‘Swimming’ through Mac Miller’s final album

Photo Courtesy of Kmeron via Flickr

Mac Miller performs at Dour Festival in Dour, Belgium, in 2014


Released in August 2018, the late Mac Miller’s “Swimming” shed light on a version of the artist we had no idea existed. 

The potential for a world of music unbound to his previous works unraveled onto us like a Christmas gift. Here, we caught a glimpse of the ravishing mind of Miller. 

Within a month, the future that we looked forward to disappeared when he accidentally overdosed in September 2018. 

Now, a little over a year later, we get “Circles,” a posthumous album, counterpart to “Swimming.” It is a culmination of a journey we craved to see. 

This is not what was expected of Miller, but then again, neither was “Swimming.” 

Miller would’ve done just fine chart-wise if he had stuck to his original sound. With his white-boy swag, raised eyebrows and snapbacks, Miller rode alongside nontraditional rappers like Tyler the Creator and Vince Staples at the beginning of the decade. 

 He was praised and adored for his comical and witty writing. Yet he wasn’t stumped by the idea that this version of him worked. He spent the rest of his career expanding the presented character of who he was and learning to use his vulnerability to grow his lyricism. 

 “Circles” describes Miller’s progression into self-reflection. The melancholic neo-jazz beats soothe the soul and flow together, creating what seems to be a never-ending song. Miller walks a fine line between optimism and the crushing weight of clinical depression. 

Unlike “Swimming,” Miller is not battling anything here. He is simply untangling his own thoughts, pulling them apart and piecing them back together like a puzzle without instructions. 

In “Good News,” Miller sings, “I wish that I could just get out my own damn way,” discovering that it is his own mind and actions that have left him regretful and under the ceiling. 

The story of this album seems to be directed at himself: “We’re doing well / I keep you safe, I can keep you safe / do not be afraid” Miller sings on the title track “Circles.” It’s an unnerving collection of self-reflective slam poems over a raw composition of music. 

“Circles” is a master at the typical UW Weekly magazine spread “STARS; THEY’RE JUST LIKE US!” by connecting to the fundamentals of being human and wanting to be — but not necessarily being — happy. 

Miller expresses the insecurities he feels that deter his happiness like a giant pothole in the middle of the road.  Even his voice — raspy, low and almost sad — contrasts the light-hearted beat of the music that makes you want to run across wet grass like you did as a child. It complements the idea of the album: That even in the darkest moments, there’s always a silver lining. 

“Swimming” was the voyage to self-discovery which poses a question:

“Will I ever be happy?”

“Circles” is the answer. 

Yes I will be happy, not always, but at least sometimes.