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A look behind Mac Miller’s ‘Circles’

by Olivia Weinzapfel

On Jan. 17, 2020, Mac Miller’s posthumous album was released, a little over a year after his sudden and tragic death. The album, Circles, was produced and finished by Jon Brion, per the request of Mac’s family. Brion, who had helped Mac work on the project before his passing, released it on his behalf as his last album and last piece of work for the world to hear. 

Karen Meyers, Mac’s mother, published an Instagram post on Jan. 8 announcing the album’s release date and gave a brief overview of the conceptualities and significance behind it. The two-paragraph exposition revealed that not only was Mac working on another project before his untimely death, but it was to be completed by his visionary companion Brion, and set to release just a week later. Circles would be a conceptual counterpart to Mac’s last LP, Swimming. As mentioned in the post, the spirit alluded to by the parallels was the idea of “Swimming in Circles.” 

Jon Brion, a songwriter, movie composer, and producer, worked closely with Mac and his visions for both Swimming and Circles. Brion is credited with co-producing over half of the tracks on Swimming, and was expected to amount about the same contribution to Circles. Mac had his solidified vision for the latter, and Brion was to help sharpen the divination of everything it was to become, from the lyrics to the overall sound. 

 “There were supposed to be three albums: the first, Swimming,was sort of the hybridization of going between hip-hop and song form. The second, which he’d already decided would be called Circles, would be song-based. And I believe the third one would have been just a pure hip-hop record. I think he wanted to tell people, “I still love this, I still do this.””— Jon Brion, in an interview with The New York Times.

Swimming, which was released on Aug. 3, 2018—just a month before Mac’s death— is a full-body, stream of consciousness work that is extremely introspective and induces the purest forms of emotional vulnerability for the active listener. As Brion mentioned, Swimming is more hip-hop based—which is what really gives it that stream-of-consciousness component. The album is subjectively melancholy, bringing Mac’s mental tribulations to the forefront of the musical conversation. For many, this album hit harder following his death, namely because he presented himself as very vulnerable, and we were essentially left with this image of him as someone who was in the midst of trying to overcome his psychological distress; however, his time was cut short in trying to break through that wall of adversity. This dismal awareness was heavy, and echoed in the hearts of many fans and admirers every time they listened to “Wings” or “Come Back to Earth.” While this was the reality of the situation, Circles transcended this idea, and offered us a little bit more closure from the artist.  

Circles, although not an embodiment of a mental breakthrough, still breaks the downbeat pattern of the previous album. In Circles, Mac’s perspectives seem to shift, transgressing and focusing more on the world and his relationship with everything around him in a slightly more positive light, rather than being so inner-focused, as in Swimming. Circles is everything that the word bittersweet means; it’s a somber experience to listen to new music from a beloved artist that was so soon taken from us, but it’s beautiful to have this last piece of his voice and expressions that repaves our idea of him as he conveyed himself in Swimming. In a way, it really acted as a last goodbye and final accomplishment.

As a precursor to Circles, the posthumous single, “Good News,” was released on Jan. 9th. This earnest song set a great precedent for the rest of the album, since it still confronts a bleak subject but takes on a new optimistic undertone. The rest of the songs in Circles match this idiosyncrasy, shifting the attitude on certain subjects to a more light-hearted side of the conversation. 

The album, to no one’s surprise, is a masterpiece in itself. As Brion said, it takes on more of a song-based tracklist, and compared to Mac’s previous recordings it deems itself slightly experimental. The entrancing funk embedded in almost every song makes it every bit as infectious as Swimming was, but in its own respects. It is perfectly curated and beams with Mac’s talented artistry. Brion, to his credit, also— in the most honorable way—finished producing the album all while upholding Mac’s vision and preserving his sound. Most of the tracks on Circles are more song-like than we’re used to from our beloved rapper, and a decent majority of them are noticeably more upbeat. But even with this in mind, a lot of lyrics still hit a little too close to home, most notably one of the lines from “Good News,” in which Mac sings, “There’s a whole lot more for me waitin’ on the other side.”  

As a complementary bonus to the album itself, music videos were released for every song on the day of the album’s release. The videos were distributed by DatPiff and organized into a playlist on Youtube; they were also featured as video covers for the songs on Spotify. Each one complements its song perfectly, translating each individual track into a visual aesthetic. This only further solidifies the album as a finished body of work, and as Mac’s last piece of art for all of us to indulge in. 

On the day of Circles’ release, all social media platforms were flooded with comments of emotion and praise, all induced by the album’s impact. The effect that Mac and his music had/has on us and how this final album was the perfect point of closure was the main focal point of the public mind. This posthumous album gave us a perfect goodbye from an artist who not only made a large generational impact, but who we all felt like we knew on a personal level. From those who simply enjoyed his music to those who credit his music for helping them through the toughest of times, Mac reached and touched everyone individually. Circles was like an ambient parting, and it all felt just as personal as his music has always been in the hearts of his fans.  

With Circles, Mac reminds us all to live in the present and make the most that we can out of the life we’re given. In the song “Everybody,” he leaves us with, “Everybody’s gotta live// And everybody’s gonna die// Everybody’s gotta live// I think you know the reason why.” 

Sources: Instagram, The New York Times, YouTube

Featured Image: Baylie Clevenger