From the convenient dates — or flings, if that’s your thing — of Tinder to almost every movie’s romantic subplot, today’s society seems to be plagued with the idea of love. iTunes is teeming with ballads of gut-wrenching heartbreaks and Billboard Hot 100 tracks of enamored fantasies while the number of young adult novels without a couple by the end of the story is sparse. The idea of a life without romance seems to be unthinkable with the suffocating prevalence of Instagram PDA and High School Slow Dances. However, that path is finally explored with Mitski’s “Nobody,” the second lead single from her upcoming album “Be the Cowboy.”
The track opens up with a simple confession: “My God, I’m so lonely / So I open the window / To hear sounds of people / To hear sounds of people.” Admitting the vicarious desires that we all possess but are too embarrassed to admit, Mitski captures the need to live through other people captured in the most literal sense as she stares into her own eyes and shares a drink of time with herself in a diner. Perhaps the first frame is social commentary on how trying to find our own satisfaction in others is a waste of time… or just another quirky idea of the music video’s director, Christopher Good. Either way though, Mitski is confident enough to show more than just her highlight reel, and her vulnerability shines through attesting to that fact.
A vibrant bumblebee yellow dominates the walls of Mitski’s house in the next scene where she ponders if the “planet of love,” Venus, has global warming because the people “want too much,” revealing the devastating consequences of obsession and far-fetched expectations. As those lyrics come to life, half of Mitski’s bed runs away, which appears to be a moment of comic relief before viewers understand how Mitski is trying to convey the loss of self-comfort people experience when trying to find validation in the arms of another.
The singer receives an unsigned greeting card and a featureless portrait with a resemblance to her when the pre-chorus, a contradiction of self-sufficiency (“And I don’t want your pity”) and codependency (“I just want somebody near me”), picks up. As if those weren’t mysterious enough, Mitski becomes startled by a flailing arm from her wall as she pleads for “one good honest kiss.” It’s a desperation for affection so visceral that it can only be followed by a lighthearted bedroom party with a hairbrush mic. And even then, the scratched-out faces of cardboard people and the neck-down images of people on Mitski’s television in the next frame, juxtaposed with the joyous color scheme of the music video, speak to a bitter truth: We cannot fully know someone.
More arms appear from the wall as the song progresses, and the hands start to tear the painting apart, like how Mitski tears herself apart by changing between “big and small” to fit the standards of a lover. She then tries to find the portrait’s painter, who turns out to be a tablet-headed person with Mitski’s face on the screen and a symbol of the misleading, distorted screen-to-screen interactions society values, before opening up diary upon diary — which reflects how our true persona is deeply buried — and using a magnifying glass to look at lines of the word “nobody” written out.
Suddenly, the camera peers through a magnifying glass to look at Mitski, a shift in perspective to introspection instead of focusing on surroundings. After realizing a message is now tattooed on her own hand, she approaches the first arm-in-the-wall and looks through the magnifying glass that it’s holding to reveal the words. The artist, as if in a daze, walks off the empty set to sit in the director’s chair belonging to “NOBODY.”
And that’s when you realize Mitski wasn’t confused. She was enlightened, seeing the world through a whole different lens. Ignorance might have been bliss; believing in movie screen love might have been an adventure. But only when you realize that the beauty of art is idealistic, that the scenes on screen are empty worlds, can you be happy with yourself, content with reality. And nobody can give that to you, except for the words on Mitski’s palm and the only person who can be truly accepted, known, and loved: “YOU.”