Love makes me manic, which means love gets me high like it’s nothing. Love makes me feel grandiose and invincible. Love makes me feel like I was never depressed, like the lows of my life were a sham, like I could never be low again. It’s intoxicating and dangerous to get as high as I do, but I can’t live without the feeling. Or, rather, I choose not to. I’ve gotten better at being more lucid, at staying in more control, and at identifying when I’m getting manic and trying to ground myself. For as scary as mania can be, it feels good to me. It leads me to find healthy ways to pursue my fix and get that rush of indescribable joy.
Enter: Mac Miller’s 2016 record, The Divine Feminine, an album that sounds exactly like the mania of falling in love. Coming just a year after Mac’s detoxing GO:OD AM, TDF was a wonderful pivot towards the jazz roots and lovelorn lyricism of 2012’s equally jazzy experiment under the name Larry Lovestein, You.
Horns and string arrangements replaced trap drums and summoning sirens. Images of sharing laundry hampers and cooking kale replaced promises of “fucking your bitch” and eating off your enemy’s plate. Mac had chosen the hitched life, and it sounded so good. It was the start of his third creative renaissance, and TDF became my instant jolt of manic high.
All of the minutiae of falling in love with someone lives within this phenomenal body of work. We open with “Congratulations,” and bars about trying to “hit it while you was getting dressed.” The domesticity of it is what makes the lyric so sticky-sweet. Mac does not need to reach into the recesses of the abstract to describe love: he has it right in front of him. You picture it so well: your lover’s back turned to you, you coming up to them, a brush on the shoulder, a laugh here or there, and then, the shutdown, and more laughter. It’s such a vivid scene from just a handful of words. From 2014’s abstract opus, Faces, Mac had taken two years to find the beauty in simplicity.
The sensuality of the record, too, was a victory for Mac. “All I ever do is making these fucking songs, so finally I made a fucking song,” he intones on “Skin.” Here, his tenderness is on full display. There’s an effervescent cool to the cut; Mac’s swagger is out in expert force. Again, we find the magic in the simple turns of phrase: “Girl you my painting, you my art installation / Gonna fuck you, put you on the wall.” Mac’s ethereal flow and the vibrant arrangement juxtapose the gruff imagery. He makes rough sex sound like a gentle simmer, and in that blending, I find just the right jolt of serotonin.
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The thing about TDF is that it sounds familiar. It matters not if you’re in love, have just been burnt, or are enjoying the single life. The Divine Feminine has a moment for you that captures how we all fall in love. The tepid declarations on “We,” for instance, capture the cautious nature of a lover scorned. The fear of intimacy that casts over Mac’s inability to complete the line “Baby, you could be my… ,” should sound intimate to anyone who has been left and raised their walls as a result. There’s truth in his tapering off, in the impossibility of connecting with someone despite all your desire propelling you two together. His quiet fear is sincere, and that is where TDF thrives: the subtleties caught on subsequent listens.
What makes this record special, too, is how Malcolm manages to capture the anxiety of realizing you’re manic and in love. Not only does he get me high, but he can level with me on a track like “Planet God Damn,” which captures the tumult and tension that comes with falling in love and staying in love. Much like the rest of the population, goodness terrifies me. All I can imagine is the conclusion of a positive thing, regardless of whether or not that conclusion has been telegraphed. I can spin any narrative in my head, so the better I feel, the more unnatural my thoughts become. I love the high; I loathe the thoughts. “Planet God Damn” exists in that liminal space of joy and terror.
Opening with lines about living in the past, where things will always feel so much easier and better, the track is a quiet whirlwind of emotions that offsets the budding romance of the album. It’s not about breakfast in bed, so much as it’s about making a crackling love work through the pressures of life. “Planet God Damn” exemplifies the moment two people have to decide if they’re going to make this thing work, or if they’re going to fold under the weight of it all.
“I ain't here to break a promise / I'm just tryna keep it honest,” Mac drones, and we hear him return to his old ways of pain over pleasure. The song is, above all else, a reminder that love will not save us from who we are. This sentiment is the inevitability of life: we still have to face and deal with ourselves. It may not be the standout track of the album, but “Planet God Damn” may well be the most genuine offering. We often imagine that the moment we find love, all will be resolved—at least I feel that way. But the high is only temporary. Real life comes knocking, regardless of how deeply we are in a sun-soaked love. This is the song that keeps us grounded.
Most importantly, The Divine Feminine is more than a mere album about love. It is a reprieve for Mac Miller, who spent the previous handful of years publicly battling his demons in verse. To hear him shift from rapping about his overdoses and letting down his mother (“Perfect Circle / God Speed”), to now finding his soulmate, is a welcome transition and one that put fans’ minds at ease.
In spite of his struggles, Mac Miller was making it, and to the tune of his falling in love, we found that we could survive as well. The Divine Feminine taught us there was something left to live for, whether or not Mac knew he was disseminating lessons. For that, we love him.