“No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away.” —Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not scared to die. The real fear is for the memories I have fought tirelessly to make. Where will they rest once I eventually expire? Sure, we can throw up our hands and say nothing matters, but I must derive agency from that declaration and assign my own meaning, assign myself away from oblivion. I have to imagine my memories will go somewhere, otherwise, the day-to-day on Earth will get too grim, even for me.
When Mac Miller near-cheerfully sings of—and is resigned to—oblivion on his latest single, “Self Care,” I hear him, but I can’t help but disagree. I’ve felt and read about this resignation enough times to know there has to be more than simply throwing our hands up and drifting away. “Self Care” is a potent single, with equally potent imagery, but it only represents half of a necessary duality that keeps us alive.
To his credit, Miller is playing in a familiar genre. Published in English in 2005, Kafka on the Shore, like all Haruki Murakami novels, is seeking and philosophical, and yet another attempt to unravel identity and sexuality with the notion that time is a shooting gallery in 700 pages or less. The book deals in metaphysics and interwoven plotlines, and Hegelian Dialectics, which is a fancy way of saying that everything in life is relative while moving towards the general good.
Kafka on the Shore, like most things—like Mac Miller’s latest single and music video—is about what we must do in order to feel better, and the different forms “better” can take. It’s a winding and psychologically gruesome novel. Equally gruesome, Mac’s latest video opens with him buried alive, with only a cigarette and pocket knife to his name. The first thing Miller does is spark a match and smoke. It’s a ceremonious act signifying the end of something like dinner or sex, or worse.
“Self Care” opens with Mac Miller admitting he is finished. To be buried alive is to deal in juxtapositions of a fire there and gone, and there and gone again. There must have been a struggle, but with his cigarette in hand, Mac has long forgone fighting. On “Self Care,” Miller is no longer struggling against oblivion, he is pursuing the feeling in a way that makes his penchant for self-destruction appear altogether considerate. He is indulging the pleasures of the body in a way that suggests pleasure and non-feeling are one in the same. This is why his mealy warbling on the first verse is not convincing in the slightest. Miller’s notes tumble into each other leaving us wondering: who will be alright, exactly?
Instead of pushing the issue, we move onto the next phase of grief, during which Miller carves “Memento Mori” into the wooden lining of his casket. Translating from Latin to English, the carving reads: “Remember that you have to die.” Here, Miller is accepting that oblivion is life’s single promise, and that acceptance teetering on resignation is what allows him to break out of his casket. It’s a playfully and tacitly absurdist moment, emphasized by his punching through the casket and the subsequent beat switch.
Consider this his grand finale, his implosion of spirit, because approaching and settling into oblivion is a brand of death in itself. That’s why the beat switches in the first place: a new plane of existence.
“I was, thinking too much, got stuck in oblivion, yeah, yeah / Oblivion, yeah, yeah, oblivion, yeah, yeah / I got all the time in the world, so for now I'm just chilling / Plus I know it's a, it's a beautiful feeling” —Mac Miller, “Self Care”
Mac Miller certainly makes oblivion sound beautiful. Once he has risen above the dirt, there’s a deceptively astral quality to the music, as if to say oblivion is a freedom he has been chasing all along. While he may be absolved of his woes, the repercussion of exposing all memories is far weightier and more depressing than Mac’s impulse to fade away. That’s the rub of self-destruction, how in the end it’s still not entirely what we want. This is what Murakami suggests in Kafka, and why we must be discerning with oblivion. Oblivion is not a cure-all, and evidently out of our hands. “Self Care” ends as a lesson to not treat our souls as zero-sum.
While Miller may have all the time in the world on “Self Care,” that time and possession consequently mean nothing. We, him included, realize that there was nothing to be had in the first place. His hours spent thinking as opposed to fighting for his life have left him in a vat of something deadly. Though the final stage of grief is acceptance, the ability to refuse and revolt is humanity’s greatest strength. That’s not to say “Self Care” is marked by weakness by any means, but rather, that the full scope of oblivion has yet to be explored.
Again, to his credit, Miller asks to be saved from himself, suggesting that he has not tried nearly hard enough and alluding to the other side of the struggle against oblivion. And what of the other side? Look no further than Denzel Curry’s latest single and video for “CLOUT COBAIN | CLOUT CO13A1N,” which plays as a worthy and eerily well-timed companion piece to “Self Care.”
On the mic, Curry is a berserk marksman. His writing is punchy and tight. Though his imagery can get heavy-handed, his point is so naturally resonant, we can excuse how on-the-nose orchestrating a media circus looks. Lines like “I just wanna feel myself, you want me to kill myself” and “I don't even know what to feel, they don't even know what's real / Dry tears with a dollar bill, I'm out tryna make a mill', oh” frame the song as a series of needling dichotomies.
For artists who interface with death, suicide, and mental health, there’s an unfair expectation and demand for their demise. “CLOUT COBAIN” takes this demand a level further, too, commenting on our lust after fabricated hysteria on all levels. Curry paints us as unashamed voyeurs in hopes of shocking us to our senses. The thesis of “CLOUT COBAIN” is simple: Denzel Curry, like all artists, is just a human being.
Curry’s oblivion, then, is his untimely reduction to media fodder until the day he’s placed in a casket of his own. Meaning, when Curry fights off oblivion, he is consequently fighting to claim his humanity. As we've gathered, though, this is far from a fair fight. Curry may as well have been buried alive because on "CLOUT COBAIN," he is essentially writhing in place until a violent last breath.
Ultimately, Denzel Curry wants to live, while Mac Miller, on “Self Care” wants for nothing. Where Miller willingly drifts into the void, Curry is actively struggling against oblivion. Yet, both men die by the final acts of their videos. Mac Miller more gracefully, Denzel Curry by his own hand, which we could argue was guided by the frenzied crowd.
Taken together, both videos represent the warring duality of self-destruction and a terminal hyper-awareness of self. When Miller floats off into oblivion on his own accord, he masks his own destruction as the pinnacle of self-care, something he has been doing for the entirety of his career. On the opposite side of the coin, Curry’s self-awareness is crippling to the point where his feverish struggle against oblivion results still in his death.
A tad morbid, the metaphoric deaths of both artists are a reminder that we cannot necessarily escape duality. If one artist struggles against oblivion and dies, and the other accepts oblivion, which is death in itself, we come away from these visuals understanding that polarity will sooner kill us. Rather, we have no choice but to accept and encourage and unravel this conflict. For us to survive, both videos and ideals must exist in unison. Everything becomes a matter of time and place and endurance.
Yes, both artists die in their videos, but the true commonality is that Mac Miller and Denzel Curry stop moving—then they die. Here’s the lesson: you fight one day, you resign the next, but you can never cease trying or else you are overtaken. If I fear for the death of my memories, I cannot assign them or myself to oblivion. I cannot get stuck like Mac and I cannot rage in place like Denzel. I just have to keep plodding forward and accept that certain things will fade away and others will stay with me.
If we want to stay alive, to never assign ourselves to oblivion for as long as we can help it, then we need conflict. Life will remain in bloom for as long as we remain willing to fight for it.