Mitski

We first meet on the internet because of Rivers Cuomo, the original soft fuckboy before #soft #fuckboys were identifiable by hashtag. Rivers who went from singing about the woes of being low-key unfuckable to the woes of being a rockstar who low-key fucked too much. Rivers, the cute, nerdy front man of Weezer who coveted Asian girls and famously sang, Goddamn you half-Japanese girls/ Do it to me every time on “El Scorcho”, an ode or a dragging depending on what side of the fetish you were on.

The Cleanest Death

We meet online because Mitski read my essay about growing up Asian, listening to Weezer, and waiting to be objectified by a man, thinking it would be the closest I’d ever get to being loved. Around the same time I was listening to her music on repeat all over New York City. I don’t need the world to see/ That I’ve been the best I can be, but/ I don’t think I could stand to be/ Where you don’t see me. Back in March, Mitski tweeted: “sometimes I wonder am I rivers cuomo’s dream girl or worst fucking nightmare”. I’ve wondered the same, though in high school the question was inverted: Was Rivers Cuomo my dream man or my worst nightmare? Did I want to be someone’s Asian fetish more than I didn’t want to feel ugly?

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“You feel like a pimple,” Mitski says in between bites of fish dumpling, in reference to being Asian in white spaces, though the space we’re in right now couldn’t be more Asian. We’re having lunch in the basement food court of New World Mall, the largest indoor Asian food court in America (at least according to its website) located on a bustling avenue in Flushing, Queens, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in New York City. Because of the internet, specifically Instagram, I have already gazed at her outfit, but when she shows up a few minutes before our scheduled meeting time, I’m still taken aback by how stunning she looks in a long-sleeved cobalt blue sweater with a lusciously deep V-neck tucked into a pencil skirt. Her hair is full and loose, parted to the side. She’s wearing round, dark tortoise shell framed glasses and impeccable eyeliner. Mitski Miyawaki, who makes music under her first name, doesn’t carry a purse, rather she holds her phone and wallet in her hand like a chic clutch. It’s full-on sticky summer outside but Mitski is dressed for air conditioned, dark wooded interiors, and I tell her so. “You look like a hot librarian who loves to enforce the rules!”

We hug and shout compliments at each other like two introverts who’ve just crawled out of our caves.

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Down in the basement of the packed food court, we are surrounded by Asians eating Asian food. The din of noise is immense but Mitski feels right at home. “My mother recently bought a retirement home in a suburb of Philly and the reason why she bought it there is because there’s an H Mart next to the house,” she says, referring to Korean chain of Asian supermarkets. I cop to having the same priorities. For Mitski, who’s half Japanese, home is a complicated thing. She was born in Japan and has lived in thirteen different countries. She moved to a different place every year of her life until she was admitted into the classical composition program at SUNY Purchase in upstate New York. Last year she gave up her apartment in Brooklyn and has been a nomad ever since. “Right now, I’m on my manager’s couch,” she explains.

“We meet online because Mitski read my essay about growing up Asian, listening to Weezer, and waiting to be objectified by a man, thinking it would be the closest I’d ever get to being loved.”

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Last September, not long after we met online, we met in person for the first time when we were booked on the same bill for a night of poetry and music at Shea Stadium, an all-ages DIY venue in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Mitski performed a stripped down acoustic set without a backing band. The room swayed and sang along to “Townie”, I’m not gonna be what my daddy wants me to be/ I wanna be what my body wants me to. It feels like we’ve been having one long conversation about our bodies ever since that night. “My body is a temple,” Mitski jokes at one point, “in that it’s forbidding. It’s ancient and forbidding and it won’t go out.” Being happy with the bodies we are in seems besides the point as Mitski reveals for the longest time she felt it would be easier to not have one. As we’re laughing about how terrible it can be to deal with our bodies, Mitski suddenly grows quiet and serious. “I really want to be beautiful though. There’s always a part of me, at the end of the day, I just want to be a pretty girl who’s perfect.”

I agree with her so totally that my body hurts from nodding so vigorously. Maybe that’s why we’re both fascinated by Rivers Cuomo’s fascination with half-Japanese girls—it’s a way to let someone else’s fantasy of you become your fantasy. “You can believe you are not a complex person” she says. “You can believe you are an one-dimensional person. You can live your own fantasy if someone sees you that way. They won’t last, but when I was a teenager, I would have relationships with boys who exclusively didn’t see me as a person because that’s what I wanted.”



It’s brutal to hear her say it, not least of all because so many girls have said or thought the same thing. Watching the video for “Best American Girl”, the first single off of Mitski’s fourth album Puberty 2, crystallizes something for me. I test out my theory on her. “Soulmates are only for white people. This idea of finding a home and finding a soulmate—these are all white dreams in a way. But I love that in your songs, it’s like, Even though I know that, I still want those things. I still dream. I still want.



“It’s so true.” She laughs ruefully, but then brightens a bit. “I feel like POC love is so much more romantic in the classical sense, because it’s like, I love you but I can’t be with you.”

“My body is a temple,” Mitski jokes at one point, “in that it’s forbidding. It’s ancient and forbidding and it won’t go out.” Being happy with the bodies we are in seems besides the point as Mitski reveals for the longest time she felt it would be easier to not have one. As we’re laughing about how terrible it can be to deal with our bodies, Mitski suddenly grows quiet and serious. “I really want to be beautiful though. There’s always a part of me, at the end of the day, I just want to be a pretty girl who’s perfect.”

It’s a small consolation, but I’ll take it. And it’s true, the video for “Best American Girl” is one of the most romantic I’ve ever seen. It opens on Mitski sitting on a chair in a cherry red suit looking forlorn and as hair and make-up put the finishing touches on her. The camera cuts to a generically cute white guy in a gray tank top, the kind in plentiful supply at music festivals. They make eyes at each other and wave shyly. The budding flirtation abruptly ends when a white girl in a flower crown wearing an outfit that could be ripped straight from an Urban Outfitters catalogue, complete with a culturally appropriative “native inspired” tattoo and fringe crop top, shows up. The two white people make out and grope each other for the rest of the video. Girl meets Boy becomes white girl meets white boy, leaving Mitski to kiss her own arm as the power chords kick in. There’s real pain when Mitski sings, Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me/ But I do/ I think I do. Near the end, Mitski changes into a long-sleeved gold cocktail dress and heels, and shreds on her guitar as the scene of white love gets grosser and grosser on the other side of the room. It’s the perfect antidote to the indie rock tradition of rarely acknowledging its own whiteness, but it’s also a song of pure heartbreak—the POC kind. So when Mitski took to Facebook to post a message imploring her fans to not blindly accept what the critics have decided the song is about, I totally get it.

“Your Best American Girl is a love song,” Mitski wrote on her page. “A lot of reviews have agreed on a narrative that “she wrote this song to stick it to ‘the white boy indie rock world’!” but I wasn’t thinking about any of that when I was writing it, 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. How hard I tried, we were from different worlds, and there was nothing I could do about that. Yes in the musical composition I used tropes from “white indie rock” of my adolescence (the chord progressions, the moment at 2:25, etc), and my mentioning that in interviews was probably what propagated the aforementioned narrative. But I used those tropes to accentuate the point that I could use their methods and act like I was of their world, but I would never ever fit.”

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“It’s so true.” She laughs ruefully, but then brightens a bit. “I feel like POC love is so much more romantic in the classical sense, because it’s like, I love you but I can’t be with you.”

Because there is such a deficit of outspoken, smart, funny Asian American women in music, Mitski knows she can’t just be a musician, she has to be a symbol too. “It’s so easy when you are someone who is in public in any way and an artist to become a character. Everyone wants you to become a cohesive symbol and I think I spend 80 percent of my public life energy trying to acknowledge that it’s a complicated layered thing.” It is complicated and it is precisely because she has such a compassionate understanding of this dynamic that makes her seem especially accessible. “I can’t blame anyone for it.” She pauses before elaborating further. “I want the artists that I love to become symbols. I seek out symbols. I love Lana Del Rey because she is a symbol. I want that of her and I do that automatically so I can’t blame people wanting that of me as well. I might be asking too much to be like, See me as a person, but I still want that.”

Her twitter timeline drips with the struggle to be seen as a person. When a fan tweets at Mitski, “will u adopt me???” she cuts right through whatever inaccurate, idealized notions her fans may have and want and need of her, and simply responds: “I don’t have a place to live”.

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After the Shea Stadium show we performed at together, my friend Tony and I got in line behind a long queue of mostly young women waiting to talk to Mitski. We were awestruck by her charisma on stage and when it was our turn to say hi, we ended up gushing about how amazing her set had been.

“What are you doing after you get through this line?” I asked, looking back at the kids still waiting to meet her.

“Straight home to sleep,” she answered.

Nine months later, as we’re digging into our massive wooden bowl of Szechuan style stir-fry, I tell her what I wanted to say at Shea Stadium, “I love your boundaries. It’s the hottest thing about you.”

She laughs with relish and confirms that though she’s strict with her bandmates on tour, she’s even stricter with herself. “I don’t drink on tour. It makes me not as sharp. After the show, I take my makeup off first thing, and we load out. I’m not into hanging out after the show. I go right to bed. My bandmates hate me for it sometimes. They want me to hang out, they want me to just eat a bag of chips for lunch, but halfway through the tour they always tell me, Oh my god, I feel so good. I don’t feel like I’m on tour and I’m like, Yeah, because Mom knows what’s best.” It’s only when Mitski refers to herself as Mom that I remember she’s only twenty-five years old. To say Mitski is mature isn’t close to being adequate in conveying how far and how deeply she’s thought about her life, her well-being, her survival.

“Do you love my severity?” she asks, smiling sweetly.

“I do,” I say. “I really, really do.”

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When it comes to doing interviews, Mitski pushes righteously for more boundaries as well. “I wish there was a concept of consent in the same way there is in a sexual context but with publishing in a public context. The thing with doing press is that once you say something everyone feels it’s now in the public so they can ask or take from you that same thing over and over again. I wish there was something like, I gave it once but that doesn’t mean I have to give it again. I wish I could talk about my mother once in one context but then say after that, Actually I’m not going to talk about my mother to you. Another day I might decide to talk about my mother, but I want it to be up to me every time and not be like, Well you talked about it last time, so you should be willing to talk about it! It’s like, No, not today.

We don’t talk much about her mother today, instead we get deep into sidetracks and tangents—Drake, the alcohol industry, the inspiration that is the Irish recording artist Enya hiding away and making music in her literal castle. When we get into the psychology of sub-domme relationships, I repeat something I read from the liner notes for “Happy”— “happiness fucks you”—and ask if the idea of being forbidden to kiss in a sub-domme relationship is related somehow to why happiness can’t last, and as I’m asking my question, I realize I’ve lost track of the staircases of associations we’ve raced up and Mitski admits the same. I’m quickly apologetic. “It must be hard because all these people are studying what you are saying, and you’re just saying things.”

Mitski is even quicker to clarify, “The thing is if you say, Oh, I don’t know what I meant, then that—because of who I am—becomes gendered. It’s like, Oh ,she doesn’t know what she means, it just comes out of her. She’s just this priestess chosen girl. It just flows out of her, there’s no art behind it. I may not understand it all, but it’s not fevered. It’s not like I have no authority over it.”

Listening to Puberty 2, there is authority and intention everywhere. Themes emerge—death, tidiness, heartbreak, love, not wanting to be so emotionally captive to highs and lows. “I’m obsessed with death,” Mitski confirms when I note that both Bury Me At Makeout Creek and Puberty 2 end with her singing about wanting to be neat and clean when the end comes. On “Last Words of a Shooting Star,” Mitski sings I always wanted to die clean and pretty/ but I’d be too busy on working days/ so I am relieved that the turbulence wasn’t forecasted/ I couldn’t have changed anyways/ I am relieved that I’d left my room tidy/ Goodbye. On “A Burning Hill,” she ends with So today I will wear my white button-down/ I can at least be neat/ Walk out and be seen as clean/ And I’ll go to work and I’ll go to sleep/ And I’ll love the littler things/ I’ll love some littler things.

“It’s so easy when you are someone who is in public in any way and an artist to become a character. Everyone wants you to become a cohesive symbol and I think I spend 80 percent of my public life energy trying to acknowledge that it’s a complicated layered thing.”

We swap astrological profiles and I learn she’s a Libra and her Venus, the planet that rules all matters of love and the heart, is in Virgo. “So as a Libra I’m like, Love, la la la but Venus in Virgo people are very like organized and nitpicky. The way I show affection sometimes is to fuss over somebody.” Fussing, tidying, cleaning up we decide is very Asian, whereas joy, happiness, and exuberance is gloppy and gross—it’s American.

“Happiness is messy and the thing that’s messy about it is that it can’t last. Even when I’m having a really good time there’s something in the back of my head going, Okay, something wrong is going to come. I wrote it because I was thinking, I just want to not feel anything because that would be so much cleaner, so much more balanced, so much easier if I could just not go up and down and just go straight forward all the time.”

I’m reminded of the quiet horror of American weddings and launch into a very well-rehearsed rant. “When people say your wedding day is going to be the happiest day of your life, I’m always like, Why would you say that to someone? You’re telling them it’s never going to be better than this day. Why would they keep living?”

Mitski turns the idea over and contemplates it seriously. “Actually that would be the cleanest death—to die on your wedding day of your own accord. That’s beautiful. That’s some samurai shit. That’s like, the cherry blossom dies when it’s in bloom. I wish that was what it meant. Like, This is the happiest day of your life so this is where it will end,” she says and we laugh at the satisfying darkness of it all.

In the song that has the most recognizable punk elements and is the most poetic in name “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”, a song that is hard, fast and sloppy, Mitski sings, I wanna see the whole world, but before that sentiment has time to sink in, she smashes it and yelps out her grim reality: I don’t know how I’m gonna pay rent.

She asks me how I afford my rent and then retracts her question, apologizing that “it turns into a question about money,” but I’m game and I’m keen to talk about money. I find transparency comforting and in short supply, and, as it turns out, so does Mitski.

“I’ve kind of become alienated from DIY indie music world of Brooklyn. I realized it’s because I’m always aware of myself at 50 years old getting cancer. I’m not going to sit around getting beers with you because I need to be thinking about when I’m almost dying and need to get medication but I can’t pay for it because I’ve been DIY and I’ve been touring with you in a van and sleeping on floors.”

“Happiness is messy and the thing that’s messy about it is that it can’t last. Even when I’m having a really good time there’s something in the back of my head going, Okay, something wrong is going to come. I wrote it because I was thinking, I just want to not feel anything because that would be so much cleaner, so much more balanced, so much easier if I could just not go up and down and just go straight forward all the time.”

I’m nodding furiously and about to bring up how much socioeconomics plays into it but Mitski is several pages ahead of me. She continues, “This is another class and racism thing. Those people who say, Oh you are not DIY or you are so ambitious or you’re all about money… I’m not all about money! I only care about music but unlike you—you, at any point in time can quit music and take over your dad’s company or you can go back to Connecticut if shit doesn’t work out in Brooklyn. You can go live with your parents for as long as you want. You can always leave…. This is it for me. Music is my skill and I have to make sure it’s sustainable because I want to live. I think that’s ultimately what alienated me.” Mitski’s voice changes tone a little, betraying her investment in setting people straight on this. “I wouldn’t be doing music if I wanted to make money but I want to be able to keep making music and in order to do that I have to be healthy and I have to live. It’s very—they’re not aware of it, but it’s the same as hating on the Asian kid at school who is working really hard to get rich. The ultimate privilege is looking like you’re not working hard or just being chill. It’s actually racist to be like, Oh you’re so ambitious it’s so ugly. It’s like, No I have to, I have to hustle.”

And she does, she hustles because she is all too aware that many of the luxuries afforded to white dudes in bands—the luxury of being weird, the luxury of being dirty, the luxury of experimenting, the luxury of being boring, the luxury of being mediocre—are not extended to her. “I used to be a three-minutes tops person, and that was only because I grew up not being given time to speak, so that’s how I became—very concise. I always had a very small window. I can’t be a noise artist white boy shredding for thirty minutes. No one would stay that long for me. I had to learn to say everything right now, to get your attention.”

Though Mitski regularly sells out her tours and has gotten rave reviews for her last two albums and could certainly afford to be a bit more indulgent, she remains, true to her word, hardest on herself. I tell her Puberty 2 has some tests—“Happy” opens the album with a headache—but there’s plenty of treats to be found too, and she admits, “I’m not confident enough to not provide treats to lure them here.”

When I ask if her approach to making music has changed now that she’s becoming a public figure, she thinks about it for a while and then responds, “It’s fruitless to try to maintain your “self” before you were aware. The only thing you can do is try to adapt and find a new way of creating because there’s absolutely no way you can make the same thing in the same way as you did when no one knew you. When I’m songwriting, finally everything goes quiet and I can be in my world and I think that’s why I love it so much. That hasn’t changed. When I’m writing a song—maybe I’m a psychopath—I’ll have this voice in my head, this awareness that people are listening, but it almost doesn’t matter. I can still be in my own world. It’s the same thing as being on stage: creating my inner world on stage while physically looking at these people but also being able to live in a dream while being aware that people are watching you living your dream.”

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“I’ve kind of become alienated from DIY indie music world of Brooklyn. I realized it’s because I’m always aware of myself at 50 years old getting cancer. I’m not going to sit around getting beers with you because I need to be thinking about when I’m almost dying and need to get medication but I can’t pay for it because I’ve been DIY and I’ve been touring with you in a van and sleeping on floors.”

All throughout lunch, the question of dreams come up again and again. Talking about her teenage years, she reveals, “I would have an one night stand but I would never sleep over. It had nothing to do with boundaries. It had everything to do with: I want to take my face off but I don’t want to do that in front of his person so I have to go home and take my make up off in private. I don’t want them to see my face without makeup. But it would be interpreted as, Oh, she’s so distant, and she’s so cool—not cool in an awesome way, cool as in a chilly way. But it had nothing to do with that. It was very surface. It was just—I need to take my makeup off.” Though she says it’s as simple as wanting to sleep with clean skin, when I chime in to bring up how gross it is to wake up the next morning in a stranger’s bed without brushing your teeth and the stink of last night’s cigarettes and booze still on your breath, Mitski agrees, adding, “That’s the thing—you know that you need to keep the dream alive.” We marvel at how ridiculous the “dream” is and how ridiculous it is that nearly every woman knows about it and seemingly so many men never even notice it.

“It’s almost insulting to not go home because that means like, Oh you’re not worth keeping the dream alive for,” I say.

“That’s another part of feminine labor,” Mitski says. “It’s hard to explain to men who don’t think about that. It’s like: we’re thinking about your dream right now.”

After lunch, I get an iced bubble milk tea and Mitski orders a hot herbal tea. She’s every bit the twenty-five-year-old rock star going on MOM when she thoughtfully inquires how I plan on getting home. I live in Brooklyn and the train situation from Queens to Brooklyn is abysmal and slow. She offers me a ride to her next appointment, which is a photoshoot in South Williamsburg. While we wait for the driver my friend Tony texts me: “Best American girl is the best song of 2016 lol”. He wants me to pass along the message, and I do, exaggerating to Mitski that he’s basically in love with her, because it’s harmless and fun to talk that way about men when they aren’t around. “The dream you,” I specify, even though this whole time we’ve been talking to each other, we might as well have been appending “the dream you” and “the dream me” to the end of all our observations about how we move through the world as women.

“That’s so sweet of him,” she says.

“Actually, you’ve met him before. I don’t know if you remember but he was there at the Shea Stadium show. We all chatted afterwards and he took our photo.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have talked to him,” she says, smiling with the gleam of a woman who might just be your dream as easily she could turn into your nightmare, “so he can stay in love.”

We both arrived at our lunch date with our hair down and now as we’re preparing to leave, we simultaneously, while talking about dreams, pull our hair back into low ponytails. Mitski is headed to a fancy photoshoot where she’ll have her makeup professionally done, something she loves, and I’m headed home. When the car drops us off in the Hasidic part of Williamsburg, we hug and make totally vague non-committal plans to hang out again like a couple of introverts who like each other but can’t risk further energy depletion. I walk very slowly through the neighborhood listening to Puberty 2. Spending time with her has left me plump with fullness, yet somehow I’m even more ravenous than before. A tiny taste of a love other people can’t ruin, I sing along as I’m blocks from home and get a text from Mitski with a photo of her looking like a hot 90’s Barbie: “makeup level: auntie w blue eyeshadow” she writes and I text back: “Omg u r like Veronica from Archie comics hot and that is like the highest compliment known to womankind”.

In the days to come, I text her updates on my heart, my horoscopes, my feelings, never forgetting how in the car she gave me the four words I needed so much to hear: “Love is worth it.” Mom really does know best, I think even though Mitski’s several years younger than me. I fight the urge to ask: where have you been all my life? When I scroll through her Twitter, I see someone has already asked exactly that, and in truest Mitski form, her answer is severe and fair: over here caught up in my own life.

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Limited Edition Mitski Sweater

Mitski-sweater.jpg#asset:2498Designed by Bekky Shin with lyrics by Mitski.

Scoop one here.