All About Mitski’s New Song “Working for the Knife”

Mercury Catanzarite, Staff Writer

After being mostly inactive since September 2019, indie rock sensation Mitski published a new song on October 5, 2021, and it’s amazing.

Called “Working for the Knife”, this song is about overworking yourself to your own ruin. 

In the way Mitski originally meant this song, the metaphorical knife represents the expectations put on Mitski (or the character she’s portraying) under capitalism, and presumably by her fans as well. According to the song’s Wikipedia page, “She sings about feeling unfulfilled due to only working for ‘the knife’ and struggling not to give up on her creative aspirations, and [also sings] about getting older.” 

The struggles of getting older seem to be a recurring theme in Mitski’s songs, with lyrics relating to wanting her youth back being found in her other songs, such as in “Class of 2013” (2013), “First Love / Late Spring” (2014), and “Drunk Walk Home” (2014).

Angie Martoccio, an author for the Rolling Stone, thinks this song might be a spiritual successor to another of Mitski’s songs by the name of “Blue Light” (2018). In this song, she sings, “Out there I’m a sharp knife / Are you that blue light?” Seeing how closely these lyrics connect the two songs, I would agree in saying that the two are related in some way.

The song’s melody feels frantic and dark, which it accomplishes by using things like syncopated beats, clattering percussion, and heavy synths. If you listen closer, you can also hear distorted electric guitar riffs and horns, alongside pianos. In addition, there’s a faint droning note in the background, and while it’s easy to block it out, it easily sets the mood for the rest of the song.

Singing the song, Mitski manages to make her voice sound simultaneously desperate to escape this metaphorical knife and also exhausted by it.

In addition to this, it doesn’t quite stick to one genre, as it takes elements from the country, shoegaze, folk, and Americana genres. However, the Wikipedia page states that its main genres are glam rock and electro-industrial.

The lyrics of this song match the dreary beat as well, with topics like exploiting yourself to create art and passive suicidality being touched upon.

My personal favorite verse is, “I used to think I’d be done at twenty / Now at twenty-nine, the road ahead appears the same / Though maybe at thirty, I’ll see a way to change / That I’m living for the knife.”

I’ve personally dealt with the things this song talks about at least once, but those lyrics are the ones I relate to the most.

I also love how the end of each verse slowly changes from “working for the knife” to eventually “dying for the knife”, showing how Mitski (or the character she’s portraying) slowly ruins herself by exploiting her traumas to make into songs for fame.

The music video shows this theme as well, starting with Mitski dancing around a fancy area, presumably a concert venue, and ending with her writhing and jumping on a crowdless stage until she collapses as a representation of how she overworks herself, even with nobody watching her.

In conclusion, “Working for the Knife” is a beautifully put-together song that shows the darker side of Mitski.