The “What’s the Use?” music video was slated to shoot the day Mac Miller tragically died of a drug overdose in September 2018. His wounded fifth studio album Swimming was a month old. It’s a work of introspective resignation, a plea to stay afloat amid depression, substance abuse and heartbreak. There was a lot to look forward to for the forlorn, 26-year-old Mac. “I just wanna go on tour,” he tweeted the night before his death.
In a strange, surreal sense, it feels as though Mac never left. In the 16 months since his passing, he’s been immortalized through the gestures and actions of a music community that felt a void after his loss. Even more than the music he made, his fans grieved his lost potential. Each album was its own era, a monumental improvement from the last. The posthumous release of Circles continues this legacy. Conceived as a sister album to Swimming, Circles was nearly complete before Mac’s death. The album is scheduled to be released on Jan. 17 and it feels odd to leave an era as fresh as Swimming behind.
Circles’s lead single “Good News” was released earlier this week directly following news of the album. The song itself is a dejected portrayal of the isolation and indifference Mac felt during those last few months of his life. And while it’s definitely in the same headspace as Swimming, the song reveals Mac succumbing to his shattered interiority. He is exasperated, lonely and depressed. He doesn’t want “to find a way” as he did in “Ladders” and questions “Why does everybody need me to stay?” These jarring, surreal thoughts are accompanied by soft optimism in a sparse, plucky and breezy instrumental with some gentle bass embellishments.
The music video is just as hazy and ambient as its instrumentals. The six minute video is bookended by clips of Mac entering and leaving a recording studio. This takes viewers on a journey through trippy, ethereal animated scenes that depict a desert, garden and ocean among many other scenic destinations. There are videos and photo clips of Mac dancing, joking around and playing instruments as he sings wearily of his trials and tribulations. A sense of comfort accompanies every image, their light, almost pastel colors standing out despite the despondent lyricism that carries them. Flowers, birds, horses and other lively images scatter every scene to convey a lush, vibrant landscape.
“Good News” is just as comforting and gorgeous as it is jarring. No one anticipated a posthumous release as personal as a Swimming track. This puts us in the same position many of us were in back in September 2018; Circles was produced in the same headspace as Swimming. They allow us to revisit the idea of legacy as we enter another era of Mac without him, just days before what would’ve been his 28th birthday.