In “A Loving Feeling” from her new album Puberty 2, Mitski Miyawaki asks, over static and guitars, “What do you do with a loving feeling/ if a loving feeling makes you all alone?” It’s a question she poses, in various forms, throughout the record, sometimes in a hopeful whisper, other times in an enraged, accusatory shout. By the end of Puberty 2, it becomes clear that it’s a question she can only answer herself.
The album’s title positions it as a sequel—the awkward, cruel extension of a life stage few people would willingly revisit. She depicts that tension and confusion with particular pointedness in “Happy,” where the titular emotion finally visits her, only to leave a mess behind. “Well I sighed and mumbled to myself/ ‘Again I have to clean,’” she sings in amusement. The sax riff and dry applause that follows land like a punch line.
Subtle images of “pinky promise kisses,” of being the little spoon that “kiss[es] your fingers forever more,” of taking one last look at a lover in the rearview mirror, convey a vulnerable intimacy; it’s as if Mitski, in the midst of self-doubt and anxiety, wants to make herself smaller. Yet throughout the album, those subtleties give way to sudden, explosive moments of exhilaration and self-assertion: slow doo-wop declarations of love in “Once More to See You,” ragged howls and aggressively-strummed guitars in “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” the invasive flash of sweet memories during “one warm summer night” in “Fireworks,” and the fierce look of love on “I Bet on Losing Dogs.” By the record’s end, it’s clear that Mitski has made peace with her question about a “loving feeling.” She finds all of the strength and peace she needs simply by loving herself. She may be alone, but she’s never lonely.
—Summer Kim Lee