“I ain’t feeling broken no more.” —Mac Miller, “Wings”
Much of Mac Miller’s discography was concerned not with life, but with the process of living. That is, how can we go on living when everything feels so fragile and so dire all at once? How can we go on living when there is the potential for pain around every corner when every risk taken for something good has the propensity to turn into something horrific? Without warning, life can turn on its head; how can we live in the face of that?
These were the questions Mac Miller often asked and answered across his music, but most notably across his final album, Swimming.
While much of Swimming has to do with figuring out how to live in the face of struggle, how to swim when we can all suddenly drown, it is on “Wings” that Mac Miller tucks away a good answer. “Wings” teaches us a worthy lesson: so long as we can find one beautiful thing a day, you can survive. Those small things, the importance of minutia, and how it spirals into a whole life, those are our wings. But I am getting ahead of myself.
To understand how “Wings” works, we must first look at where Mac places the record in the tracklist. Sandwiched between “Self Care” and the fully-healed “Ladders,” “Wings” is crucial to the swimming-as-survival motif that permeates the album. If we break this up into four songs, accounting for the beat switch on “Self Care,” what we have it the journey of an afflicted man in the pursuit of hope. While Mac achieves hope on “Ladders,” his trek to that clear-headed space would be impossible without “Wings.”
This brings us, first, to the front half of “Self Care,” where Mac struggles to get his mind right (“I been losin' my, I been losin' my, I been losin' my mind, yeah”), leading us into the “Oblivion” portion, wherein he submits to his suffering and accepts it as a part of his life (“I was, thinking too much, got stuck in oblivion, yeah, yeah”). His defeat sounds beautiful, mimicking the familiarity and comfort of sinking into depression as opposed to batting against it (“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, in oblivion, yeah, yeah”).
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The transition into “Wings” brings with it the fight that’s missing from “Oblivion.” “I got a bone to pick like roses,” Mac opens, intimating he's got a bone to pick with himself. When we move away from the cacophony of succumbing, the music suddenly is a lot barer and stripped back, with Mac in the forefront taking responsibility for his happiness. That responsibility manifests in the little things he begins to appreciate: the weather, the sun, the breeze in his face. Everything Mac rattles off amounts to his wings, and act as the reason he’s never felt better.
“The sun is shinin', I can look at the horizon / The walls keep gettin' wider, I just hope I never find 'em, I know” —Mac Miller, “Wings”
Notably, we give a lot of country to sun imagery on “Wings,” which harkens back to opening cut “Come Back to Earth,” wherein Mac remarks that sunshine doesn’t feel right to the depressed mind. Here, Mac is obviously in the throes of his healing. As the sun brings him joy and is widening his walls, he is opening up and escaping the trapping feeling that kicks off Swimming; this follows the music video for preceding cut, “Self Care,” wherein Mac is trapped in a coffin for much of the visual. He has learned that to live is to fall in love with the littlest details life has to offer, and that is a love he is poised to share with us.
The second verse affirms this position further, playing off the strength of the pre-chorus to paint a picture of Mac as a man in formation. He has his achy heart and his trust issues, but he’s taking care of himself all the same: “Water my seeds 'til the flower just grow, yeah.” There is much to be said about the following bars, too. When Mac spits “Lucifer is human, so are we / All I ever want is what I need,” Mac is humanizing his pain, taking power from it, and continuing to nurture his wings by nurturing his needs.
We even get a tease for “Ladders” before the end of the verse (“Follow me, we on the up-and-up”), too. "Ladders" works so well because it is in constant conversation with "Wings." The song opens with an enigmatic "we" having to find their way, as in Mac Miller has found his way on "Wings," and now he can share that knowledge with us. The imagery on "Ladders," too, is informed by "Wings." Much of the song is about the rootedness and clarity Mac has grown into, which would be all but impossible without his wings. Now Mac can "see the bigger picture when it's beneficial," because he has taken the time to appreciate the little things.
All of this brings us back to the close of "Wings," which concludes with the warbling hook and the declaration that “these” are Mac Miller’s wings. We realize that the whole of the song—the whole of the music—are his wings. It is everything beautiful in this life. Our wings are personalized; there are no rules. Anything can be made to have value, and can thus be crafted by us into wings.
If Swimming is an album about saving yourself, then “Wings” is a song about turning the motions of ordinary life into our various life rafts. We were drowning; now we’re swimming, now we’re living. These are our wings.