Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

Mac Miller – Self Care

Something we could all use a little (or a lot) of right now…


Andy Hutchins: Mac Miller had come so far — from being a boy who wanted to take over the world on some Donald Trump shit to being a man shitting on Donald Trump for actually doing that, yes, but also from being a rapper distinguished from the rest of blogpack rap largely by dint of skin color to being an artist making use of his charisma and talents to tread new paths and dare to be hopeful despite the shadows he called home. He had things to say throughout his career, but he seemed to be finding new ways to say them, and to be scratching deeper for truths, including about himself, of late. It’s impossible not to find “Self-care / I’m treatin’ meeeee right” macabre given the reasons for his passing, but it’s fair to wonder whether it was meant to be maudlin. Mac Miller had come so far — and it always seemed like he knew, more than anyone, how far he had to go, and the oblivion he was trying to escape. We’ll never know how far he could have gone.

Maxwell Cavaseno: There isn’t a polite way to say sentiments that rang true for Mac Miller’s career after his demise, but if he weren’t white his career ceiling would’ve been Dom Kennedy. “Self Care” isn’t offensively bad, it’s just mediocre at seemingly both the worst and best. His singing on the track is often flat and warble-riddled, his delivery still somehow feeling burdened despite staying laconic, and the production feeling like vague echoes of ideas Kendrick or Amine have already executed to much clearer intent. Certainly there’s a pitiable tragedy in the hollowness of trying to listen to Miller describe recovering and nurturing himself in the wake of having lost him, but that does not make for good music as it does a solemn bit of context that is now going to hang heavy over all his music. Claiming that he was a great artist in the wake of such loss without sincerity would be unflattering to a man who admittedly tried so hard to work against the inherited luxury of his position by helping other rappers less frequent to benefit, not to mention just how hard he worked to make respectable art against the perception of his early frat rap days. That said, it made him a commendable person, which is a greater loss for the world than any music we could’ve gotten beyond.

Anthony Easton: It seems obligatory to write about this as a failure, a kind of grim irony of hearing a song about wellness so soon after Miller’s death. But this is so slow, shackled, ambivalent. The lyrics, however hopeful (and only some of them are hopeful) are hidden underneath a lead blanket — this is what depression is: an attempt for affect or feeling, any feeling, to push itself out from a cause which seeks to bury you. I wonder if it is an actual critique of the concept of self care — or it seems to argue with itself, about how to care for oneself, whether self care is possible. I don’t know if I am in favour of this one, really — weirdly, when the choir breaks through, it seems too obvious. But the tension would be too overwhelming without it. There is nothing more haunting in pop this year than him almost crooning that oblivion line.

Tim de Reuse: Equating self-care with self-removal isn’t really a healthy thing to do, but it’s a relatable impulse, and this hammers home that late-afternoon sinking feeling on every single level. “Oblivion” is referenced in the lyrics (over and over and over), in instrumentation (the watery pull of the first half), in structure (the dream-logic jump cut into the second half), and in length (six minutes of this is enough to make the inside of your head a little foggy). I don’t actively seek out music that reminds me what it’s like to feel numb, but this has a particular poignancy and a particular narrative that hit a lot deeper than I was expecting them to.

Alfred Soto: To admit he sounds as unconvincing now that he’s dead as he did when he was live looks cruel, but facts are facts. I wish his clenched-teeth delivery were up to the change at 3:20 or threatened those sinister programmed swells. 

Anna Suiter: Mac Miller mumbles, and the song mumbles too. I hadn’t listened to it until now, after his death, and it’s easy to let it be about addiction more than anything else. It feels muddy, though, even if the easy interpretation is right there and begging to be taken. Maybe I’m just reluctant to take that, still, and that muddiness makes it easier to listen to if you forget who’s singing the song.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: While “Self Care” takes on a more melancholy tone with Mac Miller’s passing, the song’s bifurcated structure had already allowed for a harrowing portrait of his depression. The first part was Miller at his most marble-mouthed: indistinct rambling whose lack of memorable rapping wasn’t of particular importance considering its ability to transmit a general sense of uneasiness with self. The second half magnifies that feeling by obfuscating whether he’s freed himself from such a mentality or is pressing deeper into it. The calming synths find him drifting into the ether, into “oblivion” — finding peace in an acceptance of reality, or the creation of an illusory world where he’s back with Ariana Grande? I’m not particularly fond of “Self Care,” but its ability to walk such a thin line between clarity and ambiguity made for one of his most personal and affecting songs.

Taylor Alatorre: It’s a strange feeling you get when learning about a famous person’s death in a public place, yet without any immediate recourse to talk about it. I would glance around at other people on their phones, wondering if they were reading the same TMZ headline, and if so, what it meant to them. Feelings of dislocation and estrangement are at the heart of “Self Care,” which in spite of its title is the farthest thing from a self-improvement guide. With its references to hitchhiking and amorphous time zones, it’s the classic lament of the rambling man turned claustrophobic; wherever Mac Miller goes, there he is. Twin desires for withdrawal and connection never get reconciled, and the beat switch reads like self-sabotage in this regard. The unfocused arrangement mirrors the mind state of its creator and requires a similar mind state to fully mesh with. As a song, it could use improvement; as a document, it’s ineffable.

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