The Mac Miller Review: Circles

Image courtesy of Time Magazine

By Katie Van Lew

Mac Miller’s sixth studio album, Circles, curated to accompany Swimming, was released posthumously on January 17, 2020. This album proceeds Swimming, his fifth studio album. Unlike his albums prior, Swimming encapsulates Miller’s raw, emotional depth, highlighting his personal struggles with himself. Throughout his life, Miller was open about his afflictions with addiction and depression. Furthermore, in 2018, the artist had to endure a public breakup with long-term girlfriend Ariana Grande, whom he had collaborated with on his fourth studio album, The Divine Feminine. It was known that The Divine Feminine was dedicated to Grande. 

A month after Swimming was released, Miller died from a drug overdose, leaving ripples in the music industry. Sixteen months later, producer Jon Brion, who had been working with Miller on Circles before his death, sought out to finish what would be Miller’s last letter to the universe. Brion resurrected Miller’s vision of the two albums, Swimming and Circles, intertwining to create the cohesive idea of “swimming in circles.” 

Swimming, an album that expresses Miller’s dark times, is balanced out by the lyrical optimism that Miller concocts within Circles.

The album, which commences with the words “This is what it looks like, right before you fall” on the opening track “Circles,” comes full circle the album progresses into a sense of reflection, solace, and growth.

Circles has proven to be the perfect compliment to Swimming. Miller’s first single off of the album, “Good News,” was an introduction to Miller’s search for clarity and purpose amidst his struggles. The single highlights a sort of reawakening, a realization that people only want to hear about him thriving, even if it means dismissing his pain. 

In “Blue World,” Miller disguises his trepidations and worries about the unpredictability of life with upbeat music. The song is an expression of reclaiming control of his life, and choosing to disregard his own demons. The song illuminates a stark contrast to his songs on Swimming, as he is choosing to not succumb to the darkness that he had surrounded himself with previously. 

Miller escapes the chaos within his mind in “Hand Me Downs.” This song is the only one on Circles to have a feature, with Baro Sura singing the chorus. Despite its initial melancholic instrumentals, Miller expresses his hope of building a connection with someone and eventually starting a family. 

“Surf” culminates an expression of hope for Miller, as he sings, “There’s water in the flowers, let’s grow.” The song peers into Miller’s perpetual search for the brighter side of life, and his willingness to break from his habitual nature of “swimming in circles.”

Miller has taken Circles in a different direction from Swimming, as the album is mainly composed of his singing accompanied by lo-fi beats. The instrumentals, intertwined with his pensive lyrics, showcase Miller’s newfound philosophy of breaking away from a self destructive cycle, and anticipating the good moments in life. Circles is an immaculate departure for Miller, as it provides closure to his artistry that fans would not otherwise receive if Swimming had been his final album.          Mac Miller could not be defined or matched; he was not simply a singer or a rapper. His multitude of talents, from his lyrical genius to his raw skills as a musician, showcased his ability as an artist to master his craft through his creativity, emotion, and passion for music. Circles is a bitter sweet symphony that enables the Mac Miller legacy to live on and influence the music industry forever.

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