Growing up in a family that relocated often because of her parents’ jobs, Mitski Miyawaki spent much of her teens lost in a dream. “I was in cars a lot, looking out the window,” she says as she winds through rush-hour gridlock in Los Angeles. “I entertain myself, make up stories in my mind. That’s where probably a lot of mishaps and misunderstandings came about as a teenager.”
One of the most insidious of those had to do with her ambition to break into the music industry. Like many adolescent girls, she became obsessed with dieting and exercising. “If I’m beautiful, then I will be discovered and get to sing,” she remembers thinking.
Fortunately for today’s heartbroken youth, they have Mitski to teach them how to see the world more clearly. The 27-year-old singer-songwriter, known for her casually crushing lyrics and fuzzed-out guitar chords, has become a hero to a generation of women who grew up on the Internet. Her breakthrough albums, 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek and 2016’s Puberty 2, are full of observations that ring true to anyone with more frenzied feelings than they know what to do with. “One morning this sadness will fossilize/And I will forget how to cry . . . I will go jogging routinely/Calmly and rhythmically,” she sings on Puberty 2‘s “Fireworks.”
This year, Mitski has moved confidently toward pop, opening on Lorde’s spring arena tour, writing songs for other artists she can’t name yet, and releasing a new LP, Be the Cowboy, featuring her most unabashedly catchy songs to date. “I don’t really see the point in putting together a bunch of words for the sake of my own expression,” she says. “I’m interested in having someone understand me.”
The title of the album, she says, is “something I’m always kind of joked about with myself – the ideal of swaggering, [not] caring. I can make it on my own. I ride into town. I miss seeing that swaggering cowboy onstage. I miss being mesmerized by that, and I thought, ‘Well, I should just be that cowboy that I want to see onstage.’ I’m just going to be the thing that mesmerizes me.”
Mitski prefers not to elaborate on the romantic struggles that inform her records. “I think it’s a generally rational thing for all my peers to want to share everything, but I’m very private and protected,” she says. “Maybe also it’s because I already write these personal songs. My needs are met. I already give my soul and my songs. I don’t want to also give you my life. I want something for myself.”
That said, Be the Cowboy sounds like a turning point in her work: She still understands pain, but it seems she’s no longer drowning in it. “It’s really great to grow up,” Mitski says with a smile. “You don’t have to be feeling things all the time. It’s such a relief!”