On October 5, the genre-bending singer-songwriter Mitski released a new single entitled “Working for the Knife” after a three-year hiatus since her last full-length album, 2018’s Be The Cowboy. “Working for the Knife” proves to be a timely departure from the themes of romantic love and earnest longing that Mitski’s previous work is heavily comprised of. Instead, the single laments the titular “knife,” which appears to represent the harrowing inescapability of capitalism, and how it encourages those under it to feel unworthy if not consistently producing.

Mitski expresses her own existential creativity anxiety, with the first lyrics admitting, “I cry at the start of every movie/I guess ’cause I wish I was making things too.” This opportune lyric captures how the rise of social media and the subsequent need to commodify oneself and produce endless “content” is a stressful reality for creative types, who are often no longer creating merely for themselves but to contribute to capitalism’s thirst for entertainment that distracts from the bleak nature of reality. 

Sonically, Mitski’s desire for a pre-digital age is apparent, with a surging synthesizer opening the track, reminiscent of a solo-career Phil Collins. A clinking triangle noise throughout provides the listener with a sound parallel to the nagging persistence of tinnitus, except if the condition was reasonably tolerable. Wailing horn barrels in near the 1:30 mark, and again at around 2:20, which can be interpreted as a sort of “wake up call,” reminding the listener that they must not fall victim to the mundane loop of existence that prevails when one allows the dominant systems around them to take the reigns on their life.

The lyric “I used to think I’d be done by twenty/Now at twenty-nine, the road ahead appears the same” expresses how Mitski has been misled by the passage of time and still experiences an unrelenting struggle for personal fulfillment – a struggle that she once believed she would’ve outgrown by the age of 29. “Working for the Knife” is only two minutes and thirty-eight seconds, but its churning mechanical quality causes it to feel much longer, a possible nod to how quickly our lives transpire, despite most of our days presenting themselves as uphill battles that grind to their eventual conclusions. Even if Mitski appears to battle with her creative and personal autonomy, she makes “the knife” work for her on the track, cutting into the insidious and persistent capitalist forces that threaten to hold us hostage. 

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