LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 11: Mitski performs at Union Chapel on October 11, 2023 in London, England...
Lorne Thomson/Redferns


Mitski & The Age Of Concert Policing

We’re all focused on the wrong thing when it comes to Mitski’s live shows.

Going to a Mitski show in 2024 comes with a lot of baggage. A few weeks before her arrival in New York City, a friend cautioned me to expect a “TikTok crowd.” Online, social media posts carried another warning: Someone had screamed “Mother is mothering!” to her at a recent show in Philly, and we were all advised to not repeat that.

All of this was on my mind when I arrived at the Beacon Theatre on Feb. 21 for the first of Mitski’s seven NYC shows (four in Manhattan, and three at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre), expecting to be met with a circus of children and rowdy teenagers. Inside, a nearly full auditorium buzzed as smooth jazz filtered over the loudspeakers. On the upper floor, my section contained a mix of elder millennials still wrapped in their hats and parkas and chatty youths in crop tops and glittered cheeks taking selfies. All seemed normal, chill — sophisticated, even. But when the lights dimmed promptly at 9:05 p.m. the screams began — but that’s on par with anything Mitski these days.

The crowd screeched at her backlit silhouette as she entered in a red shroud during a folk-ified rendition of her opening number “Everyone.” A man seated in front of me half-heartedly shouted, “I love you” during “Last Words Of A Shooting Star” (which felt partially warranted). The worst it ever got was someone on the orchestra level yelling “Hydrate!” whenever Mitski would turn to have a sip of water. After the third time, a tangible irritation bristled through the audience; there wasn’t a fourth.

To be fair, Mitski’s shows have always had problems with crowds — to the point where stories about audience behavior often superseded her performances. On her 2022 Laurel Hell tour, the big problem was phones — namely, that there were too many concertgoers recording full songs or the entirety of her performances. (She kindly called out the trend online, which caused a ruckus.) Even before that she was setting live boundaries, responding to an overzealous fan who screamed “I love you!” with a polite, “You don’t know me,” in a 2016 incident that’s now lore.

At the Beacon, Mitski, professional as ever, rolled with the punches and seemed utterly unfazed, sticking to her meticulously choreographed performance and being chattier than ever. Her first address to the audience carried the sly agenda of acknowledging the elephant in the room. “Well here I am. I have a whole bunch of teenagers’ attention. I feel like I should offer wise words,” she said, before following with an off-the-cuff monologue about the inevitability of death. Later, through giggles, she attempted to explain the mechanics of sex and childbirth using the language of storks and magical packages. Both instances struck me as distinctly out of character — before I realized that I don’t know Mitski in-character to begin with.

In this age of direct-to-TikTok concert viewing and heightened audience policing, it feels like maybe we’ve lost the plot, focusing too much on the sidelines and not enough on what’s happening on stage — of which there’s plenty to be discussed: Mitski careening on the edge of a chair during “First Love/Late Spring;” singing under an umbrella of glittering glass shards for “My Love Mine all Mine;” barking like a dog for “I Bet On Losing Dogs;” waltzing with the halo of a spotlight during “Heaven.” Mitski arguably built her career off fielding our projections, from first being a canvas for all of our desires to now becoming the soundboard for contemporary concert-etiquette analysis. But a decade into making sense of her career, the projecting feels more useless than ever — and we’re still no closer to understanding her. So when the man in front of me shouted, “Thank you, Mitski” for the third time that evening, it didn’t bother me. Instead, I felt myself agreeing.