“We only grow from anguish” —Mac Miller, “Friends”
I may have been waiting my entire life to write this one. I love love songs, I love Mac Miller, and Mac Miller wrote some gorgeous love songs. The ways in which he contended with his mortality, with his demons, those same self-effacing techniques bled into his love songs. Mac took on love from the perspective of responsibility just as willingly as he took on love from the stance of a smitten loverboy. As with all of his music, he was unafraid of the truth, which is what made his love songs particularly true-to-life.
In the spirit of the season, I’ve taken the liberty of selecting and ranking Mac’s 10 best love songs. Sadly, I was not allowed to make every song his best love song, so here we go:
Project: Watching Movies With The Sound Off
Producer: Clams Casino
This is a song about pussy. SZA wrote a song about pussy being powerful, and she was right, and Mac absorbed that knowledge from our love song collective unconscious and made “Youforia” four years before Solana released CTRL. Immaculate work, I’d say.
Joking aside, “Youforia” is a gorgeous piece of music. The synths are stretched out to their limits like pink taffy, and between their looping and drooping, we get Mac’s affected vocals discovering a new high as he serenades something. Not as lyrically complex and knotty as his other love songs, “Youforia” is a blanketing and cleansing experience. It balloons out of speakers and consumes the room. What writing we are treated to, is just as becoming as the auditory trip Mac takes us on: “Now when you lay in my arms the pain goes a-way, euphoria.” Throw this one on in a dark room in the dead of winter, lay down, and let yourself get whisked to a better place.
9. "Earth" ft. Future
Project: Live From Space
Producer: Teddy Roxpin & ID Labs
“Earth” is a call to Mac Miller’s cool jazz album, You, which is just as packed with love songs as this list. The parody of You keeps it from making our rankings, but its blueprint is all over “Earth,” from the sauntering melody to the cheeky opening monologue. “Earth” is packed with all of the essential love tropes: keeping your partner warm, changing their life, taking off their clothes, engaging in a bitter war of fights. Jazz standard, love standards. “Your beauty handed me my mind back” may make it into my proposal speech.
But, to borrow from another song, puppy love ain’t all it was, and “Earth” also features some of the crispest writing about the degradation of love: “The bliss turns to war, heart turns to ash” and “My conscious will attempt to dissolve / I do some shit I won’t remember at all,” in the vein of how quickly we can spoil our own lives.
“Earth” accomplishes what so many other fantastic Mac Miller love songs plot out and achieve: it divvies out blame honestly. Mac Miller atones briefly on the cut, and it does not sound disingenuous. When it comes to his flaws, he is all-knowing, and that is why when we hear of his failures, we are endeared to him nonetheless. Realistic and gushing all in one, “Earth” is a secret standout in Mac’s catalog.
Also, jazz-Future. That’s all.
“It ain’t perfect, but I don’t mind / Because it’s worth it” is a classic Mac Miller-ism for love, life, and all things pertaining to the human experience. “Perfecto” existing as a two-parter is also classic Mac. The first half of the track deals with Mac’s shortcomings in earnest. He was never shy about his flaws, and in conjunction with the title, he seems to be suggesting there is no such thing as a perfect person or a perfect love, but we can make our chips and dents special and that should be enough. We want our love in the end. More on that when we get to the second half of the song.
The first verse and hook of “Perfecto” illustrate pettiness and argument, anxiety and obsession, as features of any old love story. Something to be weathered, Mac never once sounds despondent as he admits to “buggin’, buggin’, makin’ something out of nothin’.” Closing the first verse with “I'm treading water, I swear / That if I drown I don't care / They callin' for me from the shore, I need more” as it relates to the hook, puts us in a position of indulging in the turmoil to the point of it damaging everything and everyone. We are the only ones in the midst of strife now, and yet we cannot seem to wrest our way out; we don’t want to. If you fight enough, the fights become routine and unremarkable, and they never dissipate. This, of course, informs the “(Is it? Is it? Is it? Is it? Is it?)” that peppers the hook. Is it worth it? Mac seems to think so.
The breakdown of the track, a cataclysmic leveling, shows us that Mac’s irreverence was childish defensiveness. “Tell me you love me, spin me around / Pretty please pick me up in the air and don't put me down,” he urges. This love, he wants this. “Perfecto” is a string of arguments in poetic motion, and we feel for Mac. We all know what it means to want something so bad you break it by mistake. Love can be wanton and desperate, and “Perfecto” is proof that our intentions do not always match our outcomes. “Perfect.”
7. "My Favorite Part" ft. Ariana Grande
Project: The Divine Feminine
Producer: Larry Fisherman
I would like to open by sending all manner of peace to Ariana Grande. Secondly, this song is beautiful on wax, but even more precious live. The music speaks for itself. I would rather direct your attention to this video of Malcolm and Ari performing. This live rendition is the definitive shape of love, if only for me.
Producer: Ritz Reynolds & ID Labs
“Clarity” can be understood as the sophisticated man’s “Youforia.” The arrangement of “Clarity” is meatier, but the blanketed effect is nearly one-to-one. Not to mention, the lyrical overlap—“You take away the pain and I thank you for that”—shows us that between 2012 and 2013, if not earlier as Benjy Grinberg revealed, Mac Miller was seeking asylum from his own tortured soul. Of course, this implies that “Clarity” works beyond a traditional love song; it is a love song for everyone. We open with bars reminiscent of an old Atmosphere song, with Mac sending “love for girls who got some cuts at their wrists” and then we get the classic dissolution of the binary understanding of love right after: “Misery—you represent love, you the epitome.”
This song bests “Youforia” and “Earth” specifically because it has the complexity of symbiosis. Mac is aware of his shortcomings and the pain that informs love, but he also knows he has to give back what he sows. It is not enough to simply throw up your hands and say you’re wrong. “If I ever get the chance, bet I'm paying you back” and “So wish for me, I'll come out of nowhere—your epiphany” speak to a maturation that returns on higher-ranked cuts on this list. Love is a systemic give-and-take, and when Mac taps into that cycle, he writes some of his most lucid songs. In 2014, on Faces, Mac spit, “We only grow from anguish,” and that is the bedrock of his best love songs.
5. "Objects in the Mirror"
Project: Watching Movies With The Sound Off
Producer: Pharrell Williams
“A thought is love's currency” will go down as a top Mac Miller bar for its simple brilliance. “Objects in the Mirror” shines because it is both a direct love song and still packs Mac Miller’s abstract and flowing writing style. Promises to shelter you from heartbreak and to break you free from your woes make this a by-the-numbers love affair until we hit promises of being a better man and truths about the unattainable quality of perfection.
Mac sounds both in love and disappointed in himself. By the second verse, his penchant for love becomes a set of crippling fears. He is ever-preoccupied by atrocity, but still finds time for love and splendor. The balance of these ideals makes “Objects in the Mirror” a tortured helix, where Mac uses love as an avenue for relief. The song is a classic in two canons, then. First, a classic in the Mac Miller’s Head Is Overrun canon, and the Mac Miller Is In Love canon. When we fuse the things we do best, we are left with a new and even better thing.
“Objects” is yet another song that has an incredible live rendition. Mac Miller’s passion could never be contained in full to wax. It was simply impossible to take all of his buzzing energy and leave it static. When Mac belts the hook (“Just a little taste and you know she got you / Can you hide away? Can you hide away?”) on the Watching Movies live album, we hear how small he must have felt, and how terrified, and how desperate to husband something special in this dark and destructive world.
4. "Cinderella" ft. Ty Dolla $ign
Project: The Divine Feminine
Producer: DJ Dahi
Eight-minute songs should not always exist, but “Cinderella” is definitely in the “SHOULD” camp of eight-minute records. There is so much to be said about “Cinderella” and how it climbs into the stratosphere with plucky guitars, and how it unfurls in two halves that capture the shape of love as Mac Miller has molded it. We get a sexual play-by-play, and we get the sweetest minutia of romance: dessert wines and stir-fries. This is sharing-a-studio-apartment love at its most immaculate. The beauty of the song comes by way of the daring specificity. No stone goes unturned to the point of making “Cinderella” incredibly striking. Somehow, this is a very niche song that speaks to the universe. If it’s not stir fry, it’s pasta. If it’s not dessert wine, it’s Bailey’s. Mac leaves just enough room for us to slot in our own romantic lives, and that makes this song eternal.
Then there is the tenderness of the second half of the track. There is so much love packed into “Wherever you came from, wherever you going / I promise I'm not far behind.” Sit with that loyalty and devotion for a moment. In a now-deleted Tweet, Mac wrote that the second half of “Cinderella” gets him every time. Us too, Mac. Us too.
Project: The Divine Feminine
Producer: ID Labs, Larry Fisherman, Mister Neek & DâM-FunK
From the title to the Good Will Hunting sample, to the pureness of the track, “Soulmate” is one of Mac Miller’s most refined loved songs, perhaps to the point of being a drop too pristine. Everything is, for once, sunny in his sonic world. The writing is beautiful and arresting. He is giddy and gleeful, brought to life by his love in that way we know romantic love can rejuvenate us. The darkness of this track, unlike his other works, is easy to miss and mostly subdued. Mac contends with mortality, but only for a moment as his mind is squarely on love as a form of enlightenment. Certainly, we feel our third eye opened at the onset of this at-peace Mac Miller.
With “Baby, where'd you go? What's so wrong? / I'm right here…” leading into “Do you know I’m in pain” we have the foundation of Mac’s best moments, triggering the painful with the pleasurable in one swoop. His pain, of course, comes from the crumbling edges of his love affair, and yet it is not the focal point of the track. We have arrived at a place where Mac Miller knows the worth of an argument and the staying power of his relationships. They sound trying, but no longer toxic and questionable. And musically, all the while, everything sounds gorgeously done.
Project: GO:OD AM
Producer: Frank Dukes & DJ Dahi
Mac Miller once said that “you speak with your hands” when you play the piano. Consider “ROS” the best case scenario for pillow talk. In the context of GO:OD AM, this track plays an important role in showcasing Malcolm as a man. Following the berzerk performance of “When In Rome,” we simmer down with a precious piano ballad. As if to say, “This is who I really am.” Mac Miller’s yearning for an expanding musicality has been well-documented and evidenced since Blue Slide Park, and “ROS” is the love song vehicle he chooses to lean into his composer sensibilities and leave his heart on the line. It works.
We begin with a Larry Lovestein-esque cheek, and the setting of the piece feels very much so like a jazz club in the city on New Year’s Eve, snow on the eaves of the building and slush in the streets. The quieted chatter in the back of mix gives us the sense that Mac’s playing at a piano surrounded by chesterfield couches and whiskey neats. All the while, he is singing his heart out and delivering some of his most refined “We’re all fucked, we’re all obsessed” love bars since “Wedding”: “Your love's not too kind to me / I hate the pain these days of rain / You're playing games of hide and seek, my love / And I'm still trying to find you, I'm looking for you babe / And I'm still trying to find you, through sunshine or rain.”
All of the pain and aching that Mac Miller has alluded to across his career, in terms of love songs, coalesces on “ROS,” even the use of women’s voices. Much like “Objects in the Mirror,” Mac blends his singing with some sharp and lilted raps. The delivery and drum patterns as askew, speaking to the brokenness of his love. It’s all very subtle, subversive, and seductive. Mac Miller is hooked on something sinister and sexy, and he wants us in on the truth of the matter. To be hurt and enamored at the same moment, that is the ethos of “ROS.” He is not making excuses, but rather serenading a flawed woman and a flawed love as if it were the greatest gift to exist. “In love to death,” as they say.
“Wedding” is the blueprint for every good Mac Miller love song, and should probably be the blueprint for love songs on the whole. There is no hero on “Wedding,” no overcoming sweetness to soothe the bitter truths. This is the perfect love song because it exists to magnify every possible flaw a love could have. There is anguish and trying times, and understated wisdom that gives the track an overstated sense of place. Of all Mac Miller love songs, this one positions itself as the most true-to-life, regardless of if you're in the honeymoon phase or brokenhearted.
Perhaps it is through this line of desperation that we get a song so gutting and full-bodied. Mac Miller is pleading with his love, with the powers the be, with any force that could make this romance work despite its endless flaws. "Wedding" is not about love on the brink, but rather about the fight off the ledge when you know something is worthwhile.
I’ll leave you all with the one bar I hear in my head regardless of whatever type of love I find myself in: “What did I do to deserve a love like this? / You see her shining, that’s my sunlight bitch.”