Mitski’s ‘Stay Soft’ Performance on ‘Kimmel’ Is a Master Class in Theatrics

Mitski returned to the Jimmy Kimmel Live stage Tuesday to showcase “Stay Soft,” a track from her recent critically acclaimed album Laurel Hell.

Earlier in her career, Mitski often performed onstage while playing a guitar or bass. But here, Mitski’s body is the instrument, a vessel through which she channels a wide spectrum of emotions and often uses to accentuate the lyrics to her music. She spends the performance gesticulating wildly — arms clenched to her chest, manically tugging at her dress, reaching out as if to grab somebody or something. These hyper-exaggerated movements are a far cry from the usual “stand before a microphone” act expected of most singer-songwriters, and it’s something Mitski consistently uses to her advantage.

This week, Mitski — who purposefully disengaged from her social media accounts several years ago, turning control over to her management — found herself at the center of a contentious debate after a lengthy message from the singer addressing phone usage at her concerts was shared to her official Twitter account. “I wanted to speak with you about phones at shows,” began the now-deleted thread. “When I’m on stage and look to you but you are gazing into a screen, it makes me feel as though those of us on stage are being taken from and consumed as content, instead of getting to share a moment with you.”

While the majority of responses were positive, some individuals accused Mitski of ignoring the needs of disabled fans or unfairly dictating how paying audience members should behave at concerts. (It’s worth noting that the most egregiously critical posts have been deleted after a slew of fans came to Mitski’s defense.)

Struggling to preserve a connection with her audience at live shows is an issue Mitski has long grappled with. “The real struggle for me in getting bigger is, how do I maintain integrity in the performance? How do I make sure the audience experience is still intimate and emotional in this 8,000-cap room?,” she told Rolling Stone in December. “Because I don’t want my show to be about that — I want people to enter into a place with me and have an experience, and then leave having experienced something important.”

Mitski is currently on a sold-out tour of the U.S., which wraps March 31 in the singer’s adopted hometown of Nashville.