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  • Gabby Maresco

Mitski: Movement to Elevate Music

Mitski Miyawaki, known famously as Mitski, is an American alternative/indie singer-songwriter whose music has caught the attention of a wide audience in recent years. Her raw lyrics paired with powerful yet enchanting vocals tell stories about complex topics, ranging from her relationship to the art she creates, her experiences as an Asian American, romantic entanglements, and time itself. Her melodies and messages are not the only thing profound about her artistry, as her performances for live audiences further confirm her commitment to the music she creates.

Her recent concert tour in support of her latest album, Laurel Hell (2022) showcases these performance abilities. Mitski worked together with Jas lin, a Taiwanese American choreographer and performance artist, to create the movements that physicalized her music. The choreography for this tour consisted of Mitski herself without any backup dancers, leading all displays of movement to be just as intimate as her lyrics. She uses movement to elevate the music.

For example, during her song “Drunk Walk Home”, the choreography had Mitski scrubbing at her face frantically and convulsing her body to portray the song’s desperation, or how during “Working for the Knife” she maneuvered the microphone so she was using it as a knife against her neck.

Both these descriptions include movements that are erratic, repetitive, and sometimes even prolonged– all of which have a ritualistic feel to them. During the choreographing process, Mitski proposed the word ritual to Lin, and tasked them to bring this concept to the concert venue. What is ritualistic? A ritual is an act done with some otherworldly intention, which is exactly what these movements are. They not only surprise audiences, but physically express the music’s emotions in a way that is as eye-grabbing as it is ear-grabbing. Mitski wanted her concert space to be dreamlike, so why not have dreamy movements to go with her dreamy vocals.

These movements have some cultural inspiration, as both Mitski and Lin are enjoyers of a particular Japanese dance theatre that makes use of exaggerated expression in face and body, as well as sharp, precise movements. This art form is referred to as Butoh, and is often used to depict complicated emotions sometimes deemed taboo. It is most often done with white body makeup, but overtime has developed so it may be presented in many ways! Butoh is hard to define, as its very existence is made to push boundaries of performance, which is exactly what Mitski and Lin sought to do.

Boundaries are especially pushed during the song “Nobody”, where Lin described their choreography as being that of an “adult tantrum,” an emotional outburst that is fierce and raw, yet socially uncomfortable. They want to challenge the audience to unpack why Mitski’s onstage tantrum makes them uncomfortable. They have Mitski frantically pacing back and forth, and repeatedly spinning around to express this. The urgency of the song is only enhanced further and it’s gut wrenching!

This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I urge you to support AAPI artists such as Mitski and Jas Lin, so you may learn about the amazing work they are putting out into the world! Work such as theirs pushes the boundaries of how we consume and present music, which is something I think all musicians should think about!

Sources: e-hsu/


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