On “Bug Like an Angel,” Mitski stares down the barrel of religion, addiction, and broken promises.
Stream: “Bug Like an Angel” – Mitski
Mitski is back.
On July 23rd Mitski announced her seventh studio album, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We. The debut single and opening track of the record, “Bug Like an Angel,” was released on the 26th with an accompanying music video.
“Bug Like an Angel” begins as an acoustic ballad, with only a single strummed guitar with Mitski’s distinctly enunciated vocals layered above. But the heart of the song lies in the push and pull between this opening sound and the choruses, in which a full choir enters suddenly, creating “jump-scares” for the listener.
In the first line Mitski sings, “There’s a bug like an angel stuck to the bottom / Of my glass, with a little bit left.” The narrator of this song is a struggling alcoholic, depicted in the music video as a stumbling woman trying to keep herself upright as she walks down a city street at night.
There’s a bug like an angel
stuck to the bottom
Of my glass, with a little bit left
As i got older, I learned I’m a drinker
Sometimes a drink feels like family.
The woman collapses in the street and lies there for a moment, only startled as the first “jump-scare” of the song begins. A chorus enters the sparse arrangement, singing “FAMILY!” The shot pans upward to reveal Mitski singing with a church choir, dressed in blue choir robes. The woman is startled by the choir, and begins trying to right herself again.
In the second verse, there is a change in the chord progression after Mitski asks, “Did you go and make promises you can’t keep? / Well when you break them they break you right back.”
The minor chord comes in as Mitski sings, “Amateur mistake, you can take it from me.”
As this second chorus begins the woman stumbles into the chorus, finding an embrace with the conductor. The shot stays on her face, as she is held by the conductor as the chorus sings, “They break you right back / break you right back.” There’s a conflicting feeling that the chorus is both comforting her while delivering this harsh truth.
In the next verse, the video shifts to one continuous shot of Mitski singing while looking down at her guitar: “When I’m bent over, wishing it was over / making all variety of vows I’ll never keep / I try to remember the wrath of the devil was also given hand by god.” As she says “god,” Mitski looks fixedly into the camera, holding her gaze as the last chorus begins.
This moment is the crux of the song, emotionally and lyrically, it opens itself up to interpretations of either hope or absolute despair. Is suffering worthwhile and somehow holy because it was given by God? Or is that God malevolent in their intentions, taking pleasure in the suffering they created?
This polarity is embodied in the final shot of the video, as the stumbling woman breaks away from the chorus. She walks alone down the street, giving one last fumbling curtsy before continuing down the cobblestone road. She is walking toward an illuminated cross on the side of a building, shedding light on a “dead end” sign as the song fades out.
“Bug Like an Angel” confronts profound questions of religion and suffering, through the lens of alcohol addiction.
For instance, what does it mean to fail on a promise when God has already failed you? Is there a salvation at the end of it all the effort, or just a shining mirage masking a dead end?
The song won’t tell us yes or no. It’s representative of Mitski’s discography; there’s no preaching, no clear-cut answer, but instead, an offering. One of thought, of care, of beauty, that gives way to an rich, emotional space for the listener to inhabit.
Mitski’s seventh studio album, The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We, will be out September 15th on Dead Oceans.
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Stream: “Bug Like an Angel” – Mitski
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© Ebru Yildiz
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