When you think of a prestigious title such as album of the year, what pops into your head? A billboard-topping pop hit? Something you figure will only guarantee radio play and immediate staleness after the star-factor wears off? Well, in most cases, you would be correct. Music is an artform that takes the shape of a product, most times: not truly art, but something to sell. Something to net companies a big wad of cash, and to satisfy hungry, raving fans. This mindset, however, is draining and leaves no room for the creator, the artist themself, to truly be happy with what they’re churning out.

The same can be said for what I believe is a contender for, if not the, album of the year in my opinion. “Laurel Hell” is the sixth studio album by Japanese-American singer, Mitsuki Laycock; better known as Mitski Miyawaki. Mitski has released a plethora of albums, all with different flavor and flares. What makes “Laurel Hell” stand out, however, is that it marks her decision to take a break from music and celebrity life in general. The singer-songwriter has always written about the pain of heartbreak and alienation, and this album is no different.

However, it details her complicated relationship with the fame she has amassed out of seemingly thin air. This fame was certainly deserved, though. Mitski sang about topics that many teenagers and young adults could relate to, especially those that are POC, but Asian-American in particular. All over social media such as Tiktok and Twitter, her music was blowing up and being connected to the satirical, “sad girl” aesthetic many artists before Mitski were known for. This includes Lana Del Rey, Lorde, Fiona Apple and Phoebe Bridgers. Whether they agree with this moniker or not, many teens have embraced this, and a good portion have rallied against “Laurel Hell” for its supposedly happier tone. 

Many do not look beyond the music, though. Mitski uses glamorous, glossy synths and ABBA-esque melodies to mask the darkness behind her lyrics. Many tracks detail her difficulties with being in the music industry, as well as songs that lament her various heartbreaks. A favorite track of mine from “Laurel Hell” would have to be “Stay Soft”. It describes how if you don’t harden your feelings up and become numb to the world then it beats you down and eventually hardens you up anyway. I adore how groovy and almost shimmery the song sounds, all while regaling such a harrowing idea. Another song that fits perfectly with this idea is “Working for the Knife.” It lets the listener in on her troubles in the industry, sorrowful over the end of times where she can simply make art for art’s sake, not to please the masses. 

Despite these darker lyrics, Mitski has also been noted to resent how her music can fall into that “sad girl” aesthetic. In a video by Crack Magazine where the singer reacted to tweets about herself and her music, she is noted as saying, “The sad girl thing was reductive and tired 10 years ago and still is today.  Let’s retire the sad girl shtick. Sad girl is over.” This clearly sends the message that she is tired of people only appreciating her art for being “sad,” and the yearning messages it sends. Mitski wants people to appreciate her art even when she’s happy, and cannot provide these mournful songs all the time. It just goes to show how the vast majority of a fanbase can treat a celebrity as a commodity; something they want to be the same every time and become furious when it is different.

All in all, “Laurel Hell” more than deserves its spot as my album of the year, and Mitski deserves one hell of a break from the limelight. She has poured her heart out more times than I can count, and has earned fans that sometimes agree, but sometimes reject her wishes to grow, to change. What will she do in the future and what can we expect next from the indie pop sensation? Nobody really knows, but all we can do is support her, as well as other artists, into the future and see what else they can pour their blood, sweat and tears into.