Mitski at the Roundhouse – Björk-like brilliance for the TikTok era

Mitski at the Roundhouse in London last night - Lorne Thomson/Redferns
Mitski at the Roundhouse in London last night - Lorne Thomson/Redferns

“Love me more,” Mitski begged the audience during the opening song of her show at London’s Roundhouse. It swiftly transpired that she needn’t have asked. On the penultimate night of a mostly sold-out tour, an ardent young crowd hung on to the Japanese-American artist’s every word, invested in her every move.

Each song emerged to a torrent of screams, on a setlist that stretched back across Mitski Miyawaki’s decade-long catalogue, from the stripped, noisy indie of 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek to the pop immediacy of her recent sixth album, Laurel Hell. A comeback record that reckons with her career and the demands of artistry, Laurel Hell marks the end of a hiatus she began in 2019, disillusioned and weary after the success of her previous album, Be the Cowboy (2018). During this temporary retirement, however, Mitski hit upon unanticipated TikTok fame, earning her a new legion of avid Gen-Z fans, and hastening her into the limelight of contemporary American music.

Such sizeable success has proved long-deserved, but intimidating. Mitski’s songs cut straight to often ugly emotional truths – a clarity that comes at a price. She has described her music as “the place where anybody can put all of their feelings […] the black hole where people can dump all their s--t.” It creates an intense, demanding bond between artist and audience, one with which she hasn’t always been comfortable.

Consequently, her sole stage prop – a giant white door that remained impassively shut – seemed like a wry comment on that relationship. For despite the audience adulation, Mitski’s performance maintained an almost icy veneer, as if there were a protective screen between her and the crowd. With no chat except a soft “hello” towards the end of the night, and dark, unsettling pauses between songs, her set might have come across as too aloof or impenetrable for anyone not already emotionally invested in the songs.

But it was also obvious that Mitski was enjoying a show that functioned entirely on her own terms. High kicks, pirouettes, punches, jazz hands, head-bangs, and most compellingly of all, the motions of a wind-up doll: the tightly-choreographed set deflected attention from herself to the music, audience magnetised as she wrested feeling into shape via balletic, Björk-like dancing that often mirrored the lyrical content of the songs. This only enhanced the glossy, 1980s-style melodrama of Laurel Hell – an album so polished it initially seems like looking at a window and seeing only your reflection – and the berserk angst of earlier material such as Townie and Your Best American Girl.

Where the venue’s murky mix occasionally failed, the audience picked up the slack, holding every line aloft; during that particularly popular track, Washing Machine Heart, Mitski left the singing entirely to them. Clearly appreciative of the fact that her music resonates so powerfully with a cross-generational audience, she later cast a paper plane into the crowd like an olive branch. During her final song, Two Slow Dancers, she gazed out at a vast sea of frond-like arms, and waved back, before slowly leaving the stage – with a smile.

Until tonight, then touring abroad until August. Info: mitski.com