We all die trying to get it right, because time is as much margin for error as opportunity for success. If we have any of it, we have the potential for both. And despite all the unrealized potential in this life, error seems to find a way to actualize.
Our habitat is a pendulum that swings between valor and vice. It rests only when our energy fully dissipates. So, as long as we’re here, we’re in motion with choices to make. Mac Miller’s Swimming is an hour of him swinging between those choices.
Some of our choices isolate us. On Come Back to Earth, Mac accepts that some of his have done exactly that: “I got neighbors, they’re more like strangers; we could be friends.” Home—the place he should feel most comfortable on his own—has fallen victim to its walls. The interactions he has with those around him are so rare or fleeting that they’re immemorable, and those with friends are indistinguishable. There’s closeness that means nothing.
He doesn’t swim his way out on Earth. There are feelings that might never surface: “And what I won’t tell you, I’ll probably never even tell myself.” But he’s not wallowing; he can feel how the current has changed (“through stressful waters to relief”).
At the center of Hurt Feelings: our struggles with betraying identity. “I’m always sayin I won’t change, but I ain’t the same” confesses the futility of that promise. Who does the illusion of that promise serve—ourselves, the people to which me make it? No matter what, we’re leaving someone’s expectations behind, which probably means someone’s sense of self.
For Mac, that harm is unintentional but acceptable collateral. He’ll put others on the same wave (“I’m bringin everyone with me”), but not at the cost of his momentum (“Don’t know what you’re missing? Shame on you”).
What’s the Use? is so funky. It picks up where Hurt left us, extending a warning to catch this wave or catch this fade: “All the way in with no exit plan. Already left and the jet don’t land.” Because “Shit, I’ve worked too hard to have a clue who you are” (a manifestation of pressure to swim good that shows up a lot on the album, like “Let me get this clear: I am here; I don’t care who got next” in Jet Fuel).
Use is also marked by vice’s gravitational pull. “What if I don’t need it?” isn’t just uncertainty about what I do without it and who I am when not in its orbit. It’s also what I’ve missed or wasted—what I’ve done while being so attached to it. Perfecto suggests the answer isn’t in trying to issue corrections, but in accepting imperfections—in being ok with being far from shore.
Wings has what may be the fullest description of this entire body of work: “Water my seeds til the flowers just grow.” That line is, in and of itself, a statement of work. It’s a good follow to the mostly affirming Self Care—a step forward because it moves beyond Self Care’s “I know that feelin like my family tree... Somebody save me from myself,” both relatable but passive reaches for absolution, and takes responsibility for what could be.
Ladders is the point at which Mac seems his most mature. He’s not flailing to escape. He’s managing his breathing while immersed (“Somehow we gotta find a way”), because swimming is surviving, not necessarily thriving; it means you’re still in water. The track’s a solid chaser for the doubt in Wings’s “I guess I just play it by ear; silence is all that I hear” and a well-placed setup for the awareness in Small Worlds (“I think I know it all, but I don’t;” “I just wanna ball—maybe dunk, but I’ve never been tall;” and “Hard to complain from this 5-star hotel”).
Conversation Pt. 1’s nod to Gretzky, “You missin every single shot that you ain’t takin,” is Mac talking himself into seizing opportunity. “It ain’t your money til you make it; otherwise, it’s just a conversation.” And he’s not big on mere statements: “When you really bout it, you don’t say shit” (which is a lot like “Real G’s move in silence like lasagna”).
If a younger Mac Miller—presumably the audience for Conversation—had heard this, I wonder whether the Ariana Grande regret in Dunno (“But I’m takin too long; I’m always takin too long”) would’ve become a chapter in his story.
To be so comfortable as Mac is in 2009. To not need to artificially protect that status. To let that confidence radiate: “I ain’t askin why no more; I take if it’s mine; I don’t stay inside the lines.”
He’s also wearing an assuredness he wishes he had sooner. “Lookin for what was lookin for me” sounds like a statement on how destiny works. Hindsight’s letting him see a fuller arc: “I struck the fuck out, and then I came back swingin” (another spin on the just-keep-swimming metaphor). He’s using that vision as direction for others concerned about getting stuck in traffic: “A life ain’t a life til you live it.” And it sounds like he has a success story that’s bigger than himself: “The whole team’s bout to figure it out.”
The closer, So It Goes, is a fitting end to an album about a condition that doesn’t really have one. “You could have the world in the palm of your hand. You still might drop it.”
August 3, 2018
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