My Definitive Ranking and Analysis of Every Mitski Album

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Photo courtesy of Sophia Evans/The Observer.

Mitski Miyawaki, known by her stage name “Mitski”, performs with fervor.

Lucy Samuels, Staff Writer

Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski is easily my all-time favorite musician and artist. She combines my love of classic alternative rock with a synthy, dramatic twist that keeps me coming back. Her sound is so incredibly refreshing and unique, yet it’s also familiar because of her solidified place in the popular alt-rock world. I love how you think her melody is going one way, and then it takes off in the exact opposite direction. Some songs make me want to bawl my eyes out while others make me want to get up and dance, sing, or play an instrument along with her—but all scratch my alternative music-itch. Here, I rank every Mitski album in order from my least favorite to the most amazing album on Spotify…ever.

5- Retired From Sad, New Career in Business (2013)

A somewhat unpopular opinion, the album with the upbeat hit “Strawberry Blond” comes in last place on my personal list. To me, this song lacks melody and explosiveness. I like songs I can easily remember and sing along to with clear verses and a clear chorus with loud guitars and drums, which is not what this song is at all. It’s slow and tired-sounding, with the refrain being carried by the synth keyboard. Although the first track “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart” has more of a melody and a lively beat, its old-fashioned vibe just doesn’t appeal to me as much. 

“Strawberry Blond” has also been associated with a “cottage-core” folksy, countryside vibe and a whimsical air yet, like most Mitski songs, it deals with more substantial themes like Women of Color and the struggles of fitting in and trying to find love. But maybe the song was purposefully and ironically made to sound like an old folk tale despite the message.

And the grass where you lay left a bed in your shape

I looked over it and I ached

//

Reach out the car window trying to hold the wind

You tell me you love her, I give you a grin

Oh, all I ever wanted was a life in your shape

So I follow the white lines, follow the white lines

Keep my eyes on the road as I ache

  • Lyrics from “Strawberry Blond” show the struggle of keeping love and the pain of losing it to someone else, quite possibly to a woman who represents the feel of the song: a happy American woman living in the bliss of the countryside, with not a worry to her name.

I do like how “Square” incorporates orchestral instruments like clarinets, horns, and flutes. This complex, layered approach offers something different and refreshing. The one exception to this album I will make is the classic tear-jerker “Class of 2013.” Every time she starts to belt “Mom!” I feel like I want to cry every single drop of water out of my eyes. This song single-handedly knocks me out of my need for a strong, repetitive melody and makes me sit and listen to a ballad about the struggle of growing up. 

Also, “Class of 2013” is a Mitski song I can definitely relate to with having a fear of growing old and independent, especially from a parent. While it’s the one song I faithfully listen to from the album, “Class of 2013” is ultimately too slow and mellow for me. 

4- Lush (2012)

In fourth place is Mitski’s debut album: “Lush.” One of my favorite songs on this album is “Liquid Smooth,” a slow, jazzy song that feels like it could be in a James Bond movie. Honestly, this whole album sounds like a Bond movie soundtrack.  It’s moody, dramatic, and at times eerie-sounding. The combination of violins and piano makes it sound so sad and distant but also intriguing and mysterious. Once again, her songs tell a story of a struggle for love as in “Eric,” “Wife,” and “Real Men.” The one song that truly stands out to me and is more my speed is “Brand New City.” It’s a completely different type of sound from “Lush” and from all of the tracks on “Retired From Sad, New Career in Business” with its loud and driving guitar riff and snappy studio drums. It’s just a strong, gritty sound overall. It sounds like an Avril Lavigne song but 100 times better and more mature.  

I also love the use of Japanese lyrics in “Liquid Smooth” from Mitski’s background growing up in Japan.  “Kuzurete yuku maeni” translates to “Before it collapses,” referring to Mitski’s youthful beauty, another common theme in her music. She sings of how “ripe” and beautiful her body is and the struggle to preserve herself in the limited amount of time she has to express herself and her body. The song embodies how difficult the need to be beautiful as a young woman can be, which is the message I get from the majority of this album. When Mitski wrote “Lush,” she was 21—young and free and at her freshest. The lyrics “But if I gave up on being pretty, I wouldn’t know how to be alive” in “Brand New City” sum it up perfectly.

3- Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014)

The main reason this popular and absolutely unhinged album is in third place on my list has mostly to do with the fact that my all-time favorite song is in the album which clinched the #2 spot. I can and do listen to Bury Me at Makeout Creek’s “Francis Forever” pretty much every day, and I love the chaoticness of “Drunk Walk Home” and “Texas Reznikoff.” This album has some crazy songs which I absolutely love, and it is honestly the best album to have a mental breakdown to. There are also some terribly sad songs like “I Don’t Smoke” and “Last Words From a Shooting Star,” which can be nice to listen to as well—but isn’t every Mitski song tinged with some degree of sadness? 

I love the grungy electric guitar she has playing as the main instrument for “I Don’t Smoke.” The lyrics “If you need to be mean, be mean to me” really punch you in the gut, even if you can’t relate to them. Also “Carry Me Out” is a perfect mixture of crazy explosiveness, mellowness, and slowness. “First Love/Late Spring” is one of the more happy, romantic songs, which is always nice to hear sung by her controlled, soft voice. It’s also definitely one of my top five Mitski songs, along with “Francis Forever,” and I find it interesting that the songs are so different despite being on the same album. (Are there kazoos in “Drunk Walk Home?” Sounds like it.) This differs from the past two albums mentioned, which follow a rather cohesive “vibe.” “Sad” and “yearning” can be used to describe the album but, once again, this is on par for every Mitski album. While songs like “Carry Me Out” and “Drunk Walk Home” make me want to head-bang the chorus, the way the compositions are organized somehow also makes me emotional and heavy. 

I have no professional insight into complex music theory, but the way Mitski fits music together is so perfect and satisfying. It easily reaches my heart. This album is so wild and exhilarating; there is probably a song for almost every type of mental meltdown you could have… which in this case is a good thing.

2- Puberty 2 (2016)

The biggest reason this album is rated #2 and ahead of “Bury Me at Makeout Creek” is because Mitski wrote the most amazing, fantastic, perfect song to ever be a song: “Your Best American Girl.” Words cannot express how much I love this song, from its melody to its meaning. First things first, Mitski is the daughter of Japanese immigrants and has lived all over the world, struggling with fitting in with a single race. I recommend listening to her interview on the Podcast “Beginnings with Andy Beckerman” if you would like more information about her early life. 

The song “Your Best American Girl” is, at its simplest, a tale of a woman of color falling for a white “American Boy,” but there is so much more to unpack. The lyrics “You’re the one, you’re all I ever wanted, I think I’ll regret this” are the best lyrics to describe this song. I also highly recommend watching the music video, as its expressive visuals epitomize the song so much better than I could ever do in words (especially since I am a white, privileged girl who mostly grew up in America). The song itself plays like a classic indie rock song that sounds like it would be written and sung by a couple of dudes, like Green Day, showing how classically “American” the song is. It’s loud, it’s rhythmic, and it’s catchy, representing that quintessential “American Boy” she has fallen for. 

The music video shows her flirting with said American boy, when a girl with pale white skin, freckles, and a nice body, comes over to him and grabs his attention. This is exactly like the “Strawberry Blond” video, which features a woman wearing a “boho” looking outfit, matching the song’s vibe of a carefree, white, American girl. The “Your Best American Girl” music video is full of the two American lovers kissing, and the last shot is of them making out, wrapped in an American Flag. 

Similar themes can be said of the song “Happy” (I recommend watching the video for this song as well). Although I cannot recognize or relate to the full struggle of “Your Best American Girl,” the composition makes me want to scream the lyrics at the top of my lungs. It’s just quite frankly the best Mitski song, which is why this album is so special to me. “I Bet on Losing Dogs” is also another earworm of a song that I can personally relate to, doing something you know will end badly. “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”  is another explosive Mitski song that is a go-to for getting pumped up. 

Any discussion of “Puberty 2,” though, would be incomplete without mentioning “A Burning Hill,” another song I can personally relate to. The lyrics “I am a forest fire and I am the fire and I am the forest and I am a witness watching it” are pretty tough and powerful, speaking to a feeling most people understand: falling and not being able to do anything about it. This album speaks for itself when you listen to it. There is, evidently, a feeling of struggle wrapped in beautiful melodies all in one album of only 10 songs.

1- Be the Cowboy (2018)

In a 2018 interview with Trevor Noah, Mitski explained that her album’s title, “Be the Cowboy,”  embraces the freedom and laissez-faire lifestyle of a cowboy in 1800’s Western America. Boy, did she embrace the heck out of this cowboy! Her hit song “Nobody,” currently having 50 million streams on Spotify, is the standout of this album.  There are so many other fabulous songs here as well. “Me and My Husband” is incredibly catchy: it tells the tale of a woman who is unsatisfied with love. The piano bounces all over the place, making it ironically fun and lively, already a formula for a hit song. “Geyser” and “Pink in the Night” are tender, lovely songs explaining the love between her and possibly her partner. But they are, at their core, still wild, explosive songs, which is exactly what draws me in. “Geyser,” much like an actual geyser, starts slow and low and then explodes into a whirlwind of instruments and melody. This album is fun, it’s colorful, it’s loud, and every song is electric. Yes, the occasional sad, slow song makes its way in (“Two Slow Dancers,” “A Pearl”), but even then, those songs carry a strong, driving melody that is ever so satisfying to listen to. 

Don’t even get me started on “Washing Machine Heart.” Much like “Geyser” and “Your Best American Girl” the song represents, with music, something outside the music. “Toss your dirty clothes in my washing machine heart, baby bang it up inside” is telling of Mitski and how she feels in relationships, being used over and over again, like an old washing machine. Yet she keeps trying. It reminds me of “I Don’t Smoke” theme-wise. The bridge of that song is probably the best musical interlude I have ever heard, and I blast it every time. This album is extremely different from her others, while still being so indescribably “Mitski.” She sings of heartbreak and relationships, while somehow fitting it into the quintessential bright, indie-pop songs she’s known for. It’s magical. This album is extremely fun to listen to. 

It’s so telling that a girl like me, who can’t even relate to the majority of Mitski’s songs, is still a superfan. Her sound is exactly what I want in a creator, and I am extremely lucky that I watched that one Adventure Time episode where they played “Francis Forever.”