Mac Miller’s Creative Evolution Through His Music Videos
There’s a tingle of excitement that can be felt when witnessing growth. I imagine the early eyes that watched the transformation of Steph Curry felt the tingle as they observed a good college baller who was drafted number seven metamorphose into a mighty NBA superstar. Watching someone go from good to great, evolve before your very eyes, it’s a sensation like no other; a feeling I get while listening to Mac Miller.
Every project to come since Watching Movies With The Sound Off (a good album) you can hear it in the way he rhymes, the delivery of his lines, the power behind his punches, the confidence in his voice, the improvements in his singing — in every possible way, Mac Miller is almost a brand new artist. It’s deeper than just getting better, much more than simple improvement, Mac Miller evolved like a Pokemon, and his evolution doesn’t stop with just his music. It has also impacted his music videos.
Nathan has already talked about the pop crossover potential of Mac Miller’s incredible new single “Dang,” touching on how the visual representation is a perfect counterpart for the song, but I don’t think he put enough emphasis on how the excellent visual is now one of the best in Miller’s videography.
The theme is a simple one, an age old concept of trying to keep your happy home from breaking apart. Mac is pleading with his girl to stay, while they are the focus, it’s the world around them that’s the most eye-catching. The colors are bright, vibrant pastels that give off the same lush warmth as the production. Look at the pink trashcan, yellow fire hydrant, red umbrellas, the colorful clothes in the washer, your eyes are feasting on a wonderland of brightness. The orgasmic scene is only amplified with the background break dancers who are also dressed in colorful clothes. What “Dang!” does that some videos fail to is create a world for the song to live within. This is an aesthetically gorgeous, fantasy world that will make you want to buy a 128 pack of Crayola crayons every time you watch it. If there was any music video that you could watch without the sound, this is the one.
If you go back four years, Miller released the video for his song “Missed Calls.” It focuses on the strain of a relationship when your significant other just happens to be in the early stages of becoming a rap star. Visually, the video captures mostly Mac and a young woman at first as a couple that could easily be hashtagged as goals, but as it progresses you see them go through the motions that come with separation. The focus is completely on them — together, alone, and a montage of clips from live performances included to give it an extra layer a realism. “Missed Calls” is far darker in tone and in concept, in contrast to “Dang!” that is flooded with color and life. You can see how both videos have a similar theme but are different in execution. What makes “Dang!” an excellent video in comparison is the focus to make it alluring for the eyes. “Missed Calls” has the potential to pull at your heartstrings, but it didn’t keep my eyes glued. Being able to take a common trope and twist it into a memorable video is a difficult task, but one that is pulled off exquisitely in “Dang!” It’s the bigger vision (and budget) that can make a simple video, simply amazing. “Missed Calls” and “Dang!” represent the levels Mac has climbed.
I believe Mac Miller’s videos improved tremendously when he ceased to be the central focus of them. His creative vision has expanded. Notice how he started to add an element of inclusion that makes him the center-of-attention, but creates a setting that will make your eyes wander. “100 Grandkids” is the perfect example. The first half is a stage play, it opens with the curtain peeling back, and a group of children in animal costumes coming from stage right. Mac doesn’t appear until the thirty second mark, dropping down from the ceiling as a moon is keeping his facial features. While he raps, the kids are active — they dance, they sword fight, there are multiple acts being played out. It’s a play that seems loosely inspired by Romeo and Juliet happening during song’s first half. He’s never without the kids until the beat switches and the second half starts. It moves to Mac being outside, alone, except for the yellow lowrider that’s bouncing, jumping, and leaning behind him.
Visually, it’s closer to a basic rap video — close up on the rapper, rapper hands, nice car, but it works since the first half is more unconventional. I don’t think either concept is strong enough to carry an entire video, but using both creative and familiar, he was able to bridge both worlds for a memorable visual.
Creative and simple, that’s exactly what’s accomplished in the video for “Brand Name.” I didn’t see much chatter when it was first released, but it’s one of his most enjoyable in my opinion. The concept is essentially The Truman Show — a basic guy whose life is being broadcast to the world. Miller plays the basic guy. He has a family, works in a cubical, wears a suit, and he’s completely oblivious that people are watching him on their television. A few things make this idea a perfect one for Mac. If you become popular enough, your life becomes something like The Truman Show. Mac Miller had a reality show on MTV2, so he actually lived the life of having people watch him in a (scripted) reality based setting. To be famous, is to be Truman.
In the video there are extras who sport shirts with his face as fans of the TV show, no different than being an artist and selling merch. But instead of being a rapper, Mac is a family man with a 9 to 5. The life he’s portraying is completely different than the one he lives. In the song he raps, “Fuck a 9 to 5, I’d rather end up dead or in jail,” and “You don’t want this life I live, you’d rather had the wife and kid,” despite dismissing the conventional adult life in the song, his character is living that very life. At the very end of the video, there’s a billboard for the show that says, “You don’t want the life I live,” making you wonder which life — the rapper or the family man? Right next to it is a billboard for Mac’s GO:OD AM album. There’s many cool juxtapositions between the songs and the lyrics, the rapper and the character he’s portraying, that make this video brilliant in its own right.
His recent videos have definitely been home runs, but that doesn’t mean his past visuals were lacking. “Star Room” and “I Am Who I Am” from Watching Movies With The Sound Off both are abstractly stunning in their own right. The use of the light bulbs and Christmas lights connects both videos making me wonder if they were shot closely together. This was during the phase when Miller was transitioning away from being the kid that made “Donald Trump” and becoming an artist that had started experimenting with drugs. Cinematically he started taking more risks with frequent director Ian Wolfson, the CEO of Rex Arrow Films. Wolfson has directed almost all his videos, from the daring “SDS” to my own personal favorite “Avian.”
After signing to a major Mac has had bigger budgets and been able to work with other directors. I trust that his growth won’t stop at “Dang!” The sky has stopped being the limit for Mac Miller, he is soaring above and beyond all previous expectations. His musical and visual artistry should be in your ears and in front of your eyes. In fact, the man’s videos have become so good you could even watch them with the sound off.
By Yoh, aka Yohnald Trump, aka @Yoh31
Photo Credit: Instagram
Originally published at DJBooth.net on August 4, 2016.