Song Analysis of “I Bet on Losing Dogs” by Mitski
Photo by Silvana Smith
As I sit hopelessly on my bed with my headphones at maximum volume, I begin to trail off from reality. Suddenly, it feels like I’ve stayed up all night, but I shortly remember it’s only 7 p.m. I’ve lost my sense of time, tuning out what is beyond my 9 by 10 living space. My mission has been completed; I’ve managed to escape reality again for only just a few minutes.
The street light shines through my window shutters and prevents my room from being pitch black. I feel empty and exhausted, but I don’t know where this emotion stemmed from. Maybe it’s my emotional bubble on its way to pop. It can’t withstand the amount it expanded, and it’s about to reach the climax and burst all because I listened to a single Mitski song (again).
The song in question is none other than “I Bet On Losing Dogs” off of the Japanese American indie rock artist’s 2016 album, Puberty 2. When I first listened to the song, I couldn’t understand its meaning. It took me a few listens to get a grip on it because I could not comprehend what “bet on losing dogs” meant. Yet, for some reason, I kept coming back for more. I was intrigued by this short phrase, as well as its other lyrics. (I guess one can say that I was “happy” I took the time to enjoy it to its full endeavors.)
As the drum symbols are lightly tapped, and the guitar is tuned in drop D with 82 beats per minute, my eyes slowly close. The hole my misery lays is dug deeper. At times it feels like I’m in a scene of a coming of age movie. I’m at the point where I don’t know what to do, so I let my thoughts get the best of me. Somehow I forgot to let myself breathe, and it’s caused me to hallow in pure pain. I never knew the key of A major could escalate my sporadic emotions and intentions.
With that being said, Mitski effortlessly singing about losing dogs struck my curiosity and why she continuously choses to bet on them. According to the Japan Times, the phrase “losing dogs” means much more than I thought it could be. Losing dogs, or Makeinu in Japanese means people who are single over the age of thirty. She’s betting whether or not she’ll be with this person; this person is her last chance at a successful relationship. Therefore, the time and duration of the relationship can be one of romance or one of tragedy for Mitski. It’s up to her to take that gamble.
When the song was published, Mitski was in her late twenties. She was reaching that age where that phrase has the possibility of becoming real… She’ll be an older woman who is known to be alone. However, Mitski doesn’t care if she’ll embody this phrase because she’s blind to reality; she believes she has a chance to succeed and pursue this hectic relationship once more. Mitski tricks herself into believing this person is the one even if they’re not, and it’s clear that she knows it. When she states, “I always want you when I’m finally fine,” it indicates how impulsive she is. One day she’s moved on; the next day, she’s back to where she first started: disheartened and impaired.
Although, the song itself is hard to interpret. Mitski’s either the person her lover’s committing an affair with, or Mitski’s grieving over a chaotic relationship that has reached its end. Mitski endlessly copes with her highs and lows of how messy and unhealthy her situation is. There is something that keeps pulling her back even though she’s already settled with its outcome. It’s something she can’t change but proceeds anyway because her indecisive lover is the last person she can gamble on.
Lines like “Tell your baby that I’m your baby,” and “Where I’ll be looking in their eyes when they’re down/ I’ll be there on their side/ I’m losing by their side,” can insinuate she is the secret lover, and she’ll never win. She is the second choice. That fact won’t change no matter how desperately she wants it to. Mitski goes through the pain of never being the first person, the focal point, yet she takes what she can get because she feels something. She’s willing to “bet” on that feeling happening over and over again because she craves it.
Specifying this feeling, Mitski aches for “someone to watch me [her] die.” However, this person doesn’t reciprocate those feelings. Instead, they feel nothing towards her and view her as their pond. It’s only in the little moments where they care to let Mitski have the sensation of them being hers. They pursue her as they please and envision her as their toy. And of course, she doesn’t care to confront them with full force about it. Instead, she weeps the confession to herself.
As for the willingness of Mitski wanting to go back to a relationship that isn’t good for her, one where she was being treated as neglected leftovers, resonates with me. She wants to question her old lover if things will change the way she wants them to. By doing so, it will cause her to fall behind. This would allow her to remove this label that will soon be written on her forehead, “losing dogs.” Nevertheless, this is Mitski we’re talking about. Nothing plays within her favor.
Hence, Mitski repeats, “I bet on losing dogs,” because the idea that someone could potentially be hers is an adventure she wants to engage in. By asking them to declare that they’re her baby symbolizes that she already knew their answer: they won’t.
Being stuck in an endless game where losing is the only outcome is something Mitski voluntarily faces. To think that wanting to be the second lover or admitting your love life is going down the drain feels like you’ve been defeated by yourself. It’s nothing but devastating. Regardless of others opposing those void emotions, Mitski doesn’t. She would much rather instead head down the path of a lonely life because it doesn’t fathom her. Mitski has already admitted to herself that if this is her final outcome, then so be it. She will continue to do so.
The ability to accept the chance of never being able to move on is unsettling. Yet, I believe we all have our weak spots, and this is Mitski’s. Maybe we’re all the same, but we’re too weak to own up to it. So as a solution, we hide behind Mitski’s shadow and praise the words that allow us to feel like we’re not alone after all. The damage of a toxic relationship isn’t something we should crave, but we do it anyway. Mitski always does it because she’s human. Not everyone has the strength to pack up their bags and get on with their emotions. Sometimes we decide to drive down a road we’re not supposed to because it’s tempting; we can’t help ourselves. Perhaps it’s okay to see relationships as all or nothing when the fear of being lonesome strikes us. Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing left to do but to mope hopelessly, and Mitski reassures that. I’m left with no choice but to applaud her for her execution in doing so.