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Hell isn’t always sad, you can dance there too: on Mitski’s ‘Laurel Hell’

<h6>“Mitksi” by Bruce Baker / <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/theholygrail/46927277872/" target="_self">CC BY 2.0</a></h6>
“Mitksi” by Bruce Baker / CC BY 2.0

“Let’s step carefully into the dark” is the first line in “Valentine, Texas,” the first track of Mitski’s highly anticipated fifth album. The album, “Laurel Hell,” contains 11 songs that range from 80s-reminiscent eclecticism to refreshing, melodramatic melodies. 

Mitski, a Japanese-American alternative/indie singer-songwriter, is known for captivating her fans with emotional, creative, and complex lyrics that showcase her grand narrative ability as a songwriter. 

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Each song on the album has a distinct sound.

Many fans on social media, specifically Twitter and TikTok, have noted that the song “Should’ve Been Me” sounds like a track from the popular Nintendo game Mario Kart. Oddly enough, “Should’ve Been Me” is my favorite song on the album. I’m not sure if that says something about me or the song. I will leave it up to the audience to decide. Personally, the song is a reminder of something unsteady and wishful.

The sanguine tune behind lyrics like “When I saw the girl looked just like me / And it broke my heart, the lengths you went to hold me / To get to have me” presents a contrasting image that listeners can easily overlook if casually listening. The image Mitski presents in this song is a representation of her complex feelings in a relationship. And through this album, Mitski harnesses her feelings to tell a unique story.

Though I think highly of the album, not all fans feel the same. I have spoken to some fans, and they feel like the album had a lack of cohesiveness and fell short overall in comparison to Mitski’s other albums. They note that it’s “too” different from what she has produced in the past.

But to me, that’s exactly what Mitski does.

Mitski is pushing the limits with “Laurel Hell” and continuing to stretch her musicality. With every track, Mitski gives listeners a different side of herself as a storyteller, and it’s enjoyable for both the average listener and the music enthusiast.

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The song “The Only Heartbreak” presents a picture of the pressures behind being in a relationship and meeting the expectations of a partner. Yet such a weighty revelation is backed not by a slow melodically beat, but rather by an upbeat tune. With this album, Mitski has truly produced something fascinating. It’s an album that listeners can dance to while still reflecting on their toughest relationships. 

Overall, there have been a lot of mixed reviews on “Laurel Hell,” but controversy is what music is about. It sparks conversation, and Mitski is definitely a conversation starter, continuously refining what it means to be an artist. With “Laurel Hell,” Mitski tells listeners that, instead of crying through the pain and heartbreak, you can dance through it. And that’s okay with me.

Davina Thompson is a Staff Writer for The Prospect. She can be reached at davinathompson@princeton.edu or on Instagram @davinathompson.

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