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The Difficulty of Swimming in Circles.

Written by Daniel Tsourekas.

One of the first things we learn to do is swim. It is quite literally a do or die situation. If you never learn to swim, you drown. If you stay put, you may float for a limited time – then you drown. The only option is to swim in order to keep your head above the surface. At the beginning, you have support, whether that be in the form of a life vest, arm bands, anything that gives you a boost to float as you learn how to swim, but after a few years they gradually disappear out of the process of swimming, and you’re on your own, against a large ocean filled with the waves that try to keep you down.

Photo Credit: Christian Weber

In 2018, Mac Miller released Swimming. It was also the year of his tragic passing due to an  accidental overdose. He had his demons, we all do. But, like many – he found a way to suppress them for as long as possible. Swimming was an album about self-healing and self-improvement. 

Filled with soulful, jazzy yet simultaneously dark and gloomy beats, Mac rapped and sang with no features, each song sounding like a different part of his soul spilt on the page. He was open about his mentality whilst cloaking his demons under metaphors that were open to interpretation. You could say it is his magnum opus.

Swimming was Mac’s way of coping, dealing with his problems. Being open about his vulnerabilities was a way of realising them and then pushing forward, going against the waves and hoping to reach land someday. He had used metaphors about it ever since I can remember listening to him. My first encounter with Mac’s music was his Faces mixtape in 2014. Lyrics such as “It all just keeps spinning, Gotta keep swimming” were apparent, but at the time, I was too young to realise. Looking back, every project feels like a build up to the 2018 album since he progressively became more and more soulful with each release, sparking hope and striving to become better. 

It should be understandable that his death came as a shock to everyone almost a month after Swimming’s release. After an album that expressed willingness for change and improvement, the music world fell into a sad state of mind and to this date it still does not feel real. 

Two years after his death, Swimming has been an album that has opened my eyes regarding the mental state of artists within the music industry, and that has also helped myself and many others find a way to see things with an increasingly optimistic view. Yet, it also made me realise an important thing about the music industry – Too many artists deal with mental health issues and drug abuse. 

In a 2018 study from the Music Industry Research Association, 50 percent of musicians reported battling symptoms of depression, compared with less than 25% of the general adult population. Furthermore, Nearly 12 percent reported having suicidal thoughts — almost four times the general population.

According to a 2019 study published by the Swedish digital-distribution platform – Record Union, the numbers grow even starker. It found that 73% of independent musicians have battled stress, anxiety, and depression (Nicole Frehsee, Rolling Stone, 2020)

Mac was one of too many artists that passed away during 2018 due to accidental overdose. Notably in 2017 the world lost Lil Peep after a laced Xanax overdose. Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington & Producer/DJ Avicii were tragically lost due to suicide within 12 months of eachother. It raises an alarming concern for the wellbeing of artists, who all live their lives under a constant spotlight and the weight of their fan’s expectations on their shoulders. Mac wasn’t the first artist with these problems, but with Swimming, he shed light on these issues, as well as the artists needing to keep their heads above the surface.

2020 has seen Mac’s family release the posthumous album – Circles. An album he began working on alongside Swimming. Circles was already at 80% completion and the remainder was handed over to producer Jon Brion. It is the perfect sequel to Swimming. Mac transitioned from a rap/vocal hybrid album to a whole project dedicated to his singing voice. It was a letter to his fans letting them know that he was in a better state of mind, still pushing forward and remaining optimistic. Listening to the album when it released in 2020 felt like a conversation with an old friend, one could even say like a spirit visiting from the other side to comfort you, motivating you to keep on swimming. 

The dual body of work that came in the form of Swimming in Circles, in my opinion is a perfect representation of an artist trying to overcome their demons by using it not only as a driving force for themselves, but also for everyone dealing with depression and their own problems on a daily basis. Even in times where I might get anxious over simple everyday issues, I put my headphones on and listen to Swimming. Mac succeeded in portraying his vulnerability in his music in a way that let people know they are not alone. I can only imagine what he could have achieved if he were still here. 

Mac Miller – Swimming Album Cover, 2018

Rest in Peace Mac Miller, your music will continue to inspire hope in people.

If you would like to find out more or seek help in relation to any issues discussed within the article then please have a look through the below sites that could be of huge assistance and guidance.

PAPYRUS – Specialises in Suicide Prevention

Narcotics Anonymous – A Free Self Help Group

Written by Daniel Tsourekas.

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