How Mac Miller Made the Holidays Tolerable

Within Mac’s music, I found my “somewhere to be.”
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Here’s something tricky: parsing familial love. Another tricky thing: being gay, Russian, and Jewish during the holidays. I often describe the holiday season as a grand party everyone was invited to—except myself—that I am forced to watch through an ornate window out in the cold. Melodramatic, sure, but the winter pulls the drama out of me. Being first generation American, my family did not do Thanksgiving. Being Jewish, we did not do Christmas. Being gay in my culture, I did not do cute holiday bonding with my partners. Mostly—you guessed it—I listened to music while the entertainment industry I would otherwise escape into shut down for two weeks.

The holidays are a time of confrontation. That is, I am forced to confront how lonely and removed I feel from American culture, from my own culture, and from my blood family. Our closeness only extends as far as the lies about my sexuality will take me. It’s unique torture: being bombarded with images of familial love and warm feelings when you have none of your own. Somehow “‘Tis the season” becomes an interrogation: What’s wrong with you, that you do not have this Hallmark thing?

For a long time, I blamed myself for feeling so without during the giving season, but there is only so much comprising a person can do before they realize they have nothing left to offer to satisfy the other party. Example: in my family, there is one holiday that we do, and that is New Year’s Eve. There’s a tree, and we have Grandpa Frost, the Ice Wizard. It’s a trip; one long black tie party where we toast the upcoming year and I make an appearance “single,” because it is the thoughtful thing to do. Spoiling the holidays with your queerness is just uncalled for.

These parties start at 10 and go until five or six in the morning. They’re catered with decadent and heavy Russian foods, and between each rich course, I stow away in another room with a portable speaker and make my own New Year’s Eve fun. Anyone gay or otherwise wounded will tell you that the only way to survive the holidays and the winter, in general, is to find your chosen family and hold on tight. The thing about chosen family: they have literal families they must attend to. The thing about making your chosen family music: your iTunes library will never stand you up to go Christmas shopping with her parents.

That’s right, Mac Miller was my date to the New Year’s Eve bash. You don’t know bliss until you’re ever-so intoxicated and dancing to “When In Rome” in ill-fitting high heels while the rest of the party happens out of earshot. You simply do not know bliss until the feeling of Otherness and isolation becomes insular and comfortable; until you can take the lonely and make it expansive as opposed to choking. Ballistic live renditions of “Watching Movies” and “S.D.S.” lifted my silenced spirit and barreled it into a warped cabaret. Mac Miller’s magnetism made me believe in fresh starts and new beginnings. And, if you’ve never gotten drunk out of self-pity and screamed along to “Insomniak,” I highly recommend it.

Before we get to New Year’s Eve, though, we have the onset of winter to contend with. The lowest of my lows have been well-cataloged on DJBooth, and for those keeping track at home, a majority of the stories I tell take place in the wintertime. Somewhere between the darkness and the endless Othering, the weight of mental illness really gets to a girl. It’s a unique, and sometimes self-imposed, misery: laying on the cold floor in the effacing darkness and listening to records while you wonder why everyone seems to have somewhere to be beside yourself.

Within Mac’s music, I found my “somewhere to be.” That weight was not so much lifted off my shoulders as it was validated. At the height of a panic attack, it feels as if someone has poured cement down your lungs, but there was something urging about Mac Miller’s music, something within his transparent arrangement on Macadelic that urged me to believe in my next breath. Drawing air into my lungs goes from natural to a labor of love, and Macadelic let me love myself to my next breath.

The tape itself is very artful, wintry, and nicely stoic. “Fight The Feeling” has the hollow rattle of Christmas bells heard from a distance and the somber patter that I find so befitting for the season. The brightness of otherwise thick synth chords plays like the sun glaring off packed snow. There’s a stark and porcelain quality to all of Macadelic as if the music were somehow bleached before being packaged, but “Fight The Feeling” is the most overexposed track on the tape. Consider it Mac and Kendrick Lamar calling in from another planet, with their tether only being so strong. Really, the track sounds like waking up shivering and disheartened on another winter morning, looking out the window, and having your whole person strain to find beauty in that moment. But you find it; you do.

Where East Coast white-out snow storms erase all notion of time, and by proxy, all notion of living to my next joy, “The Mourning After” delivers a very special type of myopic suffering. That is, Mac Miller lets his mind spool down the tip of a needle. His execution is fine and focused, and the release is just as satisfying. The track is bleak and high-strung, especially on the wiry hook, much like the silent battering of endless snow. But as I said, there is release in the final four seconds where a woman’s voice takes over to say: “Don't cry, it's okay, it'll all be over soon.” Few artists have deployed women as ushers of reason and stability with as much tact as Miller, who has had a woman’s voice lead off damn near every project since 2012.

Perhaps the most underappreciated element of Macadelic comes on “1 Threw 8,” where the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass of dark liquor fills the echo left on the hook. They make for a nicely contemplative touch, of course, but they also conjure thoughts of Old New York, and of the facade of socialites and class. They invite the presence of a certain fragility: the ice could melt, the drink could spill, the glass could shatter, and the party could end. That underlying fatality is the brilliant dress for a song pondering the afterlife. An image of scotch on the rocks is so forceful and period-piece-like, yet “1 Threw 8” is about constant displacement. The ice is a gentle reminder that placed-ness is a myth. What I mean to say is, I am left understanding I am exactly where I am meant to be.

The holidays are a time of great contrast; a show of what could be, and a reminder of what you are not. The season has the uncanny ability to exaggerate the feeling of existing in the margins, while somehow making it feel as if the margins are yelling in your face. At every turn, the message seems to be: you are unfit and unqualified for joy. Joy, of course, that so many others just seem to get as if it were nothing. It’s enough to make you bitter, but we grow past that in due time. During the most desolate time of the year, finding my place in Mac Miller’s music gave me just enough footing and solace to find my own joy and make it to spring. His discography at large is a promise that we can all make it to spring.

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