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Music How Mitski has carried me through isolation

Sep. 2, 2020
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“My god, I’m so lonely so I open my window / to hear sounds of people / to hear sounds of people.” With lyrics that yearn to be held, it seems Mitski’s “Nobody” was written especially for this pandemic. Her yearning for human background noise is all too familiar once the evening hits and I realize it’s been two weeks I’ve gone outside. 

Mitski’s music has always explored the tense spot between being in a crowd with someone and actually reaching out to touch them. The narrator is always close but not close enough. And when she does love, the love is almost always transactional. In “I Will,” Mitski sings of a sacrificial kind of closeness, one where devotion is shown through action. With the lyrics “And while you sleep / I'll be scared So by the time you wake I'll be brave,” it’s clear that her love promises a selfless passion, a deep connection that feels too kind to be true. In need of this sort of kindness, I’ve been listening to this song almost every night for the past month, longing to be this close to someone. I live in Toronto, a busy city, and not being able to see my friends and hold their hands has devastated me; so has the anxiety around going outside. I’ve always been an introvert, most of my energy coming from spending time alone, and I can sense that Mitski is as well. But when I listen to “I Will,” I sense a desperation to connect with someone who has difficulty doing so. Sometimes I feel the song through Mitski’s perspective, and other times I feel I’m on the receiving end of her words. If only I could let someone come over and be this close to me and take care of me. Though I’ve always praised my ability to survive alone, spending months apart from the people who have always been there for me has shown me that I am needy. I am a needy, sensitive person who simply misses being held and coddled by the friends that are sometimes too good for her. 

I listened to “First Love / Late Spring” in my first year of college, and though I wasn’t in love at the time, the lyric “one word from you and I will jump off of this ledge baby” really struck me. That’s what tickles me about Mitski’s words—they’re never about one type of love or need. But we all experience some kind of need, and generalizations about love alleviate feelings of isolation. In my freshman year I needed them as an antidote to the gray neoliberalism of academia. I felt isolated while surrounded by seemingly headless student bodies and long stretches of city buildings that were antithetical to the feeling of home. Now I need them because there is such a lack of any kind of body at all and home is the only place to be. I’ve developed wanderlust because of it. I’ve been looking at photos of Tokyo and Seoul and Rome and New York, wondering what it would be like to wander the streets at night with someone I trust. “And I don't wanna go home yet / Let me walk to the top of the big night sky,” Mitski sings. The top of the big night sky is where I want to go to escape it all, to conquer the hugeness of isolation. And when she begs her listener to hurry and leave her, I understand more than ever that she is begging them to stay. 

During quarantine I’ve also been thinking about crushes. I haven’t had a genuine crush on anyone for so long, but I crave that silly feeling of having someone to think about before sleep or giggle about with my friends. There’s something very queer about the way Mitski approaches falling in love or lust that is doubly appropriate for a feeling of wanting to—but not necessarily being able to—reach the figment of the person at the center of your desire. But it isn’t always romantic in the sense of heterosexuality, monogamy, or even human to human love. In “Pink in the Night” she croons the phrase “I love you” nine times in a row. With each repetition the listener feels closer. The funny thing about this insistence is that it isn’t Mitski herself saying these words, but the drops of rain she sings about that are supposedly confessing their love. When I’m angry about capitalism’s destruction of the world and the wellness of its people, a sentiment like this reminds me that the Earth itself is full of love and joy. Maybe I have a crush on the idea of nature as a conscious being. I want to be together all the time.

Mitski is often described as a melancholy artist, but her words carry the possibility of joy. I hope the end of this pandemic feels like “Strawberry Blond”—that is, both nostalgic and full of loss, but soaring with the joy of human connection and appreciation for what could be. In this sentiment I find the time to relax instead of engaging in the work culture that’s been propped by the amount of “free time” COVID-19 has given us. I find time to indulge in made-up first loves and platonic intimacy. I tell my friends I love them and I cannot wait to kiss them again. Perhaps whatever comes after this won’t be ideal—after all, the object of Mitski’s desire is in love with someone else—but it will be beautiful all the same.

Photo by Natalia Mantini for The Fader