The Cali singer champions an R&B renaissance
By Larry Gilchrist
Special to MSN Music
Miguel doesn't make your father's R&B music -- but rather your grandfather's. The California native, who released "Kaleidoscope Dream" in early October, is one of a few R&B soulsters who are looking to change the current perceptions of the genre by experimenting with different sounds and becoming more emotionally vulnerable than some of their predecessors. With his current single, "Adorn," sitting atop Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, he may be on to something. We recently caught up Miguel to discuss his sophomore set, creative freedom and this new "R&B vanguard."
MSN Music: How does "Kaleidoscope Dream" differ from [debut album] "All I Want Is You"?
Miguel: This album is a portrait of my lifestyle versus a portrait of my romantic life. "All I Want Is You" was about girls that I dated and fell in love with. This album covers a much broader range and is riskier. It's more dangerous. It highlights my eccentricities more than "All I Want Is You" and it makes it more exciting.
How much did the success of your debut influence that freedom?
The radio success of "All I Want Is You" and the overall success helped the people that were at the label that were fighting for me -- to allow me to be creative. It was one of the tools they could always bring up if anyone ever questioned my direction. Not only was I able to spearhead what the album sounded like sonically and lyrically, I also spearheaded the overall art design and direction of the album, even down to the way that the album was delivered to the people. They allowed me to do my own thing with releasing [the] album in three pieces digitally. It was the success of "All I Want Is You" that enabled that, and it's much appreciated. It just goes to show that hard work, determination and creativity go a very, very long way.
Did that success become a double-edged sword? Did it also create more pressure for this album?
To be honest, it wasn't a double-edged sword. It just felt natural. At the end of the day, any artist, as long as they're proud of their art and they believe in it, it makes any outside opinion null and void. Not necessarily null and void but you don't take any opinion personal -- good or bad -- because you're proud of the effort that you made.
Was selecting "Adorn" as the first single from this album a part of that freedom?
To be completely honest, when Mark Pitts, my A&R rep, said, "You know 'Adorn' has to be the first single." I said, "You really think so?" I was kind of taken back. It was a pleasant surprise because even after listening to the song in the car, I thought, "How wild would it be for this to be a single?" And low and behold, I was getting this call from Mark Pitts. I think the fans really settled it, and today it's been my most impactful record. It's still really connecting on a lot of different levels, which is really dope and kind of crazy to watch at the same time. It's amazing to have something so personal become so public and, at the same time, become a part of other people's lives.
I welcome what that suggests more than anything. I welcome that title in that it suggests a creative approach, simply because that was the approach. Hopefully, we don't have to be categorized. Hopefully, we start to shape the expectation of current R&B. I really do believe we're in the midst of a renaissance, and hopefully we inspire other artists who are on the brink of releasing or debuting or breaking to step outside of the expectations and limitations that have been placed on R&B. It's become such a stereotype more than a genre.
We've forgotten that rhythm and blues and soul inspired artists in genres like rock and hip-hop. Bands like Funkadelic, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Brothers Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, even Hall & Oates -- I can keep going. These were all R&B groups that were rooted in soul but were still experimental and had their own identity in the midst of it. It wasn't like they all sounded the same, looked the same and dressed the same. They were all doing their own thing but they were still soulful. I think we're in the midst of reminding people that that's what R&B really is. It's a genre, not a stereotype anymore.
That ties in perfectly to my last question. Artists are often defined by their live show, and you're on tour now. What can fans expect from a Miguel show?
It's a dangerous, enthralling, captivating and dynamic show. Every element -- every song, the set list, my band members -- is there to serve the purpose of connecting with the audience and creating an experience that's unforgettable. More than anything, I have always been a fan of great live performers. It's the best way to get to know an artist's conviction and who they are as an individual because there's no hiding. And to that effect, the show is really about me being vulnerable. It's about living in the moment and giving of myself in the hopes that I have the energy reciprocated in order to create a moment that is shared between stage and audience so it doesn't feel like there's any separation. Not every moment has to be that way, but there are specific moments where I hope to really, really capture the attention, the thought and the intensity and have people take it with them. That's the goal, so expect that when you come to see. Expect to be engaged.
I have had the pleasure of seeing Miguel perform quite a few times.
I am so intrigued by his creativity, the way his parents influenced him all around, his relationship with Naz, his wifey of quite a few years and his fan base which is a very mixed demographic; he is a genuinely nice person and it's something about him that makes you want to know more; he is on fire and definitely on his way to being a household name.
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