Mitski Opening For Lorde Furthers The Breakdown Between Pop And Indie Rock

10.11.17 2 weeks ago

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When Lorde announced the openers for her upcoming Melodrama tour, many indie rock fans were delighted that in addition to hip-hop stalwarts Run The Jewels, cult favorite Mitski would be serving as support for much of the 2018 run. Lorde is perhaps the first pop star to occupy the space of fan and tastemaker as much as she does, and the lineup for her tour feels like a genre-encompassing dream that points toward the way that labels like rap, pop and indie rock are slowly melting away. And while Run The Jewels have a fairly high profile in the mainstream, Mitski’s inclusion here feels like a massive victory for supporters of independent music.

To put it in perspective, Mitski was playing house shows and basements as recently as 2013, and just under five years later would be taking the stage at massive arenas across the United States and Canada. Even though Mitski is a huge name in the indie rock community, and her most recent album Puberty 2 ranked highly on many of 2016’s year-end lists, an opening slot on a massive arena tour is still a coup. But clearly, high-profile artists and industry personnel are starting to take notice, and Mitski’s name, music, and influence are only going to continue to grow. She is a very talented artist who undoubtedly deserves all of the accolades that are headed her way, and the cornerstone is her inclusion on the Melodrama tour’s run.

This isn’t the first time that Lorde has taken a smaller, indie-rock leaning band out on tour with her, either. Canadian duo Majical Cloudz opened Lorde’s 2014 amphitheater victory run in support of Pure Heroine. In a 2015 interview with Paste Magazine, the band discussed their positive experience on the road with Lorde:

“It wasn’t some sort of orchestrated plan where we had a record coming out and a well-oiled machine, where a tour with Lorde was a step on our ascent to some other level of the record industry,” [frontman Devon Welsh] says. “It just came out of the blue, and at a point where we weren’t really doing much of anything besides recording this new album. We were playing in front of thousands of people at these sold out shows, where everyone was there to see the headliner, and no one knew who we were, but they were still really enthusiastic. It ended up being a lot of fun.”

In addition to Majical Cloudz, there are some other historical success stories. In 2012, Arctic Monkeys opened for the Black Keys on their El Camino arena run, which further expanded their reign as alt-rock kingpins and allowed them to headline many of the same venues less than two years later. Ed Sheeran’s opening stint on Taylor Swift’s 2013 Red tour turned him into an international megastar, culminating in three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in October of that year. Prior to joining Swift on tour, he was playing moderately-sized venues with a capacity of between 6,000 and 9,000.

On the other end of the spectrum, consider The Replacements’ opening stint on the late Tom Petty’s 1989 Strange Behavior tour. We played brilliantly at least twice and got no reaction,” Paul Westerberg said of the tour in Bob Mehr’s Replacements biography Trouble Boys. “Middle American Petty fans don’t want it, unless they’ve seen it on TV first or heard it on the radio.”

The same — perhaps to an even greater extent than in 1989 — can be said for the fans headed out to see one of the biggest pop stars in the world in 2018. Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl” was widely regarded by critics as one of the best songs of 2016, but a mainstream pop fan has most likely never heard the song, and in most cases the name Mitski has never even landed anywhere near their radar.

Might playing to a half-full arena every night, in front of an audience that might not even know your name, let alone your music, have negative impacts on the morale of the opening artist? While the staggering upgrade from clubs to arenas is certainly a massive opportunity for Mitski and the sheer number of seats is going to be much greater than what she is used to playing (like, almost ten times greater), there might be a potential toll involved. Not to mention that an artist of that size might actually lose money during the North American run, with all of the unexpected costs of the large-scale travel and supersized production. But given the demeanor of the audience Lorde has accumulated, it feels like these potential downfalls will be eclipsed by the potential for success.

The addition of Mitski to the Melodrama tour is just more of a testament to Lorde’s untraditional existence in the pop music world. A bit hard to define herself, Lorde actually gets more play on rock radio than pop radio, and it makes quite a bit of sense for her to take this opportunity to once again show her diverse musical taste and influences (see: her love for Paul Simon and Phil Collins).

Plus, Mitski and Lorde are similar musically in a lot of ways, they both write wise, potent songs about love and loss that live on in your heart for weeks and months after you hear them. That shared quality alone will probably win any Lorde fan over for Mitski. And Lorde is not a pop star known for elaborate stage setups or her choreography, so even though Mitski’s live show is fairly tame, fans of both artists are in it for the music and the lyrics, for a chance to get close to these monumental writers, who both often share personal, intimate stories that accompany the songs from the stage.

Largely due to its diversity, the Melodrama tour is still one of the most exciting lineups of recent memory, and one that won’t soon be forgotten. Lorde’s commitment to sharing her spotlight with a lesser-known artist like Mitski and allowing an artist like that the opportunity to spread their wings is nothing but admirable and commendable. Here’s to hoping that this opportunity will be the start of something incredible for Mitski and her team. Regardless of how full the arena might be when Mitski takes the stage, the audience will receive what they might have been expecting from Lorde, but perhaps were unaware that they would also receive from her opener: A young female songwriter pouring out her heart in the form of beautiful poetry, that just happens to be set to music.

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