Much like the other videos produced for Laurel Hell‘s singles, “Stay Soft” draws much of its influence from psychological thrillers and horror films — of which Mitski is an admitted fan. In the film for the synth-driven song, Mitski finds herself wandering in a garden before being abducted by a pair of bizarre masked beings. In true Mitski fashion, the Maegan Houang-directed clip is heavily choreographed, with the singer performing exaggerated pantomime that occasionally aligns with the song’s lyrics during certain segments of the video.
Punctuated by a pulsating bass line and sprightly arpeggiations, “Stay Soft” deals with lyrical subject matter constantly in opposition with the song’s lighthearted production. This disparate tension, a common motif throughout Mitski’s work, was a deliberate choice during the creation of Laurel Hell.
“This album went through so many iterations,” she said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. “This album has been a punk record at some point, and a country record. Then, after a while, it was like, ‘I need to dance.’ Even though the lyrics might be depressing, I need something peppy to get me through this.”
“You stay soft, get beaten,” Mitski sings on “Stay Soft.” “Only natural to harden up.”
Allowing one’s sensitivity to become a weakness is something Mitski knows all too well. The singer explained to Rolling Stone how her recent absence from the music world was prompted by the emotional and psychological exhaustion of her career.
“When the world put me in this position, I didn’t realize that I was making this deal where in exchange for giving me this platform and attention, I was supposed to give myself,” she said.
“In order for me to survive in the music industry as it exists, I had to stuff a pillow over my heart and tell it to stop screaming, and be like, ‘Shut up, shut up, take it,’ ” she said. “After a few years of doing that every single day, my heart really did start to go numb and go silent. And the problem with that is that I actually need my heart — my feelings — in order to write music. It was this paradox.”
Laurel Hell is out now on Dead Oceans.