“Mac Miller uploaded a video” is the notification millions of the rapper’s fans got on Jan. 9 for the first time in over a year. “Good News” was the first song by Miller to be released since his death on Sept. 7, 2018. Following the upload, Miller’s family posted a statement on his Instagram account, which also has been inactive since his death.
“Here we are,” reads the post. “The act of having to write this at all feels surreal. At the time of his passing, Malcolm was well into the process of recording his companion album to ‘Swimming,’ entitled ‘Circles.’ Two different styles complementing each other, completing a circle — Swimming in Circles was the concept.”
A week later, Miller’s sixth studio album and first posthumous album, “Circles,” was released at midnight. Its style stayed true to the statement, complementing the themes of heartbreak, recovery and life that “Swimming” started. Given Miller’s unexpected death, the album was a bittersweet listening experience, especially since the rapper had more planned that he could never finish.
“Good News,” the first single from the album, became a tribute to the singer and his tumultuous life. Miller, who was candid about his struggles with depression and substance abuse throughout his career, continued to talk about these issues in this song with a bit of optimism for the future. He discussed having to put on a happy face for those around him and how he would isolate himself in bad times, but ended on a good note, singing, “I know maybe I’m too late, I could make it there some other time / Then I’ll finally discover / That it ain’t that bad, ain’t so bad.”
The song gave listeners a glimpse into the road to recovery the rapper was taking when he died, looking up to the future and doing what made him happy, no matter what anyone else thought. He was looking for inner peace in his final days.
All the songs on “Circles,” similar to “Swimming,” were more lo-fi and introspective than Miller’s previous works. The titular song talks about Miller being too hard on himself for his past and looking for forgiveness. The next song, “Complicated,” debunks myths about the rapper’s life with lyrics about his overwhelmed state, saying, “Inside my head is getting pretty cluttered / I try, but can’t clean up this mess I made.” Then, “Blue World” goes back to the themes of “Circles” with a more lively, doo-wop beat. This back and forth plays on the “Swimming in Circles” concept Miller was trying to convey.
Miller even covered a song from the 1970s, “Everybody’s Gotta Live” by Arthur Lee, but with a twist. While Lee’s original song was an upbeat singalong, Miller’s “Everybody” turns it into a somber reflection of life, with minimal piano and drums behind the lyrics.
A personal favorite track, “Surf,” is just a man with a guitar singing about the woes of life. The album’s overall simplicity spoke volumes on the new direction Miller was taking, not trying to please the crowds anymore, and “Surf” emphasized this with his raspy voice and lack of backing instruments. As the second-to-last track on the album, it also created a good conclusion with, “Before it’s all over / I promise we’ll figure it out.”
“Circles” was a worthy conclusion to Miller’s career and gave fans the closure they needed. It showed that Miller was on the right path when he died, although it is bittersweet to recognize now that he’s gone. At least fans know he was happy and on the road to self-discovery, which is all anyone could ask for.