Mac Miller’s Swimming is a beautiful narration on complex issues

Mac Miller’s Swimming is a melodic, beautiful album that dives into the mental state of someone that seems lost — a departure from the confident yet toned down Miller we heard in his 2016 album The Divine Feminine.

Swimming is an exploration of love at both its deepest and shallowest. Each and every song is a gorgeous display of how Miller’s music has evolved since the raspy, fun K.I.D.S. into a more Frank Ocean/Tyler, the Creator-esque lyrical project.

The album begins with Come Back To Earth,” which opens on a downright gut-wrenching stanza, setting the tone for the entire body of work.

“My regrets look like texts I shouldn’t send

And I got neighbors, they’re more like strangers

We could be friends

I just need a way out

-of my head

I’ll do anything for a way out

-of my head”

The pace is gentle, and the atmosphere Miller is able to establish is calming. In “Come Back to Earth,” Miller sings about his struggles with depression and addiction — something he’s very open about.

“And I was drownin’, but now I’m swimmin’

Through stressful waters to relief”

In the strongest (and most prevalent) metaphor throughout the entirety of the album, Miller details his struggle to stay afloat, drowning in his aforementioned issues.

This is my favorite song on the album — it is the perfect introduction in an artwork that discusses incredibly difficult topics.

“Come Back to Earth” establishes a delicate atmosphere — one that never goes over-the-top. It is a shorter track, less than three minutes long, but it gives a dreary, rainy-day vibe. It’s the first song you would listen to on a bad day.

“Yeah, oh the things I’d do

To spend a little time in Hell

And what I won’t tell you-

I’ll prolly never even tell myself”

“Hurt Feelings” is the second track on Swimming. Miller has a half-rap-half-singing tone on this track, which is produced by J. Cole. It is a self-reflection by Miller on how he has changed over the decade-plus he’s been in the limelight — making music.

“I’m always sayin’ I won’t change but

I ain’t the same

Everything is different, I can’t complain

Don’t know what you missin’, shame on you

Shame on you”

“Hurt Feelings” is another slower, yet calculated song on this album — one that catches your ear immediately and does not let go until the final line(s). It’s repetitive, but the instrumental feels introspective — it’s the type of song you have to listen to several times to truly appreciate it.

You can feel the song sway from emotional to nonchalant — back and forth — an exhausting swing over the course of a track that spans 4:05 — yet it keeps you hooked throughout the piece.

“Everything is strange, that’s just a game

Everybody tripping, throwing it away

We was getting lifted, now we getting paid

Shame on you”

The swings in this song are unique in a way — it’s something you would not expect from Miller, even in an album such as The Divine Feminine. It’s a different kind of experience, and it culminates, in combination with “Come Back to Earth”, into something that sets the tone for the entire album.

What’s the Use?” is the third song on Swimming. It leans on a smooth, jazzy bass guitar riff — an instrumental by Thundercat that is downright infectious. This song, while genuinely fun and upbeat, really manages to hit notes home about drug addiction.

“You can love it, you can leave it

They say you’re nothin’ without it

Don’t let them keep you down

What if I don’t need it?

There’s somethin’ about it

That just freaks me out

I just want another minute wit’ it, fuck a little

What’s the use?”

Miller goes in — explaining about the all-or-nothing relationship he has with alcohol and drugs. There’s no in-between. He goes in-depth about craving just one more minute under the influence — all under a cheerful, rosy-sounding tune.

“Whole lotta ‘Yes, I am’

All the way in wit’ no exit plan

Already left and the jet don’t land”

Throughout Swimming, Miller makes a number of metaphorical references to jets/airplanes with his drug addiction. He is alluding to the notion that he does not see a way out, and that his addiction is never going to stop (or land, rather).

Swimming’s fourth song, “Perfecto,” opens on a relaxing, Carribbean-type feel — with the first notes being played on a marimba. “Perfecto” slows everything down after an upbeat (albeit solemn) “What’s the Use?”

“Cause on the surface I look so fine

But really I’m buggin’, buggin’

Makin’ somethin’ out of nothin’”

Miller describes a crippling anxiety — one that eats him internally — all while appearing normal to those around him.

“I’m treadin water, I swear

That if I drown, I don’t care

They callin’ for me from the shore, I need more”

This bridge feeds directly into the overall theme of Swimming — one where Miller is dealing with issues all while coming into his own skin. You can hear a mental pain in his singing on “Perfecto” — a raw emotion you did not see from Miller early in his career.

You could write a book on “Self Care,” Swimming’s next song.

Before you hear any lyrics, you get what sounds like an echo chamber — something melodic but futuristic — almost something you would expect to hear after you’ve been abducted by a UFO.

Put simply, the instrumental is unlike any other song on this album. It takes the listener out of their comfort zone — a sensation intended on a song that illustrates Miller’s rapid change of emotions.

Looking back at the music video for “Self Care” is mesmerizing and heartbreaking. There’s an unbelievable amount of symbolism in a video that is, to the core, simplistic. Miller, in the video, breaks out of a casket, almost as if he’s got much more life to live.

“Well, climbin’ over that wall, mm

I remember, yes, I remember, yes, I remember it all

Swear the height be too tall,

So like September I fall”

The wall, in this verse, likely represents some sort of obstacle that Miller is attempting to overcome. He talks about the difficulty in trying such a feat.

Miller tragically died on September 7, 2018 from a drug overdose. He was 26 years old. The “so like September I fall” line is almost as if he was foreshadowing his death — as avoidable as it may have seemed.

JID plays a small part on this song — but it’s enough to make a huge impact over the course of its two main verses. His adlibs emphasize every line Miller drags out — which feels like a lifetime in a nearly-6-minute song. Even so, Miller makes you want to come back to this track with the beat-switch and final verse over the course of the final two and a half minutes.

“I got all the time in the world, so for now I’m just chillin’

Plus I know it’s a, it’s a beautiful feelin’

In oblivion, yeah, yeah, oblivion, yeah, yeah

Oblivion, yeah yeah”

Again, another heartbreaking series of lines knowing the context of Miller’s death in 2018, just over a month after releasing Swimming.

Miller is able to find comfort in losing popularity in the public following a breakup with Ariana Grande — something that is admirable and a change of pace from his past self.

“Wings” is the sixth track on Swimming, and the opening instrumental gives you a sense of helplessness — almost as if you’re hanging by strings in a dark, empty void. The first line of the song emphasizes this feeling.

“I got a bone to pick like Roses

I ain’t feelin’ broken no more

Balled a fist, they gossipin’ I notice

Talkin’ shit, I wander through the motives

Wonder who the fuck we’re supposed to be

I ain’t worries not ’til I leave”

Miller utters these words with little to no instrumental in the background. He’s speaking straight to his audience, his fans. It leaves you retroactively thinking about what you just heard — and it’s the type of song you need to listen to several times to fully understand — a sort of “well, I’ma have to listen to that again” feel.

“Movin’ so fast, the clock look slow

Water my seeds ’til the flower just grow, yeah

Love so much that my heart get broke

I don’t really know how the normal shit go, so”

Miller describes falling into his own trap — loving someone too quickly, giving plants too much water. He does not know how (or often times when) to stop.

“These are my wings, these are my wings

These are my wings”

The final words (and chorus) of the song is emotional and complete. Miller is longing for something — someone to appreciate, and he makes it seem like that person slipped away.

The median song (7 of 13) on Swimming is “Ladders”. It has an up-tempo beat, generally giving you a positive feeling throughout the song. It’s the type of track you’d play driving around — windows down, stereo volume up.

“Ladders” opens on a quieter, eerie instrumental.

“Somehow we gotta find a way

No matter how many miles it takes

I know it feels so good right now

But it all come fallin’ down

When the night, meet the light

Turn to day”

Miller starts here — immediately saying that no matter how high you get (whether financially, mentally, or just straight-up high), it all comes crashing down eventually.

“I’m comin’, knockin’ on yo’ door

Well, I’ma, I’ma maintain how I’m stayin’ so high

Put the ladder all the way up ’til we touchin’ the sky”

Miller details how you have to climb the ladder before you can experience the figurative highs that life has to offer. He, himself has climbed the ladder, at 26 years old, telling his story — coming into his own skin.

A ladder is a great metaphor for life — and Miller illustrating that to his audience here is one of the more special moments on Swimming. As the beat kicks in and the trumpets start blaring on this track, the sensation you get from listening to “Ladders” is undoubtedly positive.

“I wouldn’t wait forever

Just shoot yo’ shot

We don’t need no more, no extras

We all we got”

Take risks — experience failure, rejection. You aren’t going to live forever, everyone has a finite amount of time. You don’t know when it’s going to end. So do something with it.

“Small Worlds” is a beautiful, somber track of Mac Miller examining himself, his issues and self-prescribed personality flaws. It’s a slow yet tasteful look into the life of a post-breakup Miller, someone that feels empty while also whole. Miller has come into his own, examining the problems he’s caused throughout the then-recent past.

“You never told be bein’ rich was so lonely

Nobody know me, oh, well

Hard to complain from this five-star hotel

I’m always in a rush, I’ve been thinkin’ too much, but

Keep it on the hush, no one need to know, just us”

Miller is lonely. You can hear it in his voice and lyrics. He carries an ill-faithed and unhidden braggadocio, though it seems backhanded every time Miller flexes or flaunts.

“Small Worlds” switches the beat — this time to a piano riff, still with a tone you’d expect to find in a black-and-white movie, with an inevitable tragedy at the end.

“Keep your eyes to the sky, never glued to your shoes

Guess there was a time when my mind was consumed

But the sun comin’ out now, clouds start to move”

Miller is telling himself to remain positive, even in times of desperation — but he sees a way out. “Small Worlds” is a song that has the power to wreck your day if you listen intently, and Miller’s personal story will only flanderize that effect.

“Conversation Pt. 1” is the ninth track on Swimming, and it gives more of a classic-Mac Miller-type of lyricism paired with an alternative hip hop beat. “Conversation Pt. 1” is a break from the reckoning reality Miller faces throughout the other songs on the album.

“We ain’t on the same shit, no way

You ain’t from my planet, we don’t speak the same language

This is an occasion, ain’t it?

I’m feelin’ good and they hate it”

Admitedly, this is one of the weaker songs on Swimming. It does not feel as though it fits the overall theme of the album, but perhaps that’s the intent.

“Conversation Pt. 1” feels exactly like that — a conversation. A one-sided, empty conversation that does not look as though it’s going to bring anything positive.

“Started in the basement

Made it way above the top, now I’m in the spaceship

In the spaceship, shit is spacious”

Miller talks about his success, his metaphorical start compared to where he is now. And it’s impressive — it really is. Miller started his musical career in high school, and at age 26, is releasing his fifth studio album Swimming.

“Dunno” dives right back into the deep, dramatic fall from grace that Swimming is known for. Miller sings over a simple, angelic sample that alone, would make you feel like you were in an empty church.

Miller is directly narrating his experience with his ex-girlfriend, Ariana Grande in “Dunno.” He sings smooth, comforting tune that hasn’t lost any value over time.

“You was coughin’ when you hit my weed

But I’ve never seen you feel that free

So cute, you wanna be like me

Wouldn’t you rather get along?”

Miller reflects on the time he spent with Grande, reminiscing about their now-over relationship.

“I think we just might be alright, thank God

I think we’re gonna be alright, alright, okay

Hold me close, don’t hold your breath

This feelin’ your favorite, I know”

An organ begins to play in the final thirty seconds of the song — the type of melodramatic tune you would hear at the end of any romantic movie ever — and you know what? It works. It works so damn well.

“Jet Fuel” is one of the songs on Swimming that can hit you the hardest. It’s about drugs and alcohol, and how Miller cannot get enough of it — how he has enough to never come down from an eternal high — something to distract him from an increasingly dreadful reality.

“Now my head underwater

But I ain’t in the shower and I ain’t getting’ baptized

To the good and the bad times

All the cuts, broken bones, and the black eyes”

Miller has metaphorically compared drug usage to being underwater several times throughout Swimming, and he does it again here. This piece, though, goes on about how he continues to abuse them.

“Well, I’ma be here for a while, longer than I did expect to

Now I’m in the clouds, come down when I run out of jet fuel

But I never run out of jet fuel

Well, I’ma be here for a while, longer than I did expect to

I was out of town, getting’ lost ’til I was rescued

Now I’m in the clouds, come down when I run out of jet fuel

But I never run out of jet fuel”

It’s sad. It’s really, really sad. I don’t have any other comments here. The lyrics speak for themselves.

“Jet Fuel” describes Miller admitting what his worst can be, from an addiction standpoint. He’s in a feud with himself and only himself, battling.

“2009” opens with a dramatic series of strings — I don’t like violin music, like at all. I don’t like when it’s used in any songs, regardless of genre or sample.

BUT this is different.

It is used almost as if a key would be used for a door. A combination for a safe. You get the point.

After that, the piano kicks in. And the lyrics just kill you.

“I don’t need to lie no more

Nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind, and

She don’t cry no more

She tell me that I get her high ’cause an angel’s supposed to fly, and

I ain’t askin’ “Why?” no more

Oh, no, I take it if it’s mine, I don’t stay inside the line’s

It ain’t 2009 no more

Yeah, I know what’s behind that door”

Mac Miller released his first two mixtapes in 2009, hence the significance of that particular year. He’s telling the story of his career through this song, from the beginning. And with “2009” being the second-last song on Swimming, it’s one of the final songs many would hear from him before his death in 2018.

“You don’t ever gotta worry

Even when it’s 7:30 and the time is runnin’ low

When your heart get cold

See what’s behind all them unturned stones

And I’m a pro when it come to my job

But really I’m just tryna start believin’ in God

Now when it gets hard

I don’t panic, I don’t sound the alarm”

Miller talks about what happens at the end of the day — whether it be a real, 24-hour day, or that it being metaphorical for someone’s life. It’s about how, in the end, things are going to get difficult — and everyone is going to end up on the same playing field (death/sleep) eventually.

“2009” tugs all of the emotional strings — especially for those that value and appreciate Miller’s music. It’s the closest he’s come to finding a zen — a balance — an inner peace.

The final track of Swimming is “So It Goes,” which is arguably the most important track of Miller’s career.

The origin of the phrase “so it goes” has historical context, as it was popularized in an anti-war novel written by Kurt Vonnegut. The phrase, in his book Slaughterhouse-Five, is mentioned any time a death occurs.

The phrase is mentioned by Miller in this song fourteen times.

“Nine lives, never die, fuck a Heaven, I’m still getting’ high

Never mind, did I mention I’m fine?”

Dealing with your own mortality is one of the most intricate psychological questions — but in a broader context — what Miller wrote here ages as something so, incredibly depressing.

And as the song comes to a close, the figurative meaning of “So It Goes” only gains momentum. Miller’s final Instagram Story was of the closing minute of the track, an instrumental that makes you feel as though you’re ascending — quicker and more meaningfully than the aforementioned Jet in “What’s the Use?”

The symbolic meaning of this song is greater than any other on this album — and Miller himself affirmed it in one of his final interviews. It’s an incredibly important closure to a meaningful self-examination of issues, a past relationship, and an unfortunate story about addiction.

Swimming is a thought-provoking album that ages so, so well. It is a special artistic expression on Mac Miller’s experiences — something that many are able to reflect on (and grieve).

From the calm “Come Back To Earth” to “2009” and “So It Goes”, Swimming is able to deliver on every intellectual level. The production provides a unique and nearly-out-of-body instrumental experience. The lyrics — often witty — often agonizingly painful — tell a story most would be wary to hear.

Miller was open about his life — something most people aspire to be (but are never able to achieve). Swimming is a dialogue on the importance of mental health, among other things.

Self-acceptance is important — no matter who you are. Miller preaches learning from your experiences — maturing as a person to both yourself and others. Listen to Swimming. You won’t regret it.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

writer, student

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