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Mac Miller's 'Circles' is a profoundly beautiful goodbye

by Baylie Clevenger I love music that I can feel. I love music that is authentic, raw, and intentional. And I have always loved Mac Miller’s music.  When I was 13, I met my now best friend of eight years. One of the pillars of our young friendship was Miller’s Blue Slide Park. I even remember the first time I heard “Frick Park Market” at midnight while my friend and I were sitting on my family computer watching music videos and being far too loud. We even had matching Mac Miller T-shirts. It’s the sweetest little memories like those that are tied to Miller’s music.  I know I am not alone in saying that Miller has always provided that authentic sound that I crave. Beyond loving his sound, I bonded with my best friend over his lyrics. That’s why in 2018 when he passed, I was devastated. Somewhere in my heart I knew that we may never feel that feeling of listening to one of his new tracks again.  I will be real and say that as my music taste evolved and changed in my teens, I had a moment where I fell away from his music, but I always found my way back and I always loved him not only for his music but for his unique place in the industry. And on Jan. 17, 2020, I found my way back once again to his posthumous album, Circles. This album worked out to be a beautiful, meaningful send-off for a lovely man. 

The beauty is in the lyrics

This album is genuinely one of the most lyrically beautiful pieces that I have ever heard. This is something I definitely came to expect from Miller, and I was beyond elated to be reunited with his poetic lyricism.  I could go on for endless paragraphs about each individual line in this album, but for the sake of clarity and keeping things succinct I’ll just focus on two of the songs. Though they’re all equally lyrically beautiful, let’s go with “Once A Day” and “Woods.” In “Once A Day,” Miller has lyrics like “Don’t keep it all in your head/The only place that you know nobody ever can see/You’re running low on regret No tears, that's keeping you wet/ I think you gettin' it now” This reads in a very profound way, and it sounds beautiful in the song. The way it is written simply but with an emotional punch is unmatched.  In “Woods,” some of the best lyrics are present. In particular, the second verse reads “I make this planet feel like home/Miss us, first time the door is closing/So far beyond all our control/You say it's all so close to broken/It's so much better when you wait/Forever and a day, that's all I got/ Put it together then it breaks.” These lyrics so specifically tap into the feeling of trying to put things back together when they’ve fallen apart, and they feel personal. The whole album gives us a look into how he was feeling, but these lyrics in particular are a vivid retelling of his lived experience. 

A beautiful goodbye

I don’t think any album has ever made me feel more emotional than Circles. Even on my first go around with all of the tracks, I felt proud, devastated, and excited all at once. All of these emotions go hand-in-hand to make this album feel like a warm hug goodbye from a close friend that you know you won’t see for a while.  This was done particularly well with “Blue World,” with lyrics like “Hey, one of these days we'll all get by/ Don't be afraid, don't fall” and the intro, “it’s a blue world without you.” These lyrics feel like describing what it’s like to miss a friend, and how it would feel to have a friend send you off with some profound advice.  This is also done well in the song “Surf", not only with the lyrics but with the beat of the song. It’s slow and unique and features the lyrics that got the most tears out of me: “Where are you goin'? Can I come too?/The whole world is open, a playground for me and you That line in particular reads like a goodbye. Though I don’t think it’s an overly-sad one. This album wrapped everything up in a sweet little send-off that held just the right amount of emotion and warmth. 

Honoring a legacy 

When I initially heard about the album, I had a lot of concerns about what it would mean for Miller’s legacy; however, after giving it as many listens as I could fit in the last few days, I found that his legacy has been done great justice.  Songs like “Surf,” and the album’s namesake, “Circles,” capture what Miller was feeling and struggling with before his death while songs like “Hands,” “Blue World,” and “Complicated” capture the upbeat side of his sound. This balance does him justice because we get to see into the last few years of his life while also still experiencing the same sound we were accustomed to with his music. Overall, Miller’s art doesn’t get lost in the sadness behind the album.  The album also feels like he was there for the entire production; it just sounds like him. This is especially true with songs like “Woods” and “I Can See” because samples from his 2018 album Swimming are present as well as harmonies from his close friend Ariana Grande, who has been featured on his music before.  They could have very easily thrown together all of the saddest songs they could about his struggles but instead they chose to remind everyone that he was still an artist and a person outside of dealing with addiction and depression. It is clear that so much thought went into every second of producing this album.  After having been a fan of Miller for most of the last decade, to me it’s appropriate to say that if he were still here today, he would be more than pleased with this album; and that’s what I wanted more than anything from this release—another chance to connect with him and his music.  Not a day will go by for the rest of my life that I don’t miss Mac Miller. Not a day will go by that I don’t feel thankful for my best friend and I bonding over his music. But now, I don’t have to live another day without the goodbye that I and so many others craved from one of the most important artists to ever make a mark on the industry.  This album hit me on the most deeply emotional level an album ever has or likely ever will. This piece of art is so beautiful that I refuse to give it a number ranking because it transcends any ranking. All I can say is that I once again feel connected with one of my favorite artists, and now I have a tangible means to remember his legacy.
Featured Image: Variety