Music acts as both an emotional outlet for artists, and an emotional conductor for listeners. Though a lot of artists come close, Mitski is one of the only artists who can, without fail, make me feel something. I have a deep emotional connection with almost every single one of her songs, but there’s one that makes me feel something more than any other. ‘Class of 2013’ is about the fear of the unknown post-graduation – transitioning into some sort of ‘true adulthood’ where you’re meant to have everything figured out. It is a beautiful song, but also an incredibly stirring song. Though it’s still a bit of time away, I am terrified of graduating. Generally this track makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry. So I listened to 11 different versions of it to tell you all what to expect. There’s even a handy playlist containing all but one of the Youtube videos linked here, so you can listen along!
1. Album Version (2013)
The OG ‘Class of 2013’ was first heard by the world on Mitski’s 2nd album, Retired From Sad, New Career in Business, written and produced as a student project towards the end of her time studying at SUNY Purchase. Despite the bleak impression it gives for any future graduates, I find this version is somehow quite comforting – the piano feels like a warm blanket, until Mitski picks up the volume to yell the chorus and you start to realise everything could fall down around you at any time. Dynamics are essential in this song, and Mitski demonstrates this by bringing us back down from the peak and you get wrapped up in the warm blanket again and things seem alright again, even if just for a moment. There’s even 15 seconds at the end of the track so you can collect yourself before the next song. Thanks, Mitski!
Overall rating: gorgeous, though not as emotionally damaging as it could have been.
2. Audiotree Live Version (2015)
Two years on from the original, ‘Class of 2013’ sounds scarier, and the instrumental backing seems to fit the subject matter a little more appropriately. When I say backing, I mean an open chord on an electric guitar strummed a few times before each phrase. There is no chord progression, just the same sound echoing out over and over again while Mitski sings over the top of it. Her voice wavers a bit, and it really sounds like she might be in pain, and you can feel that pain with her. If ‘Class of 2013’ was written pre-graduation, then this must be what graduating is like – painful and abrasive.
Overall rating: I am becoming increasingly afraid about my future.
3. NPR Tiny Desk Concert (2015)
[‘Class of 2013’ starts around 2:11]
Going from playing ‘Townie’ to this is a rather large juxtaposition, to say the least. This time, when the chorus comes around and it’s time to scream, Mitski lifts her guitar to her face and screams directly at the strings. When she does this I feel a deep sense of awe and malaise radiate through my whole body. It seems symbolic, but of what I’m not sure. It doesn’t get much better from here on out.
Overall rating: holding my breath with a baseball bat but I don’t know what I’m waiting for.
4. Live @ Johnny Brenda’s, Pennsylvania (2015)
This video emanates an extremely bad vibe. The lighting and camera angle make you feel as if you’re shining a torch into the pitch black backroom of your local music venue, and Mitski is standing amongst the instruments in the shadows, expressionless face, waiting to share her immeasurable emotional turmoil with the first person to step within her range. And even though her vocal performance is so vicious, her actions are so calm – she very gently wipes off the mic before she starts to sing, and she lifts up her guitar so carefully only to scream so violently just seconds later. I’m not scared of Mitski, but I do fear the power she holds over me.
Overall rating: nightmare fuel.
5. Touring Artist performance @ 40 Watt Club, Georgia (2016)
Switching it up a bit, we’ve got an electro-acoustic guitar – cool! It feels a little less loud at first, until the screaming, of course, where the guitar starts to feedback and the pain is not just emotional but physical. The vocal delivery in this performance is especially good, not for any particular reason, it just flows very nicely. The applause heard at the end must have come from members of the audience who are far stronger than me – if this was the final song in Mitski’s setlist when I went to see her, I don’t think I could ever recover.
Overall rating: ouch! I’m in pain.
6. Live @ High Noon Saloon, Wisconsin (2018)
The feedback has become even louder, somehow. This is one of the first performances I watched where Mitski strums the guitar while she’s screaming into it. It doesn’t feel like she’s playing a song anymore, it feels like she’s having a conversation with her guitar who says the same things over and over, frustrating her to the point of tears but carrying on to reassure her until she calms down. This video also contains a version of ‘Drunk Walk Home’, to which one person in the crowd sings along as if it is gospel. Mitski also screams in this song, but it’s a scream that invokes a very different feeling – much more primal and much less relevant to this article.
Overall rating: I’m starting to learn I may never be free.
7. Live @ Primavera Sound (2017)
Primavera is probably one of the coolest music festivals around, furthered still by Mitski’s appearance on the Pitchfork Stage in 2017. It’s very poignant seeing her completely alone on such a gargantuan stage. I suppose graduating would be lonely, where everyone you’ve come to know and love disappears to go and do their own thing and pursue whatever it is that Mitski stopped chasing.
Overall rating: my god I’m so lonely.
8. Live @ Mohawk, Austin (2017)
The electro-acoustic guitar used in this performance seems to be a different one to what usually pops up, and is a lot more twangy, giving a little country-esque twist. At the beginning it makes the song deceptively welcoming, but the same overwhelming feeling of dread breaks through by the time the shouting begins. This one hurts me a lot more than a lot of the others. I don’t know why.
Overall rating: Being the Cowboy is somehow more devastating.
9. Live @ Club Dada, Texas (2017)
[not included in the playlist, here’s the link] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFdjzgwRQyw
I couldn’t add this video to the playlist, since it has been listed as “content made for children”. I think subjecting a child to this song would be incredibly ill advised. During this performance, which appears to be an encore, it sounds as if the whole crowd are speaking over Mitski while she sings. I would like to emphasise that this is dreadful gig etiquette and highly disrespectful. I would also like to emphasise that I think this adds a lot of depth to the performance. Nobody’s listening, everyone’s too self-involved to care about Mitski’s pain. Until she starts to yell, and it becomes impossible to turn a blind eye.
Overall rating: no more words, only Mitski.
10. Live @ Clockenflap, Hong Kong (2017)
The quality of this recording is, frankly, not so good. Though it’s not as if the others are that much better, so I’m not sure why it was this one that I noticed. Maybe I’m burnt out from listening to the same song but slightly different over and over and over again. Mom, I’m tired. The pause before the final strum creates a strange lurch that feels a bit like the build up of saliva you get in your throat before you throw up. Or maybe I’ve made myself ill. It’s become hard to distinguish the feelings that Mitski’s music thrusts upon me and feelings that I just have.
Overall rating: I think I need a paracetamol.
11. SXSW, Texas (2015)
This is the one. This video ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped it into the ground and then tore it into tiny little shreds. The room is dimly lit, illuminated mostly by the glowing red ‘EXIT’ sign in the background. You can barely see Mitski’s figure as she leans into the crowd to strum the guitar for the first time with immense force. She’s not even wearing the guitar, holding it away from her body on the floor. It sounds as if she’s out of breath as soon as she begins to sing. Her voice wavers and breaks and the few, barely visible smiling faces of the crowd turn morose. She picks up the guitar and you can hear her vocals clipping through the speakers because she’s shouting so loud. Her voice tapers off as she stops shouting and nothing feels the same. You are left feeling demented. One person at the end, after seconds of emptiness, screams “YEAH!” in perhaps the loudest register I’ve ever heard. There aren’t many other appropriate reactions here, bar deafening silence.
Overall rating: I have lost the capability to form coherent thoughts because I am so devastated. Please do not talk to me.
Well, that’s it. That’s every video I could find of Mitski’s ‘Class of 2013’ on Youtube. I believe this exercise inflicted extreme psychological damage on my brain. Happy New Year, everyone! :~)