This past September, Mitski released her seventh studio album titled “The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We.” With its heart-wrenching lyricism and intricate worldbuilding, this all encompassing project has quickly gained popularity. Mitski goes over life, love, and loss in a hauntingly intricate way. The Japanese-American indie pop singer has been praised for her unique mix of musical genres and her distinctive voice. Her projects have always been emotionally charged, exploring themes of identity, mental health, and existentialism. This album ties together all the ideas in her previous work, almost offering the audience a sense of closure to the tumultuous journey she’s been guiding us through.
One of the most prominent themes in the album is the jarring imperfection of the human experience, utilizing juxtaposition heavily throughout the project to communicate this. The album’s content is intricate, as opposing themes in the songs are deliberately contrasted to craft a nuanced view and sound. With the opening song “Bug Like An Angel,” we are given themes of loneliness, family, and failure. Mitski’s goal is to let us know that she plays an active role in her life. She makes poor decisions and breaks promises to herself because that’s what being human is. Rock bottom is the most universal place to be. Everyone prays for it to be over and feels the guilt of their consequences. Another song, “Buffalo Replaced,” further portrays these emotions through Mitski’s lyrics about the dreams of an escape; to be running, wild, with the buffalo. This spiral builds throughout the album. “I Don’t Like My Mind,” “The Deal,” and “I’m Your Man” follow her descent as her path of thought gets louder and harder to ignore. She laments about wishing to sell her soul and feeling incapable and undeserving of love.
Along this spiral into thought, Mitski struggles with accepting her past mistakes. “When Memories Snow” and “The Frost” emphasize the album’s continuous metaphor of snow representing old and painful memories. She constantly tries to escape the reminders of the darkness, but when her memories inevitably snow, falling from the sky onto her, they become impossible to ignore. This particular track emphasizes the weight of that emotion, yet Mitski’s overarching intention is to convey that it is a necessary evil. As people, we sometimes want nothing more than to rid ourselves of the memories we have, but those memories are the sole essence of our very being.
These bleaker songs are mixed in with tracks like “Heaven,” “My Love Mine All Mine,” and “Star,” which encompass the optimistic, dreamy perspectives on love that she has. She reminds us that these heavenly moments are just as real as the unbearably painful ones. “My Love Mine All Mine” is the first of Mitski’s works to make it to the Billboard Top 100, and for good reason. The track’s dreamy, comforting sound encapsulates love in a rare way. It emphasizes how, as women, we do nothing for ourselves. Nothing belongs solely to us. But our love, our feelings, our experiences, our memories, are ours, and nobody else’s. To reclaim that sentiment when women have been so used in the past is immensely powerful. In the track “Star,” Mitski sings “That love is like a star. It’s gone, we just see it shinin’ It’s traveled very far, I’ll keep a leftover light burnin’ so you can keep lookin’ up. Isn’t that worth holdin’ on?” letting us know how much she now values her own ability to love. Stars are a common theme in Mitski’s work. Most famously, her 2016 song “Your Best American Girl” is about growing up as a minority and coming second to her conventionally attractive white peers. She sings, “You’re the sun, you’ve never seen the night, But you hear its song from the morning birds. Well, I’m not the moon, I’m not even a star, But awake at night I’ll be singing to the birds.” Although Mitski admits that she loves love, she isn’t afraid to acknowledge the fact that society makes it hard for people like her to achieve it. In this new album, however, stars and the moon are depicted in a more hopeful light, letting us know that she’s grown to accept herself over time.
“I Love Me After You” is the closing track of the album. This song encapsulates the acceptance and love that one feels for oneself after living through pain they never thought they would. Mitski finally puts herself before her romantic partner and shows love for herself in the little things she does every day. This track parallels “My Love Mine All Mine” where “Nothing in the world belongs to me,” but now she is the “King of all lands.” With this line, we are finally given a reference to the project title, telling us that the land Mitski describes herself as King of is inhospitable.
“The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We” breathtakingly encompasses the unique experience of being alive as an Asian American woman. Mitski reminds us that being a woman who is born to live and love is an unending curse. We are born with love coursing through our veins, hearts so sweet and willing that it takes the world and all its cruelty to stop us in our tracks. To teach us that it’s dangerous to love freely. In reality, to love and be loved is the heart of our very existence as humans. Mitski wants us to recognize both these things as facts of life, and know that they can’t exist without each other. Love is fleeting, but that’s what makes it worth chasing. Being women of color in America, we are constantly compared to the Eurocentric beauty standards that surround us, even if it’s not obvious. We are made to feel less than because of our intersectionality. Growing up, the idea that we would ever be someone’s first choice feels like a fantasy at best because of the way society treats us. Even further, growing up Asian American and having parents who immigrated to the country separates you from the rest of your peers. It makes you feel ashamed and alone and so, so tired. But that doesn’t make us undeserving of love. Mitski encapsulates this perfectly in her work. This album feels like falling asleep early and waking up in the middle of the night. The room is dark, the candle you lit earlier is still burning brightly, and though you might’ve felt scared of the stillness in the past, you breathe it in now, and feel at peace, blow out the candle and finally crawl into bed.
“You will die one day, sooner than you imagine, and it is incredibly sad. So scream about it.”- Mitski Miyawaki
Graphic by Sydney Folsom