Multi-faceted Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski recently released her 7th studio album, “The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We.” The record combines deeply personal metaphors with the most delicate of lyrics, brought to life by Mitski’s hazy croons and stripped-down instrumentals. Needless to say, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.
Fans on social media were quick to share their opinions over this album, discussing their interpretations, Mitski’s intention, the cover art, the track order, and even her new merch. Within the reception of all this discourse, I noticed a common pattern: the innate assumption of sadness.
Over and over again fans made comments on how this album was going to “destroy them” emotionally, or how they weren’t ready for another devastatingly depressing song—as if that’s all she’s good for. At first, I laughed with the humorous attempts to relate a Mitski album to an individual’s mental state, but then I really started to pay attention. For the first time, I had listened to a Mitski album all the way through and hadn’t felt emotionally overwhelmed.
I thought back to some of her previous albums, “Bury Me At Makeout Creek” and “Puberty 2,” both of which, while incredibly beautiful, also sent me into a spiral of sadness. Generally, when songs like “Bag of Bones” unsuspectingly popped up in my playlist, I would be immersed in gut wrenching lyrics such as “mercy on me, would you please spare me,” fueling feelings of familiar heart ache.
But this new album was different. That’s not to say it wasn’t equally beautiful and relatable, it just didn’t invoke the same despair, anger, or melancholy that her previous works had.
When I stopped and really paid attention to the lyrics instead of falling for her soft timbre and slower tempo, I realized the album was not meant to revel in sadness, but rather, reveal a path to reflection and healing.
It is for this reason I see the work as her happiest album.
Regular Mitski listeners are used to albums with songs like “First Love/Late Spring” and “I Bet On Losing Dogs,” ones that are so outrightly meant to relay longing, anger, and desperation, that they have stopped appreciating when the artist is happy. This is understandable when listeners have been cathartically singing along to chorus’ like “One word from you and I would jump off of this ledge.”
However, in order to fully take in Mitski’s new work, fans can’t restrict the artist to one creative box, whether this is done by the audience intentionally or not. To truly appreciate an artist is to look at it from all angles and interpretations, not just the ones that make feeling sad justified.
The most popular song on the album, “My Love Mine All Mine,” was interpreted by some listeners as a wistful ballad describing someone trying to hoard love, or grab onto a love they don’t have. Conversely, Mitski herself explained that the song is actually meant to cherish love, as it is this action that only lives as long as oneself. “To love is truly the best and most beautiful thing I ever did,” Mitski said. “I wanted to write a song about how I wish that when I die, I could at least leave all this love behind.”
“Heaven,” the third track on this record, juxtaposes a metaphorical heaven, representing a secure and loving relationship, which is surrounded by “the dark” that “awaits us all around the corner.” While this, in my interpretation, is meant to represent a relationship that is failing or has already failed, the perspective in which Mitski as the speaker reflects on the situation is not of longing or shame, but more of peace and gratitude. This song is another look at how the work as a whole meets these hard moments in life, such as leaving behind a relationship, with acceptance opposed to dwelling in regret and sadness.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t intentionally heart wrenching songs on the album, such as “I’m Your Man” and “I Don’t Like My Mind,” which expressed struggles with mental health and finding personal value within oneself. But as a whole, this album allows Mitski to reflect on her own relationship with love, express nostalgia, and ultimately value experiences as opposed to regretting them.
“The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We” was incredibly authentic, personal, and human. I think as fans it is a part of our duty to allow artists to breathe and create in new and vulnerable ways. Mitski’s music to me, and many others, is always incredibly touching. But what is unique about this is that she not only has the ability to produce art that is extremely connecting and personal, but it is also ever changing, as Mitski as a person is constantly evolving. If artists are not allowed to grow within their art, if we limit them to certain categories, then audiences will stop receiving rare works like this album.