It’s been a year since Mac Miller died.
Whether the pain is still like-yesterday fresh or if it feels as if an eon has passed will be subjective, but for those whose lives he touched—his family, friends and millions of fans—there is no set heal-by date, no prescribed period of mourning.
“We had a show to do that night, and it just felt, like, how do you get up there and do this on this night,” G-Eazy remembered several months later, talking to Complex, “and [we] had to really dig deep to find a way to do it and to talk about it in the right way, to honor somebody who had given the world so much through his voice. You know, that’s the thing, as artists we give a lot of us—like ourselves, our person, our life, our experience—to the world, to every fan we meet, to every song we create that affects somebody…and he had given a lot of really amazing, powerful, beautiful stuff.”
In a cruel twist, Miller’s final album, the Grammy-nominated Swimming, was his most inspired work yet—and instead of serving as a new height reached, the natural progression of an already decade-long career as a rapper (who like so many these days shot to fame online first), songwriter and producer and a moment to bask in deserved glory, it ended up being the unexpected coda to his entire life.
His music had been playing when concertgoers filed into the arena earlier in the evening.
Malcolm James McCormick, though already a bright light in the music world, reached a new tier of fame as Grande’s boyfriend for two years, and his sudden death—about four months after they broke up—inevitably carried more of a gut-punch in the headlines because of that connection. But Grande, who has since described her grief as “all-consuming,” was only a sliver of the troubled artist’s story. (Which is not to make light of their relationship, which was left to the pop star to unexpectedly reconcile on her own.)
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It eventually became common knowledge that Mac struggled with substance abuse, and had been battling the aforementioned “bulls–t” from an early age. His attempts to get a handle on his addictions and his experimentation with various gradations of abstention became part of his daily existence and, consequently, his creative process.
“I used to rap super openly about really dark s–t because that’s what I was experiencing at the time,” he told Vulture in an interview that was published the day before he died. “That’s fine, that’s good, that’s life. It should be all the emotions.”
And his music was his world—which made it all the more difficult when he was, in his eyes, dismissed by some as just another white dude getting into the rap game when his debut studio album, Blue Slide Park, came out in 2011. He already had a following, thanks to his mixtapes K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever, and it got to No. 1 on the Billboard 200, but the initial critical reception left a mark.
Ultimately, “you see people shift from being uncomfortable saying Mac Miller’s cool to it becoming like, “Oh, okay, that’s just what he does now.”
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“I want everything that I say to have a purpose,” Miller told Vice. “Everything that I do, I want it to have a purpose. Every little thing, every pause, every time I don’t say something, it’s for a reason.”
Mac had also just starred in the MTV2 show Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family—an opportunity that prompted him to quit drinking the cough-syrup-and-soda concoction known as lean because, as he noted, “I didn’t want to be on national TV and fat.”
He said he lost 40 pounds.
“I love it, I wouldn’t say I didn’t,” Miller continued. “But I feel better not doing it every single day…Drugs are dangerous, dude. But they’re awesome. Just dangerous. Drugs are not like a new thing. Especially with me, I’ve been doing drugs since I was fifteen.”
Also in 2013, Miller recorded “The Way” with Grande and their effortless chemistry in the video translated into real life, though they didn’t actually start dating for a couple of years.
“We have loved and adored and respected each other since the beginning, since before we even met, just because we were fans of each other’s talent,” Grande told Cosmopolitan in 2017. We weren’t ready at all, though, to be together. It’s just timing. We both needed to experience some things, but the love has been there the whole time.”