Mitski Live at the Dr. Phillips Center: An Exploration of Her Musical Evolution 

Written by on February 8, 2024

By: Joelle Rumman


Mitski held her third show of her North American tour at the Dr. Phillips Center on January 29, delivering an unforgettable performance. Famous for her alternative-pop style, Mitski made a stark shift towards more American country-folk music in her newest and acclaimed album The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We.  

Being a huge Mitski fan myself, I was ecstatic to be able to attend the show on behalf of WPRK and in partnership with Secretly Group. I had previously attended her Atlanta show on her Laurel Hell tour in 2022 and felt that it was one of the best concerts I have attended in terms of live vocals. This concert was even more spectacular in that area. I feel that with this new album, Mitski has become a solidified mainstream figure in alternative indie music today.  

A “Brief” Introduction to Mitski’s Work and her Internet Fanbase: 

One of the main reasons that I gravitate to Mitski as an artist is her poignant poetic lyricism that she utilizes throughout her songs. In the beginnings of her career with albums such as Lush (2012) and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business (2013), Mitski became known for intensely raw and emotional lyrics about her romantic and familial relationships—delivering tracks that bordered on visceral such as “Class of 2013” and “Pearl Diver”.  

As she began to get more seasoned within her writing, she explored topics of one-sided relationships, growing up as a Japanese American woman, and self-destructive behavior in her albums Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014) and Puberty 2 (2016).  These albums are notorious for their tracks “First Love / Late Spring”, “Francis Forever”, “Your Best American Girl” and “I Bet on Losing Dogs”. In Puberty 2, Mitski’s work began to be co-opted onto the internet and her songs became known as “sad girl anthems” in various forums and social media pages. She became revered as this royal leader of depressed teenage girls around the world.  

However, Mitski’s work is extremely personal to her lived experience and throughout her albums the listeners can hear the progression of her healing process. Though the internet still used her to revel in sadness instead of processing it. Mitski’s following album, Be the Cowboy (2018) pummeled her into more mainstream fame with iconic tracks such as “Nobody”, “Me and My Husband”, “Washing Machine Heart”, and “A Pearl”. Be the Cowboy served as a turning point in her music as she began to write songs from the perspective of her older and wiser self, tackling more mature topics in her personal development and romantic experiences. This growth—again—went overlooked by self-proclaimed “sad girls” on the internet as they used Be the Cowboy as a relatable form of media to wallow in their self-pity. While I think the internet is a great place for people to meet like-minded people and find support, Mitski has said that she does not like being looked up to by young girls who use her music to glorify depression.  

Her rise to internet fame was only accelerated as the COVID-19 pandemic had everyone on lockdown and people began to spend more and more time on the internet, especially on social media platforms such as TikTok. Her audience had steadily risen to the millions and the demand for a new album skyrocketed. In 2022, she released Laurel Hell, an album that went full force into a more electronic and synthetic sound, which she had begun to experiment with in Be the Cowboy. In Laurel Hell, Mitski pivots from focusing solely on her familial and romantic relationships and begins to explore her relationship with her career. With her growing audience, she experienced an overwhelming demand to produce more music about her sadness and depression. She grapples with the commodification of her sadness and rage in her poignantly titled single, “Working for the Knife”.  

Today, Mitski is touring for her 2023 album The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We. This album struck a chord within me because it had felt as though I had witnessed a profound and wise healing within each song. While Mitski’s image and reputation as a pioneer in the “sad girl” movement has been far out of her control, this album seeks to redefine and keep a time capsule of her own perception of herself. The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We is Mitski in her own words, from an older and wiser version of herself. While in earlier songs, Mitski had shown a deep sense of sadness and regret in being vulnerable and loving people that had not loved her back, she celebrates all the love she has given in her life in the new album. Utilizing a folk-country sound, she utilizes an American medium to tell an American story of witnessing and living through all the moral trials and tribulations that come with this country. She learns from her past and uses the death and decay of the younger versions of herself to enrich the soil that nurtures the seeds of her and her love. 

The Concert: 

When I saw Mitski in 2022, I waited in a shockingly long line to enter a packed GA area with no seats. The audience was forced to look up to the stage to see her perform. In the Dr. Phillips center, the concert hall seating made it that no one was standing and looking up but rather, sitting and looking down at Mitski. I felt as though this change really symbolized how she had felt disconnected from how her “sad girl” fanbase had worshiped her and how her new album works to redefine her on her own terms.  

With a grand curtain-drop reveal, Mitski entered the stage with a new haircut, different attire, and a completely different demeanor than her past tours. Furthering her efforts to have hands in creating her own image. The stage design played a crucial role, featuring a simple yet glamorous setup centered around Mitski and her band. The only props she used throughout the show were two wooden chairs, ingeniously choreographed to act as extensions of her storytelling.  

The audience was captivated by her performance, seeing her use her body and the chairs to tell the intricate stories woven within the lyrics of her songs. However, while most of the audience was respectful—there were many outbursts and shouts from the balconies from fans that were stuck in their ways of worshiping and revering her on the internet. While the audience went silent in anticipation for her next song, a fan shouted, “YOU’RE MOTHER” and it echoed throughout the concert hall. Mitski quickly and quietly responded by saying “I am not your mother” before moving on to her next song.  

She performed with folk-style instrumentals such as the acoustic guitar, organ, accordion, and violin. While some singers give performances that seem catered toward their audiences in concert, watching Mitski felt like watching a contemporary and artistic performance of an autobiography. When performing her older music (especially the particularly sad songs such as “Happy” and “Fireworks”), she restyled them to fit with the upbeat country instrumentals. Ironically, I felt like her performance of her song “Happy” was the only happy version of it I had ever heard.  

Throughout her career, Mitski has had to come to terms with the commodification of her personal emotions and vulnerability. Her songwriting is known to deeply investigate themes of loneliness and romantic desperation, which has resonated almost too deeply with fans. But with this new reinvention of herself, Mitski is choosing to show her emotional range and embrace the power of her love and joy. In my opinion, one of the hardest things to do is to experience intense grief and agony and choose love and happiness anyway. In her new tour, Mitski is showing the world who she truly is not despite, but because of her sadness.  

I would highly urge everyone to see Mitski perform live if they can. It was a performance that will stick with me for a long time. Congratulations on Mitski for taking on this large North American Tour, and cheers to The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We

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