Mitski’s “Two Slow Dancers” and the Musical Depiction of Growth




The silence of the morning is the only kind of silence that doesn’t suffocate you. It frees you.

We talk a lot about the soundtracks of our lives: silence, alarms, trains, nature, songs, the list goes on. We talk a lot about music being a doorway to our own emotions, something that can describe what it means to be human when just words cannot. We talk a lot about finding ourselves through sound, through a band we first loved when we were 14 and that now we’ll never forget. Music defines moments and periods in our lives.

Mitski is an artist whose work is so often discussed to be defining of early adulthood, of womanhood. She accomplishes this not only through palpable lyrics, but through the support of illustrative and evocative musical accompaniment.

“Two Slow Dancers”, the final song on Mitski’s Be The Cowboy, is a lament for lost love, lost youth. A song that understands life is not permanent, that youth fades away with the ability to love freely, fully, unabashedly. It’s about Death, and the little deaths that haunt us in between.

Is it freeing to understand that life is driven by finality? Can we find peace in acceptance?

The setting of “Two Slow Dancers” is a familiar school gymnasium. Mitski laments how “they’re all the same”, how “it would be a hundred times easier if we were young again” over two alternating chords played on a piano that sounds like it’s underwater, echoing from a distance far away. Just like our memories echo in our heads. As she sings “and the ground has been slowly pulling us back down”, a harsh swishing sound echoes through the soundscape, illustrating the depth of these words, the fear of these words.

“To think that we could stay the same”, she sings with more force, forte, as the soundscape opens up to include strings and jarring electronic effects. “We’re just two slow dancers, last ones out”, she repeats, ruminates, softly, as the music fades away. There’s something unforgettable about those simple alternating chords in the piano, a memory that won’t go away, an understanding that has been finally obtained. The song ends with these plodding chords, once stuck in the same mid-register, ascending without cadence, finality without closure. It ends on a question, not an answer.

Understanding: we cannot stay the same. It would be easier if we were young, wouldn’t it? If the pain of loss hadn’t touched our hearts, if the piano was more than just basic alternating chords, instead a whole symphony of sounds concocting our stories. Yet there is a peace in resolution. “To think that we could stay the same”. How foolish to dream of the past being the present being the future. We’re always growing, changing. Memory is saved in little bubbles, preserved moments of time that yield the perfection of the glossy images we conjure up in our heads.

The choice to end the song, and the album, a work that so strongly speaks to the importance of owning oneself outside of the gaze of others, on a question rather than an answer, is really quite telling. Instead of Self Identity existing as a single entity, in stasis, it is something that is always growing, always changing. With the acceptance of finality, the acceptance of change, comes the acceptance that our own Self will exist differently throughout time. Yes, “Two Slow Dancers” is about endings. It is about the unwillingness to let go, those few chords stuck in alternation until the very last possible moment. Music that uses simple alternating chords in conjunction with full-bodied, luscious strings, and ends with an ascension to hope in the face of fear, shows us that the inevitable isn’t necessarily so bad. It simply is.

To learn to love to learn to grow to learn to change is to be alive. Maybe this is the defining discovery of “growing up”.

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