“She’s Returned!” “She is Risen.” “Mother is Back.”
That’s not your local cult recruiting, but the reactions of Mitski fans on Twitter after the Japanese-American singer-songwriter announced that she would be dropping her new song (mysteriously untitled at the time) the following day, October 5th, at 9AM CST.
The excitement surrounding this release has been brewing for a long time; Mitski hasn’t put out a new album since her critically acclaimed Be the Cowboy back in 2018. Fans were already speculating about a possible comeback after she reactivated her social media on October 2nd, a significant event for Mitski stans as the singer has had no social media presence after deleting her Twitter and Instagram “indefinitely” in 2019.
Since then, Mitski’s popularity has only continued to skyrocket, partly due to songs such as “Nobody,” “Washing Machine Heart,” “First Love / Late Spring” and “Strawberry Blond” blowing up on TikTok (to the chagrin of her gate-keeping fans). Mitski has also announced tour dates beginning in February of next year, although unfortunately for Northwestern Mitski stans, she won’t be coming to Chicago. Regardless, her next album is coming soon, and her single “Working for the Knife” is a tantalizing taste of Mitski’s unique vision.
The song itself is on the shorter side, standing at only two minutes, thirty-eight seconds, though the music video accompanying the single is five minutes of cinematic glory. The video opens as the camera shakes, spins and struggles to place Mitski in the center of the frame until we can discern that she is walking somewhere and wearing a cowboy hat that is reminiscent of her previous Be the Cowboy era. We then follow Mitski as she waits in the elevator headed to a yet unknown place and the dramatic intro music plays, setting the tone for a bitter, yet understated, song.
Mitski begins, “I cry at the start of every movie / I guess ‘cause I wish I was making things too.” While doing so, we watch her signature robotic dance style as she mimes smoking a cigarette and tosses it away. She continues to expand on the theme of being washed and burnt out: “I used to think I’d tell stories / But nobody cared for the stories I had about / No good guys”, “I always knew the world moves on / I just didn’t know it would go without me.” “Working for the Knife” doesn’t have a chorus. With nothing to return to, the song simply continues to play with variations on a theme. However, Mitski’s songs have always resisted tradition, and “Working for the Knife” is definitely a Mitski song.
Further into the music video, she strips off her hat and her jacket as she desperately crawls around an empty stage. Her dramatic movements and facial expressions are strangely alluring and inhuman, as she throws her hands up and then hunches over. Her lyrics are just as wonderfully bizarre, as she modifies the title of the song into lyrics such as “I’m working for the knife” to “I’m living for the knife” to “I’m dying for the knife.”
In the last two lines of the song, “I start the day lying and end with the truth / That I’m dying for the knife,” we witness a sudden costume change, perhaps indicating a split from her preceding era. Her tough, cowboy persona forgotten, she sports electric blue eyeshadow and a red bralette as she pretends to cut her own throat and falls to the ground. We then watch as she thrashes around and performs a sexual dance that then becomes vicious and violent. The only sound heard in this moment is her flesh hitting the floor, until she lays back on the stage at last, drained from her performance.
It is difficult not to consider Mitski’s career when listening to “Working for the Knife,” as she laments, “I used to think that I’d be done by 20 / Now at 29 the road ahead appears the same,” referencing her beginnings in the music industry with her first album Lush, which she released herself when she was 20 while studying at SUNY Purchase. While Lush is one of my top Mitski albums, her growth as an artist, from Retired from Sad, New Career in Business to Bury Me at Makeout Creek to Be the Cowboy is truly staggering to comprehend. However, “Working for the Knife” offers her own dark and bleak look at her career path. While listening to the song, her fans might wonder: does their love for Mitski mitigate her pressure to create or are they only pushing her to “die for the knife?”
“Working for the Knife” serves both as a captivating sample of what is to come and as a transition from Be the Cowboy. It’s everything Mitski needed to say after her years-long silence and, of course, she did it in the most Mitski way possible.