“If you would just make one mistake, what a relief that would be…”
You know how there are songs that, upon hearing an opening line for the first time, you just know it’s about to have you in a chokehold?
Mitski is back.
The 31-year-old Puberty 2 singer-songwriter actually returned last month after a three year hiatus with “Working for the Knife,” an all-too-relatable contemplation about growing older and having dreams take a backseat now that there’s bills to pay. (Oof, oof.)
And on Tuesday (November 9), she followed that up with the announcement of her new album – Laurel Hell, out on February 4, 2022 – as well as a new single called “The Only Heartbreaker,” which is not only a gorgeous, completely devastating ode to being the perpetual fuck-up, but also the first song she’s crafted with another writer to date.
“This is the first song in my entire discography of however many albums I’ve made where I have a co-writer, and it’s because this song was this puzzle that I couldn’t solve,” she explained to Apple Music.
“And I was just sitting on it forever. I have so many iterations of it. Nothing felt right. And right when I was stewing over it, I was actually in LA, doing co-write sessions for other artists. And we had this one day, or I had this one day with Dan Wilson. I had every intention to write for somebody else, but then I just sat down at his piano, and I was like, he’s one of the best, smartest songwriters in the world. Maybe he can help me with this song. And so I brought the song to him, and it turned out he’s really good. He helped me solve so many of the problems and kind of lead me out of the labyrinth of it. And yeah, I’m really glad that I took that chance with him.”
If there’s a songwriter to solve a puzzle with, Dan certainly seems capable: perhaps you know him for a song he did with under-the-radar indie singer Adele, called “Someone Like You.”
The puzzle, evidently, was solved in the studio, but that doesn’t help the fact that Mitski herself remains a problem…at least, in this particular brilliant song’s version of events.
Propelled by a rapid pulse and a thoroughly ’80s sheen of synths (shades of Bonnie Tyler, perhaps? A little Depeche Mode?), the singer glides across perfect pop melody after melody as she surrenders to the idea of being no good – or “the person always messing up in the relationship, the designated Bad Guy who gets the blame,” as she explains.
“I’ll be the loser in this game, I’ll be the bad guy in the play / I’ll be the water main that’s burst and flooding, you’ll be by the window, only watching,” she resigns, “I’ll be the only heartbreaker.” It’s a sad and straightforward sentiment that lingers in the air long after the song fades out, and its got its own (even sadder!) layers hidden underneath.
“It could simply be about that, but I also wanted to depict something sadder beneath the surface, that maybe the reason you’re always the one making mistakes is because you’re the only one trying,” she says. Twist the knife, why don’t you?
For anyone who’s ever felt like they can’t seem to do anything right by someone, and/or are wracked by perpetual guilt and shame and the nagging suspicion that you’re just a Bad Person (oh, hello!), this one certainly ought to cut deep. (It’s also just a very excellent exercise in songwriting, lyrics aside.)
The song’s structure also cleverly captures the increasing mess she’s made, as the instrumentation gets progressively more chaotic – the piano chords mashing down midway through, the searing noises coursing through the speakers towards the song’s end – building and building towards an abrupt collapse.
Similarly, the accompanying music video, co-directed by Maegan Houang and Jeff Desom, immediately communicates the song’s message of being nothing but trouble in motion, in the form of being a fire-starting decay-maker in the middle of the forest, which has a vague Volta or Vulnicura-era Björk feel. (It also marks her first green-screen production.)
Mitski can’t help herself, as everything she touches goes turns to rot and flames and soot. She captivatingly, frantically dances her way through the pain as she simultaneously burns it all down to the ground, horrified at the hurt she’s caused at her own hands – eventually destroying her entire world.
“The worst pain I’ve experienced is when I’ve fully understood the pain I’ve caused another. It’s one of the hardest parts of being human, that no matter our intentions, we’ll inevitably do something hurtful to our fellow man, if not someone we love. In this case, the harm Mitski enacts in the video is to the world. It’s unstoppable and destructive, but worst of all, she doesn’t even want it to happen. She’s a stand-in for humanity as we collectively do so little to save ourselves and our planet,” director Maegan explains of the song’s video concept. See? There are so many opportunities for us to be bad for ourselves, or for our loved ones, or for the world as a whole! What a joy the Human Experience is.
So whether you’re feeling bad about your behavior, or you’re looking for an anthem to lean into chaotic evil (honestly, work), Mitski’s got you covered.
At least destroying everything we touch sounds really, really fucking good. (Or “so fire,” as Vanessa Hudgens would say.)