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Kids Just Want To Look Cool: My Day With Mac Miller

Earlier in the day, we were also in the back of an SUV (where I’m convinced rappers spend the majority of their time), heading to the hotel for the first time after a walk-through at Beacon, when Mac admitted, “I really need to take a shit.” Fittingly, as soon as we got to the hotel room he made his way straight for the bathroom to take said shit, then emerged with the revelatory question, “You ever take a shit and you can’t believe that more shit’s coming?” to which Mac’s bodyguard—a hulking mass of a man named Big Dave—made a face like every shit he takes is that kind of shit, and giggled. The full room erupted in laughter. It’s moments like this when you realize that the reason all of these people are here—myself included—and huddled around, making sure that the oiled machine continues to run smoothly and the group gets to where they need to get on time, is all because of a kid who likes to laugh about shit. Now, that’s not to say Mac’s an immature kid, but he is a kid nonetheless, who has all the more reason to be more immature than anyone else his age because he blew up before graduating from high school and spent two years on the road performing sold-out shows as soon as the summer after graduation hit. He never got a chance to emotionally develop like the majority of college grads do—exploring themselves, their interests, their opinions (they have a lot)—and that means that spending time with him isn’t like spending time with other artists. He’s not media trained, whatever that means, and he’s not so great at filtering his responses and admissions, because he naively gives people (even journalists) the benefit of the doubt not to make him look stupid. Unfortunately, some use this to their advantage, so he does his best to safeguard himself, often shooting me looks or saying things like “there’s a writer here” whenever his jokes or comments get into risqué territory.

We return to the hotel after the MTV event, and Mac and I—well, not really just Mac and I, as we’re still surrounded by Artie, Q, Big Dave and Mac’s PR lady—try to discuss his new album and its contributors. But, since the room is a bit stuffy and the conversation generally feels forced, our superficial chat about music shifts and turns into a therapy session about his emotions. Before long, he’s chain-smoking cigarettes and discussing his complexes and his recent transition from sure-fire pop star with a saccharine worldview to an actually interesting musician with diverse influences and enough musical ability to randomly record a jazz standards EP and play all of the instruments on it himself. The project—the debut from Mac’s alter ego Larry Lovestein (alongside his fictional backing band, The Velvet Revival)—is titled You, and is fucking beautiful. The five-track EP is a wildly smooth and moody journey through the heart that just feels like walking through Brooklyn in the wintertime. Or maybe I was just listening to the album a lot in the wintertime in Brooklyn and I fused the two together in one romantic memory.

Regardless, the EP came about after a bout of cabin fever hit Mac in the midst of working on his upcoming album, leaving him with the feeling that he just needed to “not rap” for a little bit. Still, the project is a weird departure, something you wouldn’t expect from a guy who became an international success off feel-good, easily-digestible songs like “Donald Trump” and “Party On Fifth Ave,” but the point he’s at now was clearly long in the making. The moment it all changed was marked by the release of his third mixtape, Macadelic, a slowed-down, vibey record filled with sort-of love songs detailing the ebbs and flows of a relationship. He explains, “The project was about the comparison of love and drugs, and how those two are one in the same. I was in a serious relationship at that time, and it takes you on all these serious emotional ups and downs as everyone knows, and I started thinking about how similar that shit was to drugs.” Ironically, the majority of the press the tape received was about his actual embrace of drugs like promethazine, which he spoke openly about drinking around the time of its release. When I ask him if he was doing a lot of the drugs at the time, he admits, “Man, I’ve been doing drugs since I was fucking 15. I mean, nothing’s changed…I mean, I discovered lean around that time, but the project wasn’t about drugs.” Despite any miscommunication about the album and its message, it remains Mac’s favorite project that he’s put out, and he remembers playing it for his parents. He tells me, “When my mom and dad heard it, they compared it to The Beatles’ White Album. I asked them why and they were like, ‘The Beatles did “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to become superstars, then they did the White Album.’ Then they were like, ‘The only difference with you is that you didn’t wait.'” When I ask him about his changed outlook, he thinks carefully and chooses his words slowly. He starts, “I always wanted to be successful, but the type of success I got…” His thought trails off. With some help, he comes to the simple realization, “I didn’t want to be a fucking pop star.”

The room goes quiet for a little bit after that, and I’m not sure what to ask about next, especially because he now has a look on his face like he’s finally said too much. I ask him again about what kind of story he would write about himself, and he struggles to piece together an answer. Finally, I ask him if he wants to go out on the balcony so that we can speak in private, un-judged by the invested people in the room who are silently watching us speak and are possibly afraid of what he’ll divulge to me unsupervised. He ignores the question. Suddenly, it’s one of those rare moments for a journalist, where I feel like I’m in control of the situation. In this profession, you’re typically at the whim of people who don’t necessarily need you and act as if you’re constantly pestering them—you’re chasing PR people and artists, and you’re always at their beckoning when they’re ready for you. But, here we are in this room, just two dudes dissecting one’s psyche, and Mac Miller is stripping down his cool as a pop star just enough to let me play pop psychologist. But just when I feel like we’ve gotten somewhere, like he’s going to continue, Mac admits that he always does this, and Artie comments that a good journalist forces you to divulge too much. But Mac reiterates, “I know, but I always do this.” Before we wrap up, Mac still hasn’t figured out what kind of story he wants written about him, but he tells me a simple truth that’s telling enough: “People try to define me so much, but I’m not that simple. No one is that simple.”

As I gather my things, Mac heads out on the balcony, where Q and Big Dave are now facing a blunt. After spending the day (or six hours) with Mac, I’m not sure that I’ve had any grand realizations about him or about who he’s becoming, but I have had the realization that our day together was fun but really nothing more than an awkward dance—both of us figuring out how and when to say the right thing to one another in hopes of somehow benefitting off of one another. I also realize that his life is pretty awesome (like you imagine most professional rapper’s lives to be), but at times can feel like a too-long trip that’s filled with surreal moments but by its end can leave you empty. Maybe that’s why he kept stressing his need to get off the grid and explore the world, another hint that he sometimes just wants to escape whatever Mac Miller has become. I finally step out onto the balcony and Mac is smoking more cigarettes. I tell him I’ll be on my way, and he turns to me and either totally-seriously or totally-jokingly says, “just make me look cool.” I promise him I’ll try.

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