So many things about Mitski (née Mitski Miyawak) seem at odds with each other, but somehow she makes them all work.
Three hours before his Friday night show at The Factory in Deep Ellum, a line of fans stretched two blocks from Canton Street to Malcolm X. Then he rounded the corner another block to to the driveway, then turned the new corner and reached almost all the way back to The Factory.
Although Mitski isn’t really active on social media, the #Mitski tag has been used billions of times on TikTok. That’s right, billions with a “B”. The median age of its population also seemed to strongly represent the TikTok generation. Like most places, The Factory gives out wristbands to people of drinking age and marks a black “X” on the wrists of minors. That night, it really seemed like all the “X’s” lived in Texas. But we’re not here to talk about George Straight, and as far as we know, that’s not why Mitski is now hanging his hat on Tennessee.
Perhaps Japanese-born Mitski, who has lived all over the world, chose Nashville because of its reputation for nurturing singer-songwriters, a label she’s acquired over the years. She certainly hasn’t undergone a cowboy boot and hat conversion, although the title of her latest album, Laurel Hell, is an Appalachian reference. And while his sound is certainly American, he is a modern American, a type of American who spends a lot of time abroad.
When Mitski kicked off with the single “The Only Heartbreaker”, the crowd reacted with instant recognition. It’s only been out for a month, but the singalong made you think all those teenagers got together for a choir rehearsal.
At first glance, the inclusion of Japanese girl band Chai as an opener seemed like a further incongruity. On the surface, they seem to be little more than one of those exhaustively-packaged, choreographed puberty bands: fault-tolerant and endlessly cheerful.
A deeper dive shows that their history as a band is much more self-contained and organic, and the lyrics make you wonder if they’re imitating the genre, making fun of it, or just having a really weird relationship with it.
Both groups were very aware of the choreography. Mitski’s set design reflects his interest in film and theatre. A single door was placed in the center of the stage, with the band arranged in a semi-circle behind it, and as Mitski stood theatrically alone in the middle of her stage, the door became overtly symbolic. Symbolic of which, however, is not yet clear. Maybe she spent the pandemic listening to Saint Vincent’s “Birth in Reverse.”
But the answer to the door mystery will likely be found posted on TikTok with the tag #Mitski.