Words by Katie Goh
You may have noticed that the cowboy is having a bit of a moment. From Mitski telling us to Be the Cowboy, to Solange’s When I Get Home film, which reimagines the forgotten history of black cowboys, to Lil Nas X and Cardi B donning Stetsons, the yee-haw agenda is all over contemporary music, particularly music by people of colour, particularly women of colour.
In film, the Western is having a resurgence with movies like The Rider, Western and Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts exploring ideas of nationality, vengeance and solidarity through a reimagining of the genre. Notably, all three films are directed by women.
The cowboy has traditionally stood as the epitome of white man authority: the John Wayne cowboy rides into town, scares away the natives and rides off into the sunset with the girl. The cowboy has been essential to North American mythos – which is why it’s the perfect figure to be claimed by those marginalised in society.
When Mitski says Be the Cowboy, she means to stride into a room with the cowboy’s gait and swagger. The cowboy does not apologise. The cowboy is entitled and arrogant and takes up space. For a woman of colour to be the cowboy is radical. It feels incredible.
Riding into towns that don’t want him, the cowboy is a perfect alien. Ironically, I’ve always thought the closest archetype we have to the cowboy in 2019 is the immigrant: transient, lonely, always on the outside looking in with nowhere to go.
‘Be the cowboy’ has become my mantra for getting through the day, week, year. When I whisper it to myself as I walk out the front door, I’m the cowboy on the open road, powerful in my loneliness, hand on my hip, just me and my horse, riding into a sun-flared future.
Katie Goh writes words for our sister magazine, London in Stereo, as well as The Skinny, The Guardian, Dazed and many more.
See the video for ‘Geyser’ by Mitski, from Be The Cowboy here: