all, one of the things that good music does best is to act as a unifier. Good music is good music, and people of all different backgrounds can find a common space in their love for stone cold classics like Nirvana or Bach. So why do I have to feel so territorial of Mitski? Shouldn’t I be happy that more people are acknowledging her genius? And let’s face the facts, even before “Be the Cowboy,” Mitski was widely listened to. The idea of being one in a handful of listeners of her music is a myth. It was never true. I found out about Mitski on NPR First Listen after the release of “Puberty 2.” Mitski was always big, just not at this level of visibility.
At the same time, it stings, just a little bit. When I listened to “Puberty 2” as an extremely angsty 16-year-old, I connected to her music. Like, I maybe wasn’t alone. But it was a secret shared between Mitski and me, and it was just the two of us in on the joke. I was special. Mitski was special. I was maybe a little obsessed. I had every lyric memorized. I illustrated songs. I tweeted at Mitski, and she liked my reply, once. I was special. This was my music.
In the words of a friend of mine, “It’s dangerous to define yourself by what media you consume.” It leads to — *cough* — Star Wars fanboys and all other flavors of self-unaware fans. When you define yourself by the media you consume, you begin to take ownership of that art.
In this age of the Netflix binge, it’s hard to not find identity in the media you consume. There’s a lot of burnout in our current generation, and having hobbies can be time consuming, costly and just generally exhausting. But everyone I know watches television and movies and listens to music. It’s our hobby.
In this amazing age of technology, the line from fanbase to artist has never been so open. From tweeting, to AMAs, to harassment. There’s a direct line of communication that fans can take to make their voice heard. That’s a terrifying thought. Who knows how much this ability dictates the kind of art put out by artists, what kinds of risks are abandoned for the sake of pleasing the fanbase. So often I’ll hear the phrase “I like their older stuff better” and I wonder how much it has to do with the authenticity of earlier work. You can say whatever you want to say in obscurity.
The allure of the alleged indie artist is a lie. Most bands that are regarded as indie have deals with record labels and some sort of a fan base to be able to make a living. Consider the difference in the way we treat success and record labels nowadays versus how previous generations did. No one bats an eye nowadays if an artist that they particularly like signs a deal with a major record label. People used to call that “selling out” and regarded it as the death of artistic vision for that artist’s music. That’s not an issue we’re concerned with at present. Who cares about authenticity when we’re all building brands? What matters is how the artist’s aesthetic matches our own, and in that sense, we are more concerned with our ownership over the art rather than the achievement of the artistic vision. And that’s a diminishing way to experience anything.
I guess I’m writing all this to say that Mitski’s top single “Nobody” has over nine-million plays, and the idea of her music being just for me is ludicrous. I’ll let her go, because this art was never mine to begin with. Everyone should go listen to “Be The Cowboy.” It’s really good.