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Mitski and the Knife

In October 2021, Mitski released "Working for the Knife," the lead single from her album Laurel Hell which has taken her tour for most of this year. Very soon after the first few Laurel Hell concerts, Mitski, through her management-run Twitter, shared a message that she would prefer it if people limited how much they use their phones at concerts. This was met with a tirade of negative responses from purported fans, and the tweet was deleted not long after. As this unfolded, the message behind Working for the Knife rang truer than ever.

The most widely acknowledged interpretation of the song is that the Knife represents capitalism though others have suggested that it could be any oppressive force. It's a very cynical song about dashed dreams and living an unsatisfying life, and while it is easy for fans to listen and point to capitalism and its proponents as the "nobody," in the second verse where she states, "I used to think I would tell stories / But nobody cared for the stories I had about / no good guys." However, with behavior similar to that exhibited in the phone ordeal rampant in many fandom spaces, it's clear that the "nobody" also includes fans. The whole point of the simple request was to maintain the "feeling of connection." Unfortunately, some fans believe that as long as they've paid for the ticket, the artist becomes indebted to them and undeserving of any concert etiquette.

This belief supports Mitski's assertion that the relationship between artist and audience becomes one in which the artist is "being taken from and consumed as content" by an audience that doesn't care for the artist's humanity. Fans don't consider that it's never just a job for the musicians, it is also their life, and if attitudes don't change, it could be their death.

Mitski's not the first nor the last artist to have problems with inconsiderate or toxic fans, but it's still important to have conversations as fans about how we might affect the artist and, consequently, the art. As things stand now, fans are a sharp knife carving into their favorite artists until they withdraw and become extremely elusive. Releases become few and far between. We don't realize how many current artists are being pushed out of that lifestyle or how many aspiring artists are discouraged from pursuing their passions.

Artists always express their gratitude to fans, and as fans, we must realize that showing our gratitude through ticket sales isn't enough. We're extremely lucky that we get people willing to share their art, and appreciating it in the way they would like you to is truly the least we can do.


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