Mitski, queen of sad girl listening hours, has returned Oct. 5 with the single “Working for the Knife.” Since 2020’s single “Cop Car,” the artist has been infamously missing in action, but just a few days before the song dropped, all her social media accounts were mysteriously reactivated, hinting that the singer was up to something again after her nearly 2-year hiatus.
“Working for the Knife” finds Mitski continuing her endless — and frankly relatable — struggles, the knife symbolizing the weight of the world as well as a critique of the oppressive nature of a capitalistic society. Working from the moment you’re old enough until you have one foot in the grave, Mitski explains the song as being about “going from being a kid with a dream … to … being confronted with a world that doesn’t seem to recognize your humanity, and seeing no way out of it.” She winds through a miniature character study of her life so far, which is what she’s consistently done in the past.
Beginning with a soft, steady synth, the singer delivers, “I cry at the start of every movie/ I guess ’cause I wish I was making things too,” an homage to her former studies in film and the creative block she often feels as an artist. The track is drenched in desperation, each line loaded with Mitski’s wrenching experiences that have led her to “work, live and die” for the knife.
The twangy guitar that melts in as the song continues swaddles Mitski’s distinct, dulcet voice, a soft but effective combination. The gentle instrumentals of “Working for the Knife” are a contrast to Be the Cowboy’s cheerful, disco-inspired beats, taking the “cowboy” moniker to heart with the muted jangles spread across the song — sort of if Lush went mildly country.
“Working for the Knife” is not a particularly dazzling track when compared to some of Mitski’s other endlessly impactful songs, such as “I Bet on Losing Dogs” or “Class of 2013,” but it holds its own comfortably in the middle of her discography.
While the single doesn’t really deviate from Mitski’s typical discography, it shows she’s subtly shifting in yet another direction with her music, at least instrumentally. “Working for the Knife” doesn’t have any buildups or breakdowns, even in the chorus, which is quite unlike a majority of her music, but still engulfs listeners in a steady, staccato rhythm, driving home her point about the trudging nature of life. Her lyrics, however, stay as introspective as ever.
“Working for the Knife” may be short and bittersweet, but it leaves a lasting impression, a delicate sadness that washes over you for more than just a fleeting moment. However, that’s how it’s always been with Mitski — this song may not have you sobbing on the floor (at first), but the emotion it instills inside you builds up until it finally breaks free. It’s sneaky with its unassuming nature, but Mitski always knows where to hit fans right where it hurts the most.
For a song that gives off carefree, moseying on through life vibes, Mitski instead dives deep into herself and the world around her. It’s one of the things about her that makes her so relatable, laying her feelings out there for everyone to take in, all while set to beautiful, often haunting music.