In her latest single, “Nobody”, Mitski Myawaki, better known as just Mitski, uses her expertise in embodying angst to transport the listener into a surreal hellscape of isolation that turns out to be more familiar than we would like to think.
Mitski is an indie artist who has been writing about adolescent angst for years. It’s there in the titles of her third and fourth albums “bury me at makeout creek” and “puberty 2.” All of that pimple ridden anxiety practically reaches out of the screen to strangle you during the chorus of her song “Townie.”
“And I want a love that falls as fast/As a body from the balcony, and/I want to kiss like my heart is hitting the ground/I’m holding my breath with a baseball bat/Though I don’t know what I’m waiting for/I am not gonna be what my daddy wants me to be.”
“Nobody” was conceptualized and written by the indie queen while staying in Malaysia after her last tour. She had chosen not to return to the U.S. because of how expensive it is to stay here during the holiday season. Unfortunately, that left her in another country during the time of the year that everyone spends with close friends and family. In her interview for the Genius Lyrics website, she talks about the fact that she was so isolated that she would literally open her window to remind herself that other people existed. Of course, this is an extreme example of a pattern we live through every day.
Once the slightest hint of loneliness or isolation sets in, people reach for their phones and check Instagram and snapchat, or in the words of the song “My God, I’m so lonely/So I open the window/To hear sounds of people/To hear sounds of people.” As reassuring as this open window into the lives of our peers is, it can also be distressing. Depending on what you’re doing, the short rush of comfort can be quickly replaced by the dread of feeling left out, and a familiar pattern of thoughts can emerge. “I’m not with my friends” can quickly become “I’m not wanted by anyone” which can quickly become “I’m not lovable” if left unchecked.
Two recent studies show that unhealthy thought patterns like those may not be so uncommon for social media users. A study from the royal health society in the UK calls Instagram the worst social media platform for mental health, with its worst factors being a lowered body image and a greatly increased fear of missing out. Fear of missing out is really just another way of saying we feel isolated, and another study shows a link between social isolation and physical pain, meaning in short that the technology we use to socialize isolates us, and humans feel isolation in a way similar to having cut oneself or otherwise undergone physical trauma. The song draws on these truths.
Mitski’s isolation is obvious from the beginning. She wakes from a dream wearing a bathrobe, and as soon as she has collected herself, her bed spontaneously bisects itself, with one half simply sliding off to the other side of her bedroom, an image implying that even if she were willing to get a partner, she would be unable to share her space with them. Then, through a series of interpretive images, she walks us through some common fears that we feel when checking and using social media.
At one point in the music video, Mitski is using a magnifying glass to examine her diary. She looks back and sees herself magnified instead. She seems shocked and horrified by the intrusive scrutiny she’s putting herself under. This is similar to how we see our flaws when checking our social media, always seeing the flaws in ourselves before seeing the joy on our faces. Or anything else for that matter. The absurdity of these thoughts is highlighted by the surreal image.
Sometimes we respond to a poll or reach out through direct messages, and those fleeting gestures towards another person can become a source of anxiety about ourselves and how lovable we are. The anxiety of a read, but non-responded-to-message or text can eat away at the common pleasures of life, hanging over us like the sword of Damocles, ready to fall and crush any conceptions of self worth we may still harbor. The video is not cynical, however. Despite the visuals speaking to the erosion of our identity when isolated, or the fears about being alone forever, the final image is one that challenges us, the viewers and users of social media to hold ourselves accountable.
After the entire flight of fancy, down this road of isolation, alienation and insanity, Mitski sits in the directors chair. Ultimately, she acknowledges that she had agency over her isolation. It was a play in which she was the director. As is the social media isolation we feel. We unlock our phones on a Friday night and pull up the apps that trigger us. We sit in the directors chair throughout the whole emotional rollercoaster ride. And perhaps, acknowledging this can be a way of stopping it.