Mitski, a Japanese-American indie artist, is not exactly what you would call a household name. For those unfamiliar with her work, Mitski’s lyrics are nostalgia-tinged and sweetly forlorn, her sound ranging from ballads accompanied by stripped-down piano to pop powered by electric guitar riffs. Despite borrowing many sonic elements from the typical indie repertoire, Mitski gracefully avoids the one-dimensional affectation of constant suffering that often defines the genre. Instead, she stands out from her peers by writing genuine yet simple lyrics that capture the minutiae of any given emotion with startling precision. In particular, her 2016 album “Puberty 2” received considerable critical praise for its autobiographical tone and careful self-reflection. From that album sprang the single titled “Your Best American Girl,” a rumination on a past relationship for which Mitski was willing to sacrifice parts of her own identity despite knowing that the differences between her and her partner were too vast to bridge. Today, a second look at the song’s powerful music video is in order — and nearly four years later, its themes and motifs have never been more influential.
With the first languid strums of guitar, the video for “Your Best American Girl” opens to a shot of Mitski perched on a stool at the center of a dimmed room, her bright magenta suit the only splash of color against an otherwise achromatic set. She lifts her eyes to find a stereotypically handsome white man gazing at her, enraptured. Brief clips alternate between solo shots of Mitski and her love interest as they smile at each other, wave, and grow increasingly flirtatious in body language. Nevertheless, in spite of this immediate intimacy fostered by the frontal close-ups on each of the characters, there’s also an oddly contradictory sense of distance present, fueled by the realization that the couple never appears together in the same frame.
This division comes to a head when Mitski croons “you’re the sun, you’ve never seen the night,” subtly hinting at a fundamental incompatibility between herself and her love interest. These feelings appear to be validated when a white woman dressed like she’s on the way to Coachella slinks into the frame, wraps her arm around the man’s shoulders, and abruptly steals his attention. Suddenly, the exchange of gazes is no longer occurring between Mitski and her love interest, but rather between Mitski and this new competitor. If the other woman – in the full glory of a fringed crop top, flower crown, and temporary metallic arm tattoos – is a satirical visualization of Americana, then perhaps this exchange of stares represents Mitski’s yearning to fit into white culture eclipsing her initial attraction to her love interest. All the while, Mitski’s hand remains suspended in midair, still waving jerkily as if to highlight the one-sidedness of their relationship.
As the white couple begins to embrace, Mitski looks to her still-waving hand, brings it to her face, and begins to make out with it, all while twining her free hand through her hair and gripping her own chin as if mimicking the actions of a lover. At first glance, it seems that perhaps Mitski is intensely jealous of the other couple and is merely seeking out her own hand as a substitute for human interaction. However, the explosion of the mellow, lazy verse into a triumphant chorus — “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me, but I do, I think I do” — just as Mitski kisses her hand invites an alternate interpretation. Rather than a pitiful attempt to ward off loneliness, Mitski making out with her own hand constitutes an aggressively confident act of self-love through the solo recreation of physical gestures that are typically associated with romantic, interpersonal affection.
After this ritual of self-reconciliation, Mitski smiles, picks up her guitar, and strums it until the end of the song, when she simply walks off the set without looking back at the white couple — who are presumably still wrapped up in each other within a literal American flag. Quite simply, she now loves herself enough to leave behind a boy who had no place for her in his life, as well as the preoccupations with white culture that came with him.
A renewed discussion of Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl” music video and its bittersweet portrayal of an attempt at an interracial relationship is especially pertinent now, in the wake of the 2018 Netflix hit “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” It serves as an important counterpoint to the saccharine love story between Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), a mixed Korean-American girl, and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), a white boy: The fact that the couple is interracial is never explicitly addressed in the film, which is a lighthearted, feel-good tale of first love. Nevertheless, the rosy image that the Netflix film paints — of being able to enter successful relationships with people of any race without encountering any miscommunications or imbalances stemming from differences in ethnic background — does not often occur in real life, and Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl” stunningly portrays the struggles that a person of color may encounter in their relationship with white American culture.
— Staff writer Miranda Eng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.