2020, Music

Circles (2020) by Mac Miller

The (first, legitimate) posthumous release by a deceased artist is always complicated. There is always going to be a group of people who feel compelled to love the record because their hero is dead. How close that group’s appraisal is the reality is where it gets complicated. There is a weird spectrum of reactions here. Double Fantasy (not actually a posthumous release), for example, got bad reviews, then John Lennon got killed and then everyone liked it. MTV Unplugged remains perhaps Nirvana’s most acclaimed record even though it’s been three decades now since Kurt Cobain killed himself and I don’t think too many people think that the reason why it’s so acclaimed is because Cobain killed himself before it was released. Mac Miller died just after Swimming came out. I didn’t realize that when I reviewed it because, of course, this came out two years later. So I assumed I was just out of touch with Swimming. I didn’t realize there was a halo. The halo helps me understand why that album and this posthumous album are his best rated albums. It’s only natural for humans to celebrate someone more in death than in life (it happens all the time). But, as someone who really, really doesn’t like the way Miller’s voice sounds, the halo is obvious and hard to avoid.

I don’t know mumble rap really but I never liked the idea of it. And I don’t like whatever it is Miller is doing when he’s singing (mumbling while singing?). I don’t have the context some of you do to understand why this is good, if it is indeed good. Much like with Swimming, when Miller is singing I hear R&B backing him that I wouldn’t like if it was being performed by a good singer but it’s being performed by a poor singer, who revels in his poor singing ability. (An alternative take is that Miller can sing but has chosen to sing this way because that’s how he chooses to express himself. That’s what’s going on with cursive singers for example. I have not heard aural evidence that Miller has chops.)

You could say to me, “Why is it okay for deliberately bad singers in other genres, like punk? Why is that artistically valuable in R&B?” And I think that’s a valid point. I do think many singers in non-mainstream rock music used singing poorly as a way of defining their music’s rejection of the mainstream. I’m not sure how that fits in with this relatively slick R&B sound. (It would fit in, I believe, with original R&B from the 1940s and 1950s, but that’s another story.)

My suspicion is that Miller connects with his fans through his lyrics and, likely, his lack of vocal chops, both of which, I assume, let fans see themselves in him. And I’ve obviously seen myself in the songs of many musicians I love, that’s one reason why songs connect. But I am significantly older than Miller was at his death and, well, I just don’t particularly like R&B and hip hop. It’s always been hard for me to connect with most lyrics written by people younger than me. (Even when I was Miller’s age I can’t say I loved listening to lyrics written by people in their 20s more often than not.) And it’s harder when I don’t like the music behind those lyrics and it’s especially hard when I don’t think he can sing. (Like, at all.)

Everyone else thinks this weird sounds is artistically valid and good. I’m happy there is different music for different people in the world. I’m glad that something that absolutely befuddles me is able to bring meaning to others. But this is one of those things I’ll never understand (which is fine).


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