The typical coming of age story enforces a specific narrative. As a teenager you go through some shit, but you come out on the other side better for it as a self assured adult. The hardest lesson I have had to learn in college thus far is that this narrative simply isn’t true. Life is still hard, and I’ll always be figuring things out.
When I listened to Mitski’s “Happy” for the first time this afternoon, it really hit home, as the track explores similar themes of self discovery. This is the second single released off of Mitski’s LP Puberty 2, set to be released on June 16. The album’s title, Puberty 2, comments on Mitski’s growth, the sense that she’s going through a second puberty as an adult; the track is one piece of this larger, unconventional coming of age story.
On “Happy,” Mitski paints a powerful metaphor to speak to the fleeting nature of happiness. Happy is not just an emotion, but the name of a man who is her part time lover. When he stays the night, she feels Happy; “I told him I’d do anything to have him stay with me / So he laid me down and I felt Happy come inside of me.” In the morning however, Happy slips out without her notice and leaves a mess in his wake; “I sighed and mumbled to myself / Again I have to clean.”
“Happy” is about the inevitable low after a high. It’s about getting your hopes up, only to find that things don’t work out. It’s about the frustration of going to bed one day with a smile and waking up saddled unexpectedly with the weight of depression and anxiety the next. It’s about feeling out control, knowing that sometimes happiness is just beyond our reach. On “Happy,” Mitski poses a question: is pursuing happiness really worthwhile if we know we’ll always come down?
Interestingly, the track’s sonics diverge from the lyrics. The first forty-five seconds of the song follow Happy’s visit, and are accompanied by an anxious beat from a drum machine and vocals in the form of a moody, wobbly whisper. When Mitski begins to sing about Happy’s departure the next morning, however, her voice grows loud, confident, and upbeat. The introduction of a saxophone makes for a soulful interlude, and the track transitions into the energetic, guitar driven indie rock that fans have grown to expect from Mitski.
The curious optimism Mitski brings to the chorus as she sings about fleeting happiness offers an answer to “Happy”’s initial question. Maybe it isn’t the peaks in life that make life worth living, but the promise of consistency. Maybe there’s solace to be found in knowing that neither our happiest moments nor our saddest will ever last, that we’ll always return to stasis. Maybe there’s comfort to be found in knowing that experiencing both highs and lows is a shared human experience. The next time I wake up in the morning unexpectedly crippled with anxiety and self doubt, I’ll take comfort in Mitski’s “Happy.”
Listen here. Image from here.