Mac Miller’s Circles: A posthumous album to be grateful for

Emma Niland, Staff Writer

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By Emma Niland

Late rapper Mac Miller and producer Jon Brion had a vision, but with Miller’s passing from an accidental drug overdose in September of 2018, their vision never became a reality. Following Miller’s death, Brion desperately wanted to finish their project and release songs that Miller finished before his untimely passing. Circles tells a story of optimism at the end of one’s life. Oftentimes, death is feared, yet in his posthumous album, Miller speculates over the potential joys that death and the afterlife can bring after a strenuous life.

The album was released at midnight on Jan. 17, and I, being a big fan, stayed up until two in the morning on the 18th to soak up his new music. Maybe it was partly because I was incredibly tired, but I couldn’t help but be moved to tears while listening to the majority of his songs on the album.

The album’s name alone is worthy of the amount of attention it’s received since the announcement of its release. Miller’s last published album before his death, Swimming, was downcast nearly throughout its entirety, with hints to addiction and poor mental health. With the announcement of Circles, many began to ponder the idea that perhaps Miller was “swimming in circles,” with addiction and mental health battles. 

The album begins with “Circles,” a short and downbeat track that touches on the repetition of mistakes and acceptance of losing to addiction. “I cannot be changed / Trust me I’ve tried,” Miller sings. The combination of Miller’s raspy voice and the melodic sound of this first track creates a downcast and saddened tone for the album at first, but then it picks up with the second track: “Complicated.”

A much longer and more upbeat song, “Complicated,” considers the ease that comes with taking days one at a time and not stressing about every little detail and mistakes made. Miller sings about the negatives of worrying about the future, making his audience believe that perhaps his mental health was on the road to recovery before his death. To be honest, this song left me a little confused regarding the meaning behind this album, but nevertheless I was more than ready to hear the rest of what Miller had to say in the following songs.

“Blue World” is up next on the album, and Miller is not afraid to show how he feels about living without someone that was important to him. Despite its sad lyrics, it’s incredibly upbeat and there is happiness depicted in Miller’s voice throughout the song. He sings about coming out of the other end of a dark tunnel a happier, brighter man.

The fourth track on Circles is “Good News,” which was actually released as a single before the release of the entire album. Miller fills the almost six-minute song with plenty of details regarding how he’s treated by others when he’s having a good day versus a bad one. “Good news is all they wanna hear / No they don’t like me when I’m down,” Miller sings, followed by, “I’m running out of gas / Hardly anything left.” Miller depicts his distaste for living in a world where he’s run dry and runs on public approval, and he sings, “There’s a whole lot more for me waiting,” igniting the belief that Miller was ready to see what death brought since his life was so draining. For many, “Good News” is Miller’s most powerful song, and it was the perfect one to release first as a single to give fans a taste of what Circles entails.

With a similar tune and feel as “Blue World,” the fifth song on the album, “I Can See,” is about changing one’s lifestyle to find balance and happiness. Miller touches on how life can be a dream for some but not for him, and he is waiting for someone to show him evidence of it that “[He] can see,” hence the title of the track. The laggy feel of “I Can See” puts listeners in a trance-like emotional state, leading them towards a happier feeling with a more optimistic outlook on life. 

“Everybody” follows “I Can See,” and it is without a doubt one of the sadder songs on the album. Miller sings about how everyone lives and dies, and proceeds to make the process of life and death seem simple. The tune is heavy in percussion instruments, especially piano and drums, making it seem light and happy, when in reality, listening intently to the lyrics has the opposite effect. Miller shows his fans that he doesn’t fit in with “everybody” like he wants to.

Miller’s next hit on the album is “Woods,” where he conveys that he feels as if he is lost in the woods which is metaphorical for his past mistakes. Miller feels unforgiven by others for the decisions he made, and he sings, “I might just fade like those before me,” fueling the conspiracy among his fanbase that Miller’s death was in fact not an accident. 

Australian rapper Baro joins Miller on vocals and drums for “Hand Me Downs,” the next track. “Hand Me Downs” is the only song on the album with a featured artist, and I for one was surprised to hear another voice on the album, but Baro’s smooth voice creates a familiar feeling of family. The song’s rhythm is captivating and its indy-inspired sound is unique on the album, yet it fits in perfectly.

“That’s On Me” follows on the album, and its waltz-like feeling puts listeners into a daze. Miller paints a picture of him looking at himself in the mirror going over his mistakes and how the weight of those actions affected him in his last living years. An easy standout on the album, “That’s On Me” is anything but ambiguous, and Miller’s choice of style and diction for the track is what makes it protrude from the rest of the album.

Miller’s “Hands” is encrypted with hope and optimism for the future. Miller sings about the simplicity of life when “You take a little time for yourself.” It’s no secret his life was brimming with hardship and constant exposure in the media, yet Miller tells an anonymous confidant in this track about the ease that comes with taking a deep breath and taking each day as it comes.

The second-to-last song on the album and my personal favorite, is “Surf,” a true piece of art. The combination of Miller’s achy voice and desperate lyrics takes the hands of his listeners and shows them the complexity of Miller’s outlook on life.

The album ends with “Once a Day,” a short and sweet track with deeper, sadder meaning in the lyrics behind Miller’s soothing voice. Miller sings about wanting to be left in his thoughts so that he can avoid being persecuted by the outside world. It is the perfect ending to Circles; indeed, Miller plays the role of an individual stuck in a society where being perfect is the only thing accepted. He feels stuck, as if he is a robot.

All in all, Circles made me appreciate the ups and downs of an individual’s life, not just the ups. In Circles, Miller conveys the message that he felt trapped in a world of perfection, and while it’s heartbreaking for many fans to just realize this now after listening to its components, I realized that perhaps there is more to life than just living in a made-up world of supposed perfection. There is something beyond it, something brighter, and more accepting of all. And I like to believe that Miller found it.