Since Mac Miller’s posthumous album, “Circles,” came out Friday, many fans have been convinced they heard Ariana Grande’s voice on the track “I Can See.” The late rapper’s reps responded to queries with a “no comment.” Now, his ex-girlfriend’s vocal cameo has been confirmed — or equivocally confirmed, at least — by the record’s producer, Jon Brion.
Asked by the New York Times if there were vocals of Grande’s on the track, Brion responded: “I believe there are.”
But he added that he had no direct knowledge of her contribution. “Somebody just told me something about that, some kerfuffle,” Brion said. “I mean, that was a pre-existing track. There were a few songs the family gave me that he’d been working on independently that I thought fit thematically with what we had worked on. ‘I Can See’ was one of those… I played some things on those tracks to make them feel like the others, but those vocals were already there. It wasn’t like an executive decision or anything.”
Miller and Grande went public with a romantic relationship in 2016, after first collaborating and saying they were “best friends” in 2012. She appeared on his 2016 album “The Divine Feminine.” Their split became public in May 2018. In July of that year, Miller told Zane Lowe of Beats 1, “I was in love with somebody. We were together for two years. We worked through good times, bad times, stress and everything else. And then it came to an end and we both moved on. And it’s that simple.” Miller was found dead of an apparent overdose on Sept. 7, 2018.
Brion, a respected film scorer and artist in his own right as well as a celebrated producer, spoke about the positives and challenges of piecing together a posthumous album in his interview with the Times.
Saying that he last saw Miller about 6-8 weeks before he died, Brion said that “the whole plan was he was going to go on tour and then, when he came back, we’d go into a large room and I would bring the instrument collection. We basically had an album’s worth of complete songs we had done together. The only things that were left undone were things that we needed to do in a bigger room than I had in Burbank.” After the rapper’s death, Brion said, “it was about three months later when I got a call from the family asking me to finish the album.”
Brion told the Times that “Circles” was intended to be the middle album in a trilogy. “There were supposed to be three albums: the first, ‘Swimming,’ was sort of the hybridization of going between hip-hop and song form. The second, which he’d already decided would be called ‘Circles,’ would be song-based. And I believe the third one would have been just a pure hip-hop record. I think he wanted to tell people, ‘I still love this, I still do this.'”
The producer said he felt devastated when he first listened back to some of the material they had recorded together when it popped up on his phone as he was listening to music on a flight.
“When I heard ‘Once a Day’ on that plane, it was like a knife in the heart,” Brion said. “I cried even when I was in the room with him recording it. And then, later when I was back in the room adding a guitar part or something to finish it, I would have to listen very closely to the vocal and it would just pulverize me. He was clearly trying to sort through his demons and was just being very, very honest, not trying to hide any of it. I feel like the album is a clear picture of somebody with those troubles who is funny and intelligent and was trying to look at them critically.”
The “Circles” album has been critically well received. In Variety‘s review, critic A.D. Amorosi said, “The occasionally demo-like ‘Circles’ is elegant and muddily crotchety, experimental, yet wildly easy on the ear. … What differentiates this new album from its immediate predecessor is Miller’s choice (or that of his family in tandem with Brion) to keep the proceedings uncluttered.” The album, he wrote, sounds like “a proper, meant-for-release send-off, and a swelling last will and testament.”