Mitski’s latest release cuts deep

After two years of hiatus, Mitski’s new song, “Working for the Knife,” delivers a poignant critique of consumerism through the eyes of an artist.

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photo from Mitski's "Working for the Knife" music video

Mitski releases a new song and music video after two years of hiatus.

Aris Pastor, Staff Writer

I remember the moment like it was yesterday; singer-songwriter Mitski finally returned from her musical hiatus. I was eating lunch and scrolling through my phone, awaiting something interesting to catch my eye. I had taken an interest in her music in the winter of 2020, an interest that soon devolved into a full-blown obsession with the unique way Mitski is able to phrase the intersection between longing, race, and femininity. 

Needless to say, I was thrilled that she was returning to the stage. However, after listening to her newest song, I became skeptical. 

Her new song, “Working for the Knife,” was released on October 5, 2021 after two years of hiatus. In the song, Mitski describes her difficulties as an artist in a consumerist culture, having to work for the titular “knife.” 

She begins the song with the words “I cry at the start of every movie / I guess ’cause I wish I was making things, too.”

Most commercial artists know how unrelenting consumerism can lead to burnout, and many know what living with the constant urge to create for money feels like. Living as an artist under a capitalist society can be exploitative, and, as Mitski states in her “Nobody” Genius interview, “I am too proud to be hysterical to other people but the chorus ‘Nobody’ was literally me in a semi-fugue state on my hands and knees on the floor just crying and just repeating the word ‘nobody.’ And then I don’t know. I was like, ‘Let me use this pain and exploit it for my money.’”

Mitski’s songs have always been intimate and vulnerable, a view into her mental state that is as captivating as it is visceral. It isn’t a surprise that her music leverages her own pain for capitalistic gain, and that isn’t necessarily bad, either. Most artists, in some way, use their pain both for inspiration and for financial sustenance. 

Mitski’s songs have always been intimate and vulnerable, a view into her mental state that is as captivating as it is visceral.”

However, “Working for the Knife” describes Mitski’s artistic journey, showing how she began hopeful and was slowly worn down by the system, cutting off pieces of herself to sell to others. 

In an interview about the song, Mitski said, “It’s about going from being a kid with a dream to a grown-up with a job, and feeling that somewhere along the way you got left behind. It’s being confronted with a world that doesn’t seem to recognize your humanity, and seeing no way out of it.”

The music video, released on the same day as the song, shows this as well. 

Once the music ends, the video shows the artist dancing on an empty stage for a minute, breathing heavily as applause surrounds her. The applause fades as she keeps dancing, moving wildly until she collapses on the floor of the stage and smiles at the camera — a statement on the exploitative nature of the music industry that targets women in particular. In selling pieces of herself to be consumed, she not only sells her pain, but her body as well. 

Portal

 

While Mitski’s newly released music and plans to tour come 2022 are exciting, they are undercut by the message of this new song. Newspapers speculating about a new album prove the meaning of “Working for the Knife” right—Mitski is already feeling the pressure to create more within just one week of releasing music. 

In a fairer world, Mitski would be able to create at her own pace, and her fans would be happy with that. But “Working for the Knife” reminds us that, even if the prospect of new Mitski content is exciting, audiences must be aware of the culture’s often suffocating impact on artists.