BY TRISH ROONEY
Last Friday, in the middle of class, my friend slowly put her phone on top of my notebook to point out a breaking news headline: Mac Miller Dead at 26.
Now I’m not going to pretend to have been a life-long, die-hard Mac Miller fan, I’d count myself more as a casual listener than anything else. However, when his album Swimming dropped this summer, I was surprised at how much I liked it. It became the soundtrack to my car rides home at night or around the city. I appreciated the growth from the bumping frat-rap I remember making fun of from his first albums to his more mellowed out, dreamlike sound. Come Back to Earth quickly became a favourite, along with 2009. I considered buying tickets to his Toronto tour stop. But in an instant, that was gone: replaced by tweets from his colleagues in the industry expressing their sadness at his death, and reminding their followings to check on their friends, even the ones that may be “getting better”.
Miller addressed his struggles with mental health and addiction himself in interviews and in his music. In much of his repertoire, Miller described his ongoing troubles with sobriety, his dependence on pills and alcohol, and his almost morbid acceptance of an early death. He often came across as extremely blunt about the darkest feelings he experienced on his tracks, something that he began to move away from in his later work. In an interview with Vulture that was released the day before his death, Miller described not wanting “just happiness” or “just sadness”, but wanting to have “good days and bad days”.
“To everyone who sell me drugs / Don’t mix it with that bulls–t / I’m hoping not to join the 27 club / Just want the coke dealer house with the velvet rug / F–k the world, there’s no one else but us.” – Mac Miller, Brand Name
Soon after his death, the spotlight quickly turned on Ariana Grande, Miller’s former girlfriend, and her reaction to his passing. After their break-up in April of this year, Ariana released a statement to a comment that she was the cause of his DUI by explaining how she had to leave the relationship because of its toxicity due to his addiction issues. She claimed that “shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major issue” and wrote that “unconditional love… is wanting the best for that person even if at the moment, it’s not you”. After news broke of his death, people were quick to jump to her social media platforms and blame her for being the person to push him off the edge, arguing that her fast-paced relationship with Pete Davidson and successes made Miller spiral. This is not only a deeply disturbing, false belief, but a damaging one at that: it is clear what ways addicts impact themselves, but less clear about how addiction affects everyone around them. It is not a cut and dry issue about staying with someone while they are struggling. Ariana was correct in saying that sometimes the best for that person at that moment is not you. Or perhaps what is best for you is not them, no matter how deeply you may love them. For some, it’s easy to brush off Ariana’s actions as selfish, but the unfortunate fact is that you cannot single-handedly save a person, or be that person’s conscious, nor can a person be blamed for another’s actions, no matter how close or in love they were.
The passing of Mac Miller is yet another reminder of the prevalence of addiction in the music industry as well as in people between the ages of 18-29. It’s the age group with the highest rate of alcohol addiction, as well as being one of the groups at highest risk for opioid addiction and abuse. Last year, rapper Lil Peep died at 21 of a Xanax overdose on his tour bus in Tucson. This summer, singer Demi Lovato was rushed to the ICU after a reported OD in her home in Los Angeles, weeks after publically announcing she had relapsed after 6 years of sobriety. Everywhere we turn today, we see more headlines about the rising number of casualties to the opioid epidemic in the US and Canada; people’s friends, family, and neighbours are all victims to this crisis that we are in. Mac Miller serves as yet another reminder that the celebrities that we so often admire and believe to be untouchable are very real human beings that are struggling with issues that we so often do not recognize or address until after it is too late. Miller serves as a reminder that when we talk about mental health and addiction, the process can mean falling off, relapsing, getting back up, and relapsing again. It does not have to end in tragedy, although his story did. Although Miller is gone, his music will serve as a source of inspiration and as a lasting testament to his growth as an artist and as a man, and what could have been.
“No matter where life takes me, find me with a smile / Pursuit to be happy, only laughing like a child” – Mac Miller, ‘Best Day Ever’
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
The Jack Project
Drug and Alcohol Helpline
1-800-565-8603 (Crisis Line)