When Mitski Miyawaki’s new record Be the Cowboy came out in August, my friend wondered, “Is this a concept album about kissing?” Upon closer inspection, kissing does come up a lot: On “Nobody,” an electrifying ode to loneliness, Mitski pleads, “I know no one will save me/I’m just asking for a kiss/Give me one good movie kiss/And I’ll be all right.” On the breathless “Pink in the Night,” she explains, “I know I’ve kissed you before, but I didn’t do it right.” Over the thumping, layered rhythms of standout track “Washing Machine Heart,” she sings, “I’m not wearing my usual lipstick/I thought maybe we would kiss tonight.” And then there’s the opening line of “Blue Light”: “Somebody kiss me, I’m going crazy.”
All that smoochy talk got me thinking about the significance of a kiss in the Mitskiverse (and beyond)—is it validation? Connection? A relief? Comfort and temporary escape? A transference of energy? Or just a fun thing to do with lips? Probably all of those, but the common thread is needing someone else, which might relate to the record’s broader theme of embodying whatever you wish to be yourself.
Mitski recently told the Outline, “The album title kind of came from the fact that I would always kind of jokingly say to myself, ‘Be the cowboy you wish to see the world,’ whenever I was in a situation where maybe I was acting too much like my identity, which is wanting everyone to be happy, not thinking I’m worthy, being submissive, and not asking for more. Every time I would find myself doing exactly what the world expects of me as an Asian woman, I would turn around and tell myself, ‘Well, what would a cowboy do?’” Regardless of the deeper meaning of cowboys and wanting to be kissed, Mitski’s new album is her best yet—a collection of complex, vital, aching, and gorgeous pop songs.