Mac Miller on Coachella, Girlfriend Ariana Grande, and Settling Into His Happy Place
A lazy Sunday conversation with the rapper, who performed at Coachella 2017.
It’s good to be Mac Miller these days. On the heels of playing his favorite gig to date—that is, Coachella—the prolific rapper, who introduced us to his singing voice on his 2016 album, The Divine Femine, is back in the studio, working on his next project.
“I’m at the point where I have no idea what I’m doing, which is the most fun, because I literally go into the studio and do anything,” he said Sunday afternoon, during the second weekend of the music festival.
At 25, the Pittsburgh native has only grown more mature, as has his sound. He was only 18, after all, when he broke through in 2010 on the success of hits like “Nikes on My Feet” (more than 47 million YouTube views and counting) from his fourth mixtape, K.I.D.S., and later, “Best Day Ever” and “Donald Trump” (approximately 127 million views), followed by the release of his debut album, Blue Slide Park, which surprised those who didn’t catch on to the digital hype when it hit number one on the charts a year later. But those early days of hard partying—and rapping about partying—are behind him, for now. His new drug? Love, the theme explored throughout his latest release.
It was his third time at Coachella, but his first as a performer, and with The Divine Feminine behind him, he was able to reflect on what’s transpired since its release. And while he is by nature candid, the beaming spotlight—intensified by girlfriend Ariana Grande—has made him more guarded than ever, as he contends with the increasing lack of privacy when it comes to certain aspects of his life, especially his sobriety or lack thereof, and his relationship with Grande. Here, he shares his current state of mind.
How has this second weekend [of Coachella] differed from the first?
What’s funny is weekend one, before the show, I was really nervous. I have this mindset that with every show almost, that’s it going to be horrible. I’m like, ‘This is gonna suck, I’m gonna forget all the words. No one is gonna like me.’ So, for the first [weekend], there was a lot of ‘Holy shit, this is happening, and it’s going really well.’ And it was less being comfortable on stage and more in shock.
Weekend two, I liked it a lot, because I felt much more comfortable and in control. Like, I stopped a song to catch my breath and talk to the crowd. It was less, ‘Make sure everything is perfect’ and more, ‘Just have fun.’
A lot of artists come in and out of Coachella. What made you stick around after your set? What performances have you seen?
Well, one of the illest parts about this whole thing is I have a free ticket to go see as many people that I want. It’s a weekend, just f—ing go through it, stay in the f—ing sun, and go see people. I saw Radiohead, which was awesome, because I’ve had this thing where we’ve been playing a bunch of the same festivals, and I keep not being able to see them. Weekend one, the sound difficulties happened, so finally [yesterday] I got to see a full Radiohead set, and that was awesome. Thundercat is one of my best friends in the world, and it was the first time I ever saw him perform, and it was beautiful.
Are you watching from the side of the stage?
Here’s the thing, the side of the stage is the worst place to watch a show—the worst. The only thing that’s cool about the side of the stage is whoever is performing, you see a little bit more of their perspective. But as far as hearing and seeing, you gotta be in the front.
Your most recent album, The Divine Feminine, started out as a 5-song EP. What was the moment that made you think, “I want to keep going with this”?
I think when I made “Dang!” I had “Dang!” and “Congratulations,” and I think I was just having a lot of fun creating. It was the type of thing where there were more types of songs to make related to the topic at hand.
Yeah, love. It’s funny, because I feel like my best albums start as EPs, because to me, I feel no pressure. Like, here’s an idea, I’m just gonna do it, and then I love it and just flush it out.
Which ones started as EPs?
Two of them, this one and Watching Movies [with the Sound Off]. There’s a certain element of freedom, when you’re making an EP. The word ‘album’ is kind of scary. It’s kind of like, “Holy shit, this is a piece of the thing, and if it doesn’t do well, blah blah blah,” and all these terrible non-music related things. But when you’re like, “I’m making an EP,” it’s a little more like, “I’m gonna make music and enjoy it.”
Beyond love, you’ve said the album is also about the things you’ve learned from women. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from women?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from women is talking about my vulnerabilities and insecurities as being a strength rather than—I think when you’re young in relationships, you’re like, “I’m not gonna say anything cause I gotta be cool. I gotta act like a man,” you know what I mean? Learning to express that kind of stuff.
Coachella 2017: Crop Tops, Florals and the Best Street Style From the Ancestral Homeland of Festival Fashion
Speaking of vulnerability. You’re singing [on the new album], something you’ve never done before.
What made you go for it? Was it something you always did on the side?
I have so many songs that I always made for myself. I’ve been singing since I was 10 years old, and I always hated my voice. When I got my own studio, it wasn’t like, “Okay you have two hours to make a song.” I could just do whatever I wanted. I made a lot of these songs, and they just never came out. They were always just to listen to or to send to people that I know. It was just this moment where I stopped chasing something.
In a career, you want this album to sell more than the one before, and you want to play bigger and bigger stages and all this stuff, but I just let go of that and was like, “What do I wanna do?” It’s like sky diving—just f—ing do it. And it feels good. It’s a nice release. And also learning that people are gonna either love or hate it regardless of what you do. It doesn’t matter. I just wanted to do it, and I’m glad I did. I don’t know what it means for the future, how much more I do and what I do, but I’m just really happy I made that move.
What’s been a highlight for you since the album came out?
This. [Laughs] That’s my favorite show that I’ve ever played in my life. I’m so comfortable with the band with me. You have these incredible, talented musicians to fall back on, and it’s so mind-blowing to just hear things that you’ve created, interpreted and taken further.
I don’t know if you google yourself, but other than Coachella news, there was a lot about you and Ariana [Grande] sharing a kiss on stage. I thought, Oh, they’re out there, open.
Yeah, it’s very chill. I don’t know, man. I think, we’re just chillin’. It’s whatever. That’s not the real world.
What made you want Ariana as the female vocalist for the first single, “My Favorite Part”?
That’s what I love hearing her on—simple, melodic things, where her voice is in the front of everything. After we did “The Way” so long ago, we never did a record, I never got her on anything. I made it, and I don’t know, it was kind of cosmic.
When I’m doing collaborations, I always try and think of what I would like to hear somebody on, whether it be their normal style of music or not. I would say, that might be of the things I could call my strengths, looking beyond what’s there.
The video just came out for the newest single, “Cinderella.” How did the concept come together?
I did it with Bo [Mirosseni], and he’s really awesome to work with. A lot of times, the storylines get lost, no one knows what the f— is going on. As long as it’s shot beautifully, and we know what’s going on, I’m good. It was a long time in the making. We shot it all in a day.
You’re constantly dealing with fans wanting to hear certain, earlier songs, like “Donald Trump,” for example. How do you balance what the crowd wants to hear and what you want to play? [When Miller wrote “Donald Trump,” released in 2011, Trump was nothing more than a symbol of wealth, Miller has explained. After its release, Trump threatened to sue Miller for using his name without consent. “It was just announced that @MacMiller’s song Donald Trump went platinum—tell Mac Miller to kiss my ass!” Trump tweeted back in 2013.]
I think I’m very selfish in that department. If I don’t enjoy it, I’m not gonna do it. I dealt with a tour one time, where I played so much shit that wasn’t what I was known for that people would walk out during the set. For me, I just don’t want someone to see me having a bad time. I want it to be genuine and for the whole interaction to be authentic. I only really play what I wanna play. Sometimes, I’ll be in a really good mood and play f—ing “Knock Knock,” which is a song from 2010.
It’s funny, though, because sometimes I’ll be wrong. Like I went to South Africa, and I was like, “You know what I’ve gotta play my old shit, because I’ve never been here,” so I play a bunch of old shit and everyone was like, “No.” And I played new shit, and they’re like, “Yeah!” So I just have to do what I wanna do, and I make sure I put on a good show, what I think is a good show. And if someone comes for something else, that’s their prerogative, but as long as I think I’m satisfied, I think that’s the kind of relationship I have with my fans where I kind of lead the way.
What were you most excited about playing this weekend?
I love doing “Dang!” cause there’s this really awesome drum part that happens at the end. “Weekend” is another one of my favorites to perform, but there’s something about “When In Rome” with the band, it’s the closer, and it’s such a f—ing epic moment. Just adding a band in there, we’re like f—ing Metallica. I’m doing “Dang!” which is a love song and very relaxing and fun, and then all the sudden I’m Metallica for a second, and that’s great. I’d say those two.
Looking back on your earlier days, what was that one moment that put you on that next level, you think?
I guess for me, it’s a lot of continuous next levels. Like, yeah, in 2010, I was able to tour three days after I dropped K.I.D.S., and I was touring around the country when I was 19, but I think the moment for me is when I moved out to L.A., got my house, and built my own studio, and I realized that I can steer this shit in whatever way I wanna go.
What are you looking forward to most right now?
This is the best part of creating. No matter what, that’s always the greatest thing. Shows are awesome, being able to travel is great, and getting paid to make music is a ridiculous … idea. I’m at the point where I have no idea what I’m doing, which is the most fun, because I literally go into the studio and do anything. Just like, ‘I’m gonna make this kind of song, I feel like rapping today, I’m gonna rap.’ I’m at this point where it’s just free-form, Jackson Pollock throwing shit against the wall. And that’s just exciting to me, to not have any type of structure, no tracklist.
You’ve been very open about your sobriety. Is it strange that it’s out there in public?
You know what, it’s funny because this is what I realize, I’m learning more and more what I want to share and what I don’t. Because I’m always just like—I sit down in interviews, and I just talk, and there’s no thought in my head of like, Don’t say that. Someone asks a question, and I’m like, “Yeah, da da da da da,” and all the sudden we’re talking about issues I had with my dog that made me cry. I don’t know.
But, I’ve spent a good time very sober and now I’m just, like, living regularly. I think it’s important. I don’t believe in absolute anything, but I think not sharing that type of information, because it becomes like, “Oh he’s sober, oh he’s not, oh he has a beer, oh my god.” I just realized some things are important to just keep for yourself. That was a learning experience. But it was important to let everyone know that I wasn’t doing f—ing crazy amounts of hard drugs. That was good to get out there.
Coachella 2017: Ranking Celebrities’ Festival Looks, From Least Coachella to Most Coachella
Coachella: One shoulder is exposed; a choker. Not Coachella: Essentially everything else. This look is far too formal for the laid back nature of the fest.
Coachella: Easy sundress; hoop earrings. Not Coachella: This ladylike dress reads more church than crowd-surfing. Plus, imagine how dirty it’ll get.
Coachella: Relaxed denim; hoop earrings; anklet. Not Coachella: This ensemble is rooted in understated simplicity, which is not very typical of festival fashion.
Coachella: Tinted glasses, abs. Not Coachella: The singer looks ready to workout, not rage to Lorde.
Coachella: Neon hair; ankle boots. Not Coachella: By normal standards, this is Coachella acceptable; but this is Kylie Jenner we’re talking about. We expect more.
Coachella: Sneakers; fanny pack; hoop earrings. Not Coachella: There is a case to be made for uniform dressing, but this baggy jumpsuit is another story.
Coachella: Baggy t-shirt; floral prints. Not Coachella: The florals read more tropical than festival, and those knee-high boots are not exactly the most practical footwear.
Coachella: A bra as a top; neon sunglasses. Not Coachella: Fur; skinny jeans; heels.
Coachella: Off-the-shoulder; cross-body bag; fashion-y sandals. Not Coachella: It all seems a bit too put together for Coachella.
Coachella: Off-the-shoulder; jorts; sneakers. Not Coachella: Again, this look is a bit subdued for a Jenner at Cochella.
Coachella: Sunglasses; white crochet; ankle boots. Not Coachella: Roberts could have worn this look anywhere in LA.
Coachella: Bright color; slip dress; sunglasses; embellishments. Not Coachella: Heels; leather.
Coachella: Maxi-dress; floppy hat; chain belt. Not Coachella: Like Bosworth, this look is just slightly too put together. But only slightly.
Coachella: Novelty sunglasses; jorts; pink hair. Not Coachella: Not suitable for sitting in the grass.
Coachella: Choker; fringe; gladiator sandals. Not Coachella: Camouflage print miniskirt.
Coachella: Tank tops; jorts; sneakers; fanny pack; bandanas. Not Coachella: This is the quintessential Coachella uniform for the non-famous; give the Riverdale stars one more year and they’ll be back with some fringe and floral accessories.
Coachella: Fringe; white crochet; off-the-shoulder. Not Coachella: It’s not all that practical, but then again the model is likely only in VIP tents and not lounging on the grass.
Coachella: Romper; off-the-shoulder; floppy hat; pigtails; sunglasses; chokers; ankle boots. Not Coachella: Seems almost a bit too formulaic, no?
Coachella: Flannel; overall shorts; chainmail; face paint. Not Coachella: Knee-high boots.
Coachella: Top knot; tinted glasses; bodychain; sneakers; jorts; extraneous belt; fringe. Not Coachella: The look is very, very color coordinated.
Coachella: Floppy hat; novelty sunglasses; maxi skirt; off-the shoulder; crop top; sneakers. Not Coachella: A choker would have really put this outfit over the edge.
Coachella: Double top knots; hair glitter; bikini as shirt; floral print; loose pants; sneakers; tinted glasses; Nylon backdrop. Not Coachella: Nothing. Congratulations, Delilah Belle, you are the most Coachella celebrity of Coachella 2017.
What have you been listening to lately?
Anything Frank [Ocean]’s been putting out has been amazing. Kendrick [Lamar]’s album is amazing. Solange’s album I’ll listen to forever, all The Internet and their solo stuff. Little Dragon’s new album is really awesome. I listen to whatever.
It doesn’t necessarily inspire you for your next project?
Sometimes. Oh yeah, like Thundercat’s album. It’s funny how that works, because I’ve opened myself up to be so versatile in what I do, like the fact that I sing or I’ll do this or do that. A lot of the times listening to music will have a huge effect on where I go in the studio, because, say for instance, I watched Lee Fields & The Expressions, so it’s like, you listen to that, you’re like, Man that’s what I need to do, like I need to do some shit like that. But then I go watch [Schoolboy] Q’s set or listen to Kendrick [Lamar], and I’ll be like, “Oh yeah, I rap,” so it’s interesting. So, yeah, it does have an effect. It puts you in a mood.
What do you think about the parties surrounding Coachella? Many people come just for the parties and not the festival. It’s a thing.
This is what’s funny as f—. I’ve come to Coachella before, I mean, I never miss shows, but like, you know, I end up at someone’s party at five in the morning. That’s happened to me. I’ve been that guy.
There was one time where everywhere I went, Kanye was there performing “All Day,” and it was the greatest night ever. It was this thing where you couldn’t go somewhere that Kanye wasn’t performing “All Day.” But now, it hits midnight, and after the headliner, and I’m like “You guys are going where? I’m going to bed. What are you doing?” You know what I mean. But dude, more power f—ing to you. Whatever, man. If you wanna come just to Coachella parties, and that’s your thing, do your thing. Whatever gets your clock ticking is good with me.
What does the rest of your day look like? What performances are you seeing?
Let’s see, what do I want to see? Hans Zimmer. F—ing Hans Zimmer really badly. I wanna go check out Kaytranada and Kendrick [Lamar]. I have to see Kendrick. [In a grand voice:] Let it be known, that, you know what I mean, Kendrick used to open up for me, it’s really nice to see him out here doing well. [Laughs] Yeah, man, I’m just excited to see shows. I’m a trooper. Just give me a bottle of water and a place to stand.
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