Mitski’s Be The Cowboy landed at No. 3 on our 2018 critic poll’s best albums list. Check out the poll here, and our thoughts on the album’s impact below.
There are countless pieces floating around the internet written about Mitski’s Be The Cowboy, unsurprisingly so –- the musician’s brilliant fifth studio album has amassed critical acclaim, consistently topping year-end lists. Be The Cowboy is the musical embodiment of a power move, an album that comes with sparkling, unmissable notes of rebellion.
Upon first listen, one might initially assume that each track was birthed from one of Mistki’s own diary entries –- Confessional! Courageously raw! Deeply personal! However, she’s described Be The Cowboy as a meticulous character study and “experiment in narrative and fiction.” And when you might be inclined to pine a lover to the receiving end of her laments, you learn that she maybe wasn’t singing to another person all along: The record’s opening track, “Geyser,” showcases Mitski laying her heart open: “You’re my number one / You’re the one I want,” she croons, but she’s doing so with a fire in her eyes, directing her words towards what she deems her closest relationship — her music career.
Mitski has also given ample insight into what it means to “be the cowboy” figuratively. In an interview with Trevor Noah, she likened the cowboy in the album’s title to the kind of Clint Eastwood, Marlboro commercial trope: “There’s such an arrogance and a freedom to it that is so appealing to me, especially because I’m an Asian woman and I think I walk into a room and feel like I have to apologize for existing,” she said. “This album’s protagonist is someone like me who feels like they want to channel or embody that energy of a cowboy.”
She agreed that Asian culture might be one of the furthest things from “cowboyness” — “The idea of a cowboy is so American because of the idea of a man riding into town, wrecking sh*t, and then walking out like he’s the hero,” she continued. Sonically, the record exudes that insouciant power. Her lyrical stories ride galloping disco beats, beats that churn forward like a pulse. On one of the album’s most dance-y songs, “Nobody,” Mitski divulges the sensation of total isolation and repulsion: “I’ve been big and small and big and small and big and small again / And still nobody wants me,” she sings, and even as her voice lets off into a dissonant, deluded daze, the music keeps pumping. Some of the most cutting lines are sung on “A Pearl”: “You’re growing tired of me,” and “It’s just that I fell in love with a war / Nobody told me it ended / And it left a pearl in my head / And I roll it around every night just to watch it glow.” It’s devastating, but it still beckons you to throw your arms up and spin until it all goes black.