Every Mitski Song, Ranked
Ahead of Laurel Hell, revisit our generation's greatest songwriter.
It's safe to say that from the moment it was announced, Mitski's Laurel Hell became my most anticipated album of 2022. As soon as I heard the unforgettable lead single Working for the Knife, I knew we were in for a treat. To follow up the modern classic Be the Cowboy would be a tough task for anyone, but if early signs are anything to go by, Mitski's going to have no trouble whatsoever. What better time to take a look back at her illustrious back catalogue than on the eve of her new album?
In mid-2021, I posed Twitter with an extensive voting bracket of songs. It included every solo track Mitski has ever officially released, from Lush's opening track Liquid Smooth to Cop Car, her one-off single for The Turning. Songs were paired up at random and faced against each other, with winning tracks continuing to the next round. I kept a spreadsheet of the percentage of votes each song received, and when the bracket was over, this let me create a ranked list of every single Mitski song.
The list is in ascending order by the proportion of votes each song received, taken from a sample of roughly 1000 votes. Included are every album track from Lush, Retired From Sad, New Career in Business, Bury Me at Makeout Creek, Puberty 2, and Be the Cowboy, plus one-off single Cop Car. It does not include the singles for Laurel Hell, as the polling took place before the album was announced. Every single song is a fantastic work of art, and together, they demonstrate the many strengths of one of the world's greatest songwriters. You will see each song ordered from least-great to best, with some personal thoughts from myself (AC), Head of Audio Toni Oisin H.C., and guest writer JC.
54. Eric - Lush
After getting into Mitski with Puberty 2, it was illuminating hearing her debut album Lush, a hauntingly beautiful record that shows off many of her strengths as one of our generation’s greatest songwriters. Eric is in some ways the quintessential track of this era, an ominous yearn of a song that borders on horror in its lyrics, all white teeth and trembling shoulders, hearts that are sold and people who are tired of not loving each other. The spectral analogue keyboards adds an otherworldly quality, making the song feel dreamlike - or nightmarish. It even mentions a Blue Light that would later be referenced on Be The Cowboy. The track ends abruptly with a continued refrain of “I want, I want, I want”, completing the bitterly sad picture and leaving us wanting more. - AC
53. Door - Lush
Door may be Lush's most underrated track, a cryptic meditation on lost potential over a ghostly and sparse Ludovico Einaudi-esque piano instrumental. It's Mitski's vocals that steal the show here, though: even on her first ever release, her voice sounds phenomenal; quavering, yet powerful. It's a spine-chilling performance that stays with me as one of the best moments in her early career. On top of all this, the delivery of the lyrics is incredible. When the narrator finally finds the titular Door, it reveals "a hopeless, a violence", giving way to the devastating concluding phrase, pulling the rug out from under us: "I named it love". - AC
52. Blue Light - Be the Cowboy
"Somebody kiss me, I'm going crazy" is a memorable way to start a song, that's for sure! It tickles me that this song is so close to Eric in the rankings, as it seems to hark back to that Lush track with its title. While the song itself feels closer to an interlude than a full-blown opus, it serves its purpose effectively, effortlessly leading us from the intensity of Washing Machine Heart into the tranquillity of Two Slow Dancers. It's short and sweet, beginning sprightly and uptempo, before giving away to a squall of reverb and distortion; Be the Cowboy's last noisy hurrah before the peaceful grace of the closing track. - AC
51. Square - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
In songwriting, and specifically lyric-writing, every word counts. Sometimes, changing a single world can greatly alter the listener's emotional response: such a subtle change in writing can make all the difference. Square is a lyrical beauty, with internal rhyme abound, and beautiful turns of phrase masking the devastating lyrics. It's the chorus, though, that makes the song for me. More specifically, it's how it changes in each repetition, the small lyrical tweaks continuing the narrator's journey, and inviting us along. On a purely emotional level, it's up there with her finest work: "I would have offered you all that you yearned for, but I was still waiting for something to earn" is a line most writers would kill for. Arguably even better is the Solo Piano Version available as a bonus track, an equally gorgeous rendition that feels even rawer than the original. - AC
50. Abbey - Lush
Abbey might be my favourite track from Lush. I can't put my finger on why I love it so much. Is it the insistent strings that carry us throughout? Is it the sparse percussion that echoes through me every time I listen? Is it the ghostly backing vocals? Is it the "I've been waiting" refrain that kicks me in the heart every single time I hear it? Or is it just - hear me out here - that it's a fucking perfect song on an underrated album? Whatever the reason, Abbey is a masterpiece that's as strong a track as any Mitski has ever released. - AC
49. Shame - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
Mitski’s second album, Retired From Sad…, saw the artist leaning deep into classical orchestration, clearly making the best of her fellow music students at SUNY. Shame dives into a house-party sexual encounter, poking artistically at issues of young female sexuality and the associated internalised shame. “It feels so good” she sings sorrowfully, meanwhile the orchestra of her peers plays the bit in the opera where the hero is lost in a dark forest. - JC
48. Wife - Lush
Mitski the storyteller is in full force throughout Lush. It's untrue to suggest all her songs are personal stories, and disingenuous to think of them as any less resonant or emotionally affecting as a result. Wife is the perfect example of this. It's the sparsest track on the album, with almost no low-end and just a simple piano. Compared to every track that came before, it's especially striking - I mean, compare it to Brand New City, for example. It fits the lyrics perfectly, though, placing us right there on the cliff next to the narrator, feeling the wind echo against us through the skeletal instrumentation. - AC
47. Circle - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
Circle is a sparsely instrumented ballad of unravelling relationships and infidelity that lead to one another in, yes, a circle. “You were happy to have me, but I never gave me away,” The central lie that Mitski’s protagonist and her partner are not quite on the same page drives her to cheat, but in ignoring her real feelings she allows the relationship to grow, the tree that buries her lover and her secrets and herself underground. - JC
46. Thursday Girl - Puberty 2
I'm going to break the fourth wall for a moment here, and say I can't believe this was voted the weakest song on Puberty 2. Admittedly, it's a perfect album and every song is incredible, but come on! The song is a masterpiece - the yearning vocals, the incredible percussion, the spectral strings that enter in the final chorus, that incredible synth outro - everything is immaculate. On anyone else's album, this could be a breakout single. For Mitski, it's just another great song in an album full of them. But I challenge anyone to hear it and not feel anything at the refrain of "tell me no". - AC
45. Crack Baby - Puberty 2
“Happiness Fucks You” is the pervasive theme of Puberty 2, and here in Crack Baby, Mitski returns to imagery of addiction and depression, with childhood happiness being the drug that we long for and don’t know quite how to grasp after the long 20 year vacation spent in depressive, young-adult nothingness. - JC
44. I Will - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
Here, over driving bass melody and understated organ, Mitski takes us to a place of grand romance and unconditional devotion. The fairytale-ideal of a love so strong that you can overcome any adversity and reach that light at the end of the tunnel, as long as you’re still holding hands. But this is Mitski, so of course there’s a dark, sorrowful potential subtext as she takes the burdens of her partner in place of her own well being. “While you sleep, I’ll be scared. So by the time you wake, I’ll be brave.” - JC Quick
43. Fireworks - Puberty 2
It’s firework season in the UK as I write this and nowadays every whistle and bang just reminds me of the loss of a friend on Bonfire Night three years ago; harsh screaming rockets rudely and absurdly soundtracking our quiet grief. The idea of depression as a fossilising force that overcomes and numbs you until some outside force interrupts it, like the crying of a firework, is just one example of Mitski’s gift for imagery that grips your heart and sticks into your brain as if it’s been tailored directly for your life experience. For most of my youth I was, as Fireworks puts it, “married to silence”, unable to express that running river of my true self beyond turning up to study, work or just be present as a bare minimum. I hadn’t yet found those metaphorical fireworks that would come via therapy and eventually as a liberating exploration of queerness. This song is like a miniature fractal of that experience, lulling you into that clicking metronome rhythm before swelling into a huge emotional release. Cry, cry, cry... - JC
42. Bag of Bones - Lush
While a lot of Mitski's songs aren't half as personal as audiences may make them out to be - she's a storyteller, she doesn't need to only write autobiographical tales - Bag of Bones is one that is written from experience. Mitski was a self-proclaimed wayward teen. She mentioned in an interview that she wrote this song on her home keyboard one night after a party between finishing high school and starting college, and it became the first song she fully finished writing. This song captures a feeling I remember so well: the sweet silence after a noisy evening when your brain is really settling into who you are in that moment, separate from whatever the events of the evening held. Bag of Bones is trying your hardest to fend away the post-comedown anxieties, to instead find a piece of calm in the 4am starlight; an anthem for former-wayward teenagers everywhere who are spending their following formative years trying to put it all back together. - Toni Oisin H.C.
41. Humpty - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
I fucking adore the arrangement of this song. Much like the lyrical narrative, the song's instrumentation is full of unresolved tension. Beginning as a delicate piano waltz before becoming something much more intense, it's a masterclass in emotionally storytelling through music, from the cutaway strings at 0:42 to the intense double-kicked percussion that enters half-way through. The eggshell metaphor of the lyrics juxtaposes perfectly with the music that backs it, making for an engaging listen with new features to discover on every new play. - AC
40. Liquid Smooth - Lush
The first track on her first album (Lush, the junior year college project that puts all others to shame), shows us an early glimpse into an artist destined to become the alternative voice of a queer generation; a sort of anti-Carly Rae Jepsen who scratches at the dark ironies of youth, femininity and sexuality. “I’m at my highest peak, I’m ripe, about to fall,” says college-age Mitski, burdened with a dark self awareness that will permeate her entire discography. Objectified like a plump fruit, a beautiful organism; I’m here, says the young woman of colour, I’m ready for you. Touch me, capture me in my prime, I dare you to melt into me like liquid metal. - JC
39. Old Friend - Be the Cowboy
Be The Cowboy was one of my "going away to uni" albums. It seemed so perfectly timed: I listened obsessively to Bury Me at Makeout Creek while in college during my second year, on my way to and from school, in lonely hours spent hiding away from people feeling overwhelmed, and while on very long train journeys to see my partner. It was a hard year, and I'd lost a lot of friends to capricious teenageness over the past 18 months or so. The moment Mitski announced her tour to promote Be The Cowboy, I bought a ticket in a city I didn't even know if I'd get the grades to move away to yet. Old Friend felt like a message from the future, somehow. I was losing people in ways that often felt permanent, and sometimes was permanent. The song felt like I was being told that one day, actually, circumstances could change: reconnections are possible, and youthful callousness can be forgiven. I want to believe it, and when I listen to this song, sometimes I do - even if only for one minute, fifty-two seconds. - Toni Oisin H.C.
38. Real Men - Lush
I feel like my life has been dedicated to trying to find out what being a "real man" means. I always find it funny to me that this journey started as a young teen - no wonder I struggled to figure out if I was a man or not during that time; I was only a boy. In Real Men, Mitski is trying to sus out manhood, too, in all of it's faulty glory. The masculinities painted in this song are an unattainable perfection, unaffected by weakness or tenderness: a mariner on a sinking ship, a purveyor of perfection, an inhuman being above carnal needs. A decade on from the release of this song (and however many years since it was originally written), I wonder how much the most commonly adopted form of manhood has changed - and if it is, in fact, any different to the cold and hardened men depicted in this track. It would be nice to think so; although we are given little reason to see it in the wild. - Toni Oisin H.C.
37. A Horse Named Cold Air - Be the Cowboy
A Horse Named Cold Air is an all-too brief song that feels like a freeze-frame of a feeling. Did the narrator once run like a storm, like the titular horse? Does the lake represent a barren future? The song is held together with glacial production and gorgeous, wordless vocalising, whisking us along to the devastating final stanza: “I thought I’d travelled a long way, but I had circled the same old sin”. The shift into the first person is disarming, landing a knockout blow of a lyric in the way that only Mitski can. - AC
36. Dan the Dancer - Puberty 2
Virginity is, in my opinion, one of the most harmful social constructs to be let loose on a young mind of any gender; both a driving force of toxic comp-het relationships and also a deep well of social shame for those whom it hangs over. As Mitski puts it in Dan the Dancer, it’s the cliff that stretches you out a little bit more every day you hang onto it. I personally had never danced outside of my room until the age of 23, and it wasn’t until I let go of that shame that I was able to open myself up to the vulnerable and intimate relationships that have most shaped my adult life. So I resonate greatly with Mitski’s story of the male virgin and the person with whom he learns to dance, an empathetic tale that speaks to the millennial shift in a generation for whom sex is more diverse and acceptable than ever, but not always as abundant. - JC
35. Happy - Puberty 2
Happiness is a common theme in Mitski’s repertoire and here, in the opener to Puberty 2, she personifies it as the hookup who, ahem, comes inside you and leaves you to clean up, cookie wrappers and empty teacups rattling in the rumble of the subway, as replicated by the jarring bass sound that carries the track’s start and finish. Happy makes an interesting reflection of her first album’s opener Liquid Smooth, returning for a more mature contemplation on the relationship between sexuality, mental health and the exotification of Asian women. - JC
34. Cop Car - The Turning (Soundtrack)
A Makeout Creek era song that was repurposed for the 2020 horror film The Turning (a 90s set re-imagining of The Turning of the Screw that saw several modern indie names contributing to the soundtrack), Cop Car is the unusual, almost non-canon Mitski song that imagines her as a grunge era frontwoman. Her presence on it hangs ghost-like as she tells you in whispers how she will never die and uses her appearance in a feature film to tell you that she’s blocked all the exits to the theatre that you, the audience, are in right now. - JC
33. Because Dreaming Costs Money, My Dear - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
The stark contrast between fire and water is a lyrical motif often used by Mitski in greatly different contexts: whether it's the titular landscape in A Burning Hill, or more recently, the burst water mains of The Only Heartbreaker contrasting with the flaming apocalypse of its music video. However, one of the greatest examples is in Because Dreaming Costs Money, My Dear, a quietly devastating track that in some ways acts as a companion piece to Class of 2013. The ghostly piano refrain couples with the violin line perfectly, and inserts us directly into the lyrical scenes. The juxtaposition of "darling play your violin, I know it's what you live for" and "now I'm but a shell" is one of the most heartbreaking passages I've ever heard. - AC
32. Lonesome Love - Be the Cowboy
When asked about the album title of Be the Cowboy, Mitski told us of a friend she knew in college, who was an incredibly confident and charismatic performer. She wanted to embody that kind of stage presence: in her words, "be the cowboy you wish to see in the world". That confidence seeps into the narrator of Lonesome Love, especially in the all-time great lyric "nobody butters me up like you/and nobody fucks me like me". For me, it's this track and Me and my Husband that embody the album title best. It's at once confident and bittersweet, a modern country classic that Dolly Parton would be proud of. - AC
31. Drunk Walk Home - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
Can an iconic bassline make a song? I think so. Maybe I'm biased (I play bass - and badly, too). While the bass is the first thing I think of when I think of Drunk Walk Home, it would be a discredit to the entire rest of the song to claim that it has, in any way, 'made' the song. Maybe it completes it, though: a heavy core creating the asphalt under Mitski's feet that we can hear her tearing up and down in the imagined street painted by the story told in Drunk Walk Home, her feet echoed by the beautifully repetitive drumbeat that soars through the whole song. Every time you listen to Drunk Walk Home, you hear a new gem in the production - from the distorted, squealing guitars, to Mitski's guttural screaming, to the crowd sounds that melt into the scraping fuzz that envelopes the song. I'm turning 23 next month, and you know what? Mitski's right. This shit sucks. - Toni Oisin H.C.
30. Pink in the Night - Be the Cowboy
Summer 2021 felt like the hottest British summer I'd ever experienced. I spent most of it lying on the floor of my living room with all the windows open, sitting in a big open field among the emperor dragonflies, or sunning myself in the shallows of a nearby river. Pink in the Night is one of the songs that accompanied me the most closely during those sticky, sunny months. The brief glimpse into a love story that its lyrics shares held me closely in some of my most quiet, intimate, and sacred moments that season - so much so that I don't think I'll ever be able to unpair the song from that time. It seems fitting, really: being in nature makes me feel closer to something holy, and this song sounds like it's coursing through a church. The reverb on the higher end frequencies in the track sound like they're bouncing back on me off of sandstone walls, as Mitski lets me in to her soft prayer of love and connection for an unseen target. As I'm writing this, the late winter sky and bare trees I see hanging outside my window make me feel very distant from those experiences, those feelings, that time in my life - but this song pulls me back there, reminding me that the summer will come around again. - Toni Oisin H.C.
29. Pearl Diver - Lush
I've always considered Mitski to be one of the best there is at writing album closers. While Pearl Diver isn't my favourite (that's coming either 11 or 15 songs later!), it comes very close, and is an unforgettable closing track to Lush. It's also a song that marries the music to the lyrics better than almost any other I've ever heard - the Claud Debussy-esque piano, choral vocals and aquatic reverb throws the listener into the narrator's position, diving, diving deeper, diving, diving down, further and further underwater. As it closes, we can almost literally feel the light fading. - AC
28. Once More to See You - Puberty 2
One word I often seen associated with Mitski's music is "yearning" - whether its for a missed opportunity, an unattainable lifestyle, or in the case of Once More to See You, a long-distance romance. As someone who was in a long-term, long-distance romance for many years, this Puberty 2 highlight hits home, particularly the beautiful desperation in the longing for a time when "I wouldn't have to scream your name atop of every roof in the city of my heart". More than perhaps any of her other songs, Once More to See You captures that long-distance yearn perfectly. Even though I'm now fortunate enough to live with the boyfriend I once yearned for from afar, this song still tugs at the strings of my big gay heart. - AC
27. Jobless Monday - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
Music is such a powerful force. Some songs are unique in that they can perfectly transport me back to a particular time and place: in the case of Jobless Monday, the time is the early summer mornings of 2018, and the place is the streets of Manchester city centre. Bury Me at Makeout Creek was one of my favourite albums at the time (I guess some things never change!), and I can vividly remember listening to it on many of my morning walks that summer. One morning in particular, while out for a walk, I remember confirming one of my favourite shows I've ever played as a musician, where I supported one of my favourite living songwriters. My soundtrack to this was Jobless Monday, and while the song itself is an incredibly sad one, it'll always remind me of that happy moment. - AC
26. A Loving Feeling - Puberty 2
A Loving Feeling isn’t the only Mitski song to be crushingly sad while sounding joyous, but it’s a brilliant one all the same. The lyrics are bittersweet, with some of her happiest, cutesy imagery - holding hands under the table, kisses like pink cotton candy - serving to underscore a star-crossed romance that’s inevitably doomed to fail. ”You only love me when we’re all alone” is a knock-out punch of a line, completely unforgettable in its gutting relatability. The fact that such an emotional journey is crammed into just 94 short seconds makes the song even more remarkable, and leaves the listener breathless at how any songwriter can make as much of an impact as Mitski can. - AC
25. I Want You - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
It’s easy to see why this Retired From Sad track has become a fan favourite; first finding new life as a centrepiece of the Be The Cowboy tour, and later achieving viral popularity via TikTok. It’s songs like I Want You that make me wince when Mitski is reduced to an artist who sings about heartbreak. In those three short words, she makes one of the most incredible love songs I’ve ever heard, her feelings apocalyptically huge and overwhelming, leaving the narrator with the need for “a quiet place to scream how I love you”. It’s both directly affecting and immaculately beautifully written, with the insistent drumbeat and strings underscoring that simple, essential message of love. - AC
24. Come Into the Water - Be the Cowboy
Come Into the Water embodies everything a love song should have: yearning, 1960s girl group drums, and a fuzzy organ sound. Although the song is a miniscule minute and a half, it's easy to get totally lost in its depth; drowning underneath the romantic guitar tone as it seems to communicate every so slightly out of step with its partner, the organ. The track is a brief vignette, like a Kurt Vonnegut story wrapped up in a dreamlike proclamation of love. I love love, and Mitski expresses love in a way that makes it feel like she's somehow been able to climb into my brain and figure out exactly how it works. Mitski, maybe you are "the same as all those men" - but if you are, so am I. - Toni Oisin H.C.
23. Me and My Husband - Be the Cowboy
There are three types of country song that I normally like: "I just killed a man", "I'm a lonely cowboy riding through the night", and "I'm yearning". This song is, perhaps, none of those things. This song climbs past longing for something, and enters a garden of settling; settling for comfort, stability, and warmth. A bleeding heart may wonder why someone would choose to do that, even a bleeding heart depicted by some of the other tracks on Cowboy. But, this saunter through country makes an argument for a loveless, comfortable marriage. All relationships take work, sure, but some more than others, and this chronicles one that sure takes a lot of work. In the protagonist's eyes it's all worth it, though: her and her husband, they're sticking together. - Toni Oisin H.C.
22. Brand New City - Lush
Opening with a rockstar-swagger count in, track three on Lush oozes the young artist’s frustrations through a mesh of rageful, heavy, guitar-led angst; Mitski’s Creep, if you will. The youthful, feminine ironies of Liquid Smooth are taken to their dark conclusion; “If I gave up on being pretty, I wouldn’t know how to be alive. I should move to a brand new city and teach myself how to die.” That classic young-artist desire to up sticks and reinvent yourself becomes loaded with a tragic inevitability; existing in this place and this state has taken so much from you that anything else would be ego death. “Honey, look at me, tell me what you took. What you take?” screams Mitski in the iconic chorus; a plea to an ex lover who consumed some lost part of her being? Or the echoing words of a paramedic, shining the torch in her eyes as she goes to that Brand New City? - JC
21. Nobody - Be the Cowboy
Mitski is a lot more than the "sad girl music" label that she far too frequently gets reduced to, but Nobody is a certifiable sad banger in my books. Like Robyn before her, the reigning queen of sad electro with her homoerotically tragic 2010 hit Dancing on my Own, Mitski is here to say it's my dancefloor, and I'll cry all over it if I want to. It's a certifiable disaster that this song wasn't a hit in gay clubs around the world (y'know, when I could safely go to gay clubs, anyways - I don't care what they play there now, it's not like I'd be there to embarrass myself to it). The 4/4 classic disco drums act to put even Nile Rodgers to shame, as Vera Lynn-esque vocals croon a lament of loneliness over the top of them. All of this is held together with shimmering keyboards, making it, easily, one of Mitski's finest moments. Clearly, judging from the singles for her upcoming album Laurel Hell, we haven't heard the last of Mitski as a disco queen just yet, either. - Toni Oisin H.C.
20. Class of 2013 - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
There are two main versions of this song, both starkly different. There's the album version, a touching and well-kept-together piano ballad reminiscent of Fiona Apple, and there's the wailing solo electric version played live. They're both stunning in their own right, and seem to almost represent two slightly separate points in time. The original feels somewhat more orderly and neat than the live version. This isn't exactly unusual when comparing studio recordings with one-track performances - obviously - but it does help each version to carve out its own emotional space within the song, almost. The album version evokes the rush of panic as you approach graduation, before it really hits you: shit, I'm really in this. The live version, though, in its guttural glory, feels like the realisation has really hit her: shit, I'm really, really in this, and I don't even know what the "this" is anymore. The song is an ode to a particular bildungsroman that often feels a little forgotten, in comparison to the teen coming-of-age - graduating college, and entering adulthood completely without any training wheels this time. - Toni Oisin H.C.
19. Strawberry Blond - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
I always feel really old when a song I already liked becomes a TikTok meme. Strawberry Blond, which you may well know as Strawberry Cow, is a gorgeous song about a complicated relationship or crush that strays regularly across the perceived romantic-platonic binary. The name called at the end of the song, Isaiah, reminds me of the titular biblical figure; a martyr and self-proclaimed prophet of God. hat can I say? I was a Sunday school child who's now a sucker for longing, this song is a match made in heaven for my romantic tendencies (excuse the phrase). Not only does the lyricism paint a beautiful picture of love and romance using biblical imagery, the composition and production of the song is wonderful, too. It's an unusually light and folk-y number for Mitski, particularly Retired from Sad, New Career in Business era Mitski, but it fits the mood of the song perfectly. From the light string section, to the melancholic piano chords in the outro, every part of the song is perfectly crafted to fit the core emotion of the track. The final cherry on top of the already perfect number is the prosody in the outro: as the song's narrator recalls the bumblebees swarming one last time, we can hear the whole beehive approaching us, too, through clever instrumentation. - Toni Oisin H.C.
18. Two Slow Dancers - Be the Cowboy
At some point last year, my friends and I were discussing what makes a good love song, and by extension, what are the best love songs ever written. Lots of great contenders were thrown into the ring, but I managed to narrow the many suggestions down to a personal top 3: I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton, The Book of Love by The Magnetic Fields, and Two Slow Dancers by Mitski. It's my favourite track from Be the Cowboy, and honestly, I'd go as far as saying one of my favourite songs from all time. It's Mitski's greatest love song in a career full of incredible love songs. It'll always resonate with me and make me think of my long-term boyfriend: no matter how hard the ground tries to pull as back down, I hope we'll always remain those two slow dancers, together. It's the perfect closing track to a perfect album, and I can't express quite how much I love it. - AC
17. I Don't Smoke - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
“I don’t smoke except for when I’m missing you;” An analogous harmful habit that leads us into this dark tale of an abusive relationship; the partner who breaks things and needs to be mean. But it was good, right? When we swam under the moon? There was the spark of something that felt good, so I’ll just wait for you to calm down and you can tell me where you are. The flame burns good; but when it’s gone, there’s just that empty, toxic cigarette smoke in your mouth. - JC
16. Carry Me Out - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
Is it possible to describe a song on one of Mitski's most popular albums as underrated? If so, then Carry Me Out is an underrated gem, a masterpiece of rock songwriting that gracefully carries (ha!) us along down the river Styx, flowing like the narrator's dark hair. The gradual build is unparalleled, the momentum shift after the first chorus is moving, and the climatic guitars are unforgettable. Nothing gets better, though, than when it all pulls away for a repeat of the first verse before shit hits the fan to close the track out over an insistent piano refrain. What a fucking beautiful song. I'd say it doesn't get better than this, but we've got 15 tracks to go! - AC
15. Texas Reznikoff - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
For a long time, this was my favourite track from Bury Me at Makeout Creek. It's an incredible song from start to finish, with so many interesting features: the guitar line that is later echoed in Last Words of a Shooting Star, the inside joke that Texas is not actually a landlocked state, the Charles Reznikoff quote in the closing verse. With Laurel Hell's opening track to be called Valentine, Texas, it's going to be interesting to see if it harks back to this song, furthering the chain of references. Either way, this song rocks. An interesting aside: to my knowledge, Texas Reznikoff is, along with Jobless Monday, the only track from Bury Me at Makeout Creek that has never been performed live. - AC
14. A Burning Hill - Puberty 2
No other song could close Puberty 2. There is literally nothing that I can write about this song that could ever do it justice. The sparse arrangement paired with Mitski’s lyrics make the song one of my personal favourites, a vivid snapshot that places you firmly in the narrator’s shoes. I am the fire, I am the forest, and I am the witness watching it. I am tired of wanting more. I’ll love some littler things. No matter how anyone portrays me, I know what I am, and I know what I want. Sometimes things have to burn in order to start again. - AC
13. Last Words of a Shooting Star - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
“Carefully, I was going to live.” Suicidal thoughts are one of the mind’s great mysteries and something that, whether in ourselves or our loved ones, many of us will have to reason with throughout our lives. Songwriting is, in my opinion, one of the best artforms for helping us to understand this upsetting and taboo part of our psyches in a safe and emotionally resonant way (some of the early Smashing Pumpkins material is another example of this I often turn to). Mitski deals with this “turbulence” in poignant analogies that stick with you long after the song fades away. She ponders how depression turns us into the emotionless, unthinking shark, the replica of ourselves, like the Liberty Bell that dreams of ringing. How we learn to mirror behaviours like love and happiness from the movies and reflect those around us. And how we might exercise a final control over our lives and environment. On top of simple, folksy arpeggios and hissing background hum, she gives voice to, and therefore control over, some of the strangest, darkest thoughts we can have as humans making Last Words of a Shooting Star stand out as amongst her most tragic, haunting and vital work. - JC
12. Geyser - Be the Cowboy
Geyser is, at once, a disarming choice of album opener and lead single, and also the perfect one. As the first new Mitski song since Puberty 2, it remains a strong statement of purpose that heralded in her Be the Cowboy era. The drone intro and electrical static leading into the martial drumbeat is haunting and tense, building suspense until the floodgates are broken by waves of distorted guitars and tempestuous strings. Above the storm, the powerful refrain of “I will be the one you need” shines through like a beacon. It’s her greatest opening track so far in a career full of great ones. - AC
11. Goodbye, my Danish Sweetheart - Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
"There's nobody better than you". As the highest-ranked song out of pre-Makeout Creek Mitski in the list, Goodbye, my Danish Sweetheart more than earns this accolade by being a piece of pure undistilled musical brilliance. From the ascending whole-tone scale intro to the galloping drumbeat, we're thrust into a fantastical world from the jump, sending us careering down the metaphorical rabbit hole into Mitski's wonderland, decorated by her virtuosic vocal runs and gorgeous lyrics, bidding a fond farewell to the titular Danish sweetheart. As the finale to her Be the Cowboy tour, it's a showstopper - just try listening to those melodies without grinning from ear to ear. - AC
10. Why Didn't You Stop Me? - Be the Cowboy
While Nobody was the breakout hit from Be the Cowboy that cemented Mitski as an artist capable of sad-dance bangers, it's Why Didn't You Stop Me? that proves Nobody was no one-off. From the moment you hear the juddering arpeggiated synths that kick things off, it's impossible to not fall in love with the song. The highlight, though, is the incredible brass section that enters after the chorus, and that fucking unforgettable descending riff. It elevates the song into sparkling euphoria. This is all to say nothing of the incredible lyrics: I mean, "you know me better than I do" - what a killer line. What a killer song. What a killer album. - AC
9. Townie - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
In a song full of instantly quotable lyrics, the best one is saved for last: “I’m gonna be what my body wants me to be”. Whether it’s been toxic masculinity or queerphobia, I’ve struggled with finding out what exactly my body wants me to be, and how that could ever even be attainable. I like to think that throughout my life I’ve slowly started answering that question for myself, and when I hear Townie, I think of the joy of self-expression, of loving myself, and of being around people who make it easier. It’s a breathless rush of a song, all wrapped up in a grunge-pop package that Nirvana would be proud of. Plus, the animated music video directed by Faye Orlove is a masterpiece. - AC
8. Remember My Name - Be the Cowboy
Remember My Name is one of the best songs on Be the Cowboy. Everything about it feels perfect, from the gnarled guitar riff to the soaring vocal line. The lyrics are as gorgeous as any other on the album, too: in interviews surrounding Be the Cowboy, Mitski spoke of her discomfort being placed on a pedestal: "People want to take something of me to keep with them, and I don’t want to be owned like that. I want to be a fellow person standing on the same ground". In context, the song feels like a plea for real connection, for people to see her as a human being, rather than Mitski, the rockstar. Hearing the song open her Be the Cowboy tour was an experience I'll never forget. "Give me something bigger than the sky", she sings, and in that moment, the song feels bigger than anything imaginable. - AC
7. A Pearl - Be the Cowboy
The ideas we have about ourselves and our relationships are self fulfilling; we roll them around our brains until they become the shiny ideal, the grit that becomes the pearl in the oyster shell, and we end up in love with things that should have been left long ago, like those Japanese soldiers who continued to fight WWII after it all ended. Like a lot of her work, A Pearl captures Mitski’s therapeutic gift for exploring the notions of self worth and identity, filter it through our relationships with others and back around to the inner workings of our minds. - JC
6. Washing Machine Heart - Be the Cowboy
Mitski's virality on TikTok is hard-earned, and it's amazing to see her gain the success that she deserves. Washing Machine Heart might be the song that got the biggest - it's spawned memes, fancams, lyric videos, slowed and reverb versions, and so much more. As one of the most immediately grabbing tracks of Be the Cowboy, it's easy to see why it captured the hearts and minds of so many: it's a musical tour-de-force, from the vivid titular metaphor, to the relentless percussion. For me, it's inextricably linked with seeing her live on that album's tour, and particularly Monica Mirabile's unforgettable choreography. If you know, you know. - AC
5. Francis Forever - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
“I don’t know what to do without you.” The hipster in me wishes otherwise, but this song was my introduction to Mitski, featured as it was on another masterpiece of 2010s culture, Adventure Time. Apart from the implication that her music might survive a millennium after the nuclear apocalypse, Marceline’s rendition of Francis Forever was the breadcrumb that led me to the artist just in time for her global ascension around the time of Puberty 2. After all, who could resist the voice behind this lo-fi, bass heavy ditty about the joys of young love in the autumnal sunshine - but sung in a way where you might just collapse and die if your crush doesn’t perceive you, in all your perfection, right now. - JC
4. First Love/Late Spring - Bury Me at Makeout Creek
Atop the bass-led arrangement that characterises Bury Me at Makeout Creek, Mitski weaves one of her trademark tales of youth, romance and feelings so strong they bring you this close to jumping off a ledge. “I was so young when I behaved 25, yet now I find I’ve grown into a tall child,” a lyric that perfectly captures that moment when the stoic adolescent, so quick to grow up, makes way for the “wild woman” who throws her heart into every melodrama and yet still sees 25 as the epitome of adulthood. - JC
3. Your Best American Girl - Puberty 2
I'm sure everyone reading this has heard Your Best American Girl, and knows how it's one of the best songs ever written. I don't need to recite the numerous accolades it's won (including Pitchfork heralding it the 7th best song of the 2010s!), I don't need to remind you all of the iconic music video or the spine-chilling live performances, and I certainly don't need to describe the incredible lyrics. I do, however, need to ask that you listen to the song again with fresh ears; listen as if it's your first time, and hear how this song feels evergreen - as incredible a song as any to ever exist, and infinitely fresh. It hasn't ever got old - it could never get old. - AC
2. I Bet On Losing Dogs - Puberty 2
"My baby, my baby, you're my baby, say it to me, tell your baby that I'm your baby..." I Bet On Losing Dogs is, without exaggeration, a truly unforgettable piece of art. It's little wonder it's consistently had the most streams of any Puberty 2 track. Who hasn't either been the losing dog, or the narrator putting it all on them anyway? Mitski knows both sides to the tale: as the song changes key half-way through, the lyrics cleverly shift also; no longer is our narrator looking at the song's subject in the eyes, but rather she's the one being looked over. It's completely devastating, and remains resonant with every single listen. - AC
1. My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars - Puberty 2
To me, My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars may be the quintessential Mitski song. I remember getting overly excited while describing how much I love this song to my dad once, losing control of my voice as I raved about the incredible guitar playing and incomparable, impassioned vocals. It's a short, sharp burst of blinding light, a thousand colossal feelings crushed into a 116-second blaze. Every line hits home, but it's the climatic "I work better under a deadline! I pick an age when I'm gonna disappear, until then I can try again, until then I can try again!" that fully destroys me. Crushed Little Stars is a deserved winner of the title of "greatest Mitski song": it's one of the best songs I've heard in my life; a song that makes me feel everything all at once. - AC
The atoms in my body were forged in a supernova and travelled thousands of lightyears across space, yet here I am trying to pay the rent. It’s no surprise to me that Crushed Little Stars can beat every other song on this list in a 1v1 face off; The perfect Mitski-storm of cosmic-level poetry and down-to-earth millennial angst that nails our generational struggle so hard it’s basically a nailgun. Empowered up to the eyeballs as individuals, but powerless within a system that crushes us, like those same dense stars we came from; Mitski carries our voices over thrashing metallic guitars as she screams our hopes, dreams, darkest thoughts and employer-pleasing cliches into the existential void. “I am not afraid to die! Kill me in Jerusalem!” Is she saying she wants to be martyred like Christ? To ascend back to the stars? Or be resurrected in some perfect apocalypse? The explosive audacity of this song is just awesome, in the literal sense of the word that leaves you slack-jawed in awe at the absurdity of your own existence. - JC
The idea that we're all made of stardust has become hackneyed, but despite that, Mitski breathes new life into the concept with every line of the furious, powerful track My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars. The song's lyrics sit in her body of work like a manifesto for the burnt out, for those tossed aside in the world of work and capitalism, for those who feel like a star stuttering and burning at it's brightest right before the end of its natural life. The narrator is stuck between what they want, what they have, and what they can achieve. Belonging on the aptly titled Puberty 2, the song somehow inadvertently captures being stuck in a strange phase of life between adolescence and adulthood - a phase that is all too familiar to anyone who has transitioned or come out in any way. The phase of life that this song narrates, much like the time in your life post-coming-out, very much so feels like the liminal space of adulthood: you're travelling somewhere, you're trying to settle into a life you never thought you had, and you are hopelessly lost as you spin out across the sky. - Toni Oisin H.C.
Thank you to everyone who's made it this far. I hope you enjoyed reading our perspectives on each of Mitski's songs. See below the elimination bracket that I used to form the list.
AC is the Head of Written Content at QSO Media. Follow them on Twitter.
JC is a musician, graphic designer, and one-third of dinopunk band Nervous Rex. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
Toni Oisin H.C. is the Head of Audio at QSO Media. Read more of his writing here.