By the beginning of 2013, nu-R&B singer Miguel had effectively made it without sacrificing self. The proof is in his No. 1 hit “Adorn” – 3:13 of sexy, yet soulful lyrics over a spacey synth, sub-bass beat – which garnered Miguel his first Grammy win.
“Progressive,” “avant,” “arty” – all terms used to describe nu-R&B singer Miguel, who, by the beginning of this year, had effectively made it without sacrificing self. The proof is in his No. 1 R&B hit “Adorn” – 3:13 of sexy, yet soulful lyrics over a spacey synth, sub-bass beat. With “Adorn,” Miguel managed to do the near impossible. He created a song that reminds critics of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” without any corny mimicry. The result – his first Grammy win, as well one of the best moments of music’s big night.
“Miguel, I don’t know who the hell you are, but we need to sing together!” Kelly Clarkson exclaimed during her own acceptance speech. “I mean good God. That was the sexiest damn thing I’ve ever seen.” It was a “genuine f–kin’ moment,” Miguel expressed to Rolling Stone post-show. While some stared at their television screen wondering how Clarkson was unaware of Miguel, others shared in her excitement at witnessing his talents for the first time.
“Right now R&B is filled with so many people singing songs that sound like other songs,” says producer Salaam Remi, who worked on Miguel’s second release Kaleidoscope Dream, as well his 2010 major-label debut, All I Want Is You. “But Miguel is letting his art rule his whole flow, and that’s the best place for an artist to be. To me he kind of feels like Prince, where he’s doing this eclectic blend but still coming back to focused songs.”
The singer’s debut spawned the slow-burner “Sure Thing” and radio hit “All I Want Is You,” featuring then-newcomer J. Cole, but that outing was more formulaic R&B than Kaleidoscope Dream. “Being new to the industry, I think I let people who had experience guide me,” Miguel later said of his debut. “And after that learning experience, I came to the conclusion that you always have to go with your gut.”
The results of his revelation were a series of experimental teaser EPs, Art Dealer Chic, Vol. 1, 2 and 3. The free digital EPs saw Miguel giving fans a taste of what he’d been playing around with and prepared them for what was to come – the antithesis of a traditional R&B album [think: less Trey Songz and more Flying Lotus]. As for “Adorn” – the song that saw Miguel nominated for three Grammys, including Song of the Year, and winning his first statue – it’s a testament to the singer’s ability to strike gold on his own terms. “It’s the first song I ever wrote and produced,” Miguel told Rolling Stone last year.
“I get to use this [major-label] machine that’s not necessarily used to promoting gray-area shit to reach people who only know black-and-white shit,” Miguel explains. “It’s a great opportunity to educate people, not … only about myself, but lemme somehow broaden your palate and reprogram your perspective so that you might check out a different kind of artist.”