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Hear Me Out: Mitski, 'Your Best American Girl'

A Contemplative, Triumphant Declaration of Personal Identity

Visualize indie rock for a moment. Whether your exposure to the genre consists of infrequently visiting Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlists or of obsessively refreshing Pitchfork and subsequently denying that you take stock in their reviews, you likely thought of a band composed of offbeat members whose haircuts and outfits would only be publicly flaunted by coffee shop aesthetes and angst-ridden teenagers. Amidst the band’s many idiosyncrasies lies one common trait: whiteness.

Mitski, a Japanese-American singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, defies indie rock’s long-standing tradition of whiteness. Her previous albums—“Lush,” “Retired from Sad, New Career in Business,” and especially “Bury Me At Makeout Creek”—received extensive praise from the indie blogosphere for their resonant first-person meditations on heartbreak and maturation in a society wounded by gender power imbalances. The lead single “Your Best American Girl” off of her forthcoming LP, “Puberty 2,” builds on the thematic arc of her discography by telling a highly specific narrative about the ambivalence of being in a relationship that entails renouncing her authenticity and her rootedness in Japanese culture. The result is glorious: “Your Best American Girl” is one of the most awe-inspiring, achingly sincere singles to come out this year.

The song begins with a pairing of dream-pop synths and acoustic guitar that echoes R&B; artist Miguel’s sensual “Arch & Point”: However, the lyrics here suggest a longing for the natural, untroubled intimacy that Miguel sexualizes. Mitski sings with hushed vocals: “If I could, I’d be a little spoon / And kiss your fingers forever more / But big spoon, you have so much to do / And I have nothing ahead of me.” Mitski is aware of the disconnect between her and her partner, yet cannot help but yearn for an idealized all-American love. This is what makes “Your Best American Girl” so potent—rather than aggressively decrying an intransigent culture, it expresses a human vulnerability to its charm. The chorus, anchored by perhaps the most rousing use of guitar feedback since Courtney Barnett’s “Pedestrian at Best,” reflects Mitski’s own transition from cultural embarrassment to acceptance. The first time she sings the chorus she seems uncertain: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I think I do.” The second time the chorus comes around, Mitski is decisive: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I finally do.” “Your Best American Girl” emphatically rejects the idea that one must cede authenticity for love, and its widespread appeal as a racial narrative in a predominantly white genre marks Mitski as one of the most exciting storytellers in indie rock.

“Puberty 2” is out on June 17 via Dead Oceans.

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