ARTICLE JASON LAMPHIER
PHOTOGRAPHY BJARNE JONASSON
STYLIST ZARA ZACHRISSON
“Scuzzy” isn’t a word you often hear a style-conscious R&B musician use to describe his newly minted image, but Miguel isn’t your typical style-conscious R&B musician. “It must be all those Lower East Side bars I’ve been in,” says the 26-year-old Los Angeles native (full name: Miguel Jontel Pimentel), adding that most of the material for his thrilling sophomore outing, Kaleidoscope Dream, was conceived and created in New York. The singer-songwriter’s 2010 debut, All I Want Is You, achieved moderate success on the charts, spawned the Billboard-nominated single “Sure Thing,” and snagged him a Soul Train Music Award for Best New Artist. Whereas that record featured slick, West Coast–flavored production and focused on the ins and outs of his relationships, Kaleidoscope Dream presents a bigger, moodier, grittier picture of Miguel.
“With All I Want Is You, other things became more important and detracted from how genuine the music was,” he says, calling from London two nights before he is set to perform at the iTunes Festival with Usher, a mentor and recent collaborator. (He’s also teamed with the likes of Wale, J. Cole, and Mary J. Blige.) “There was so much talk about my sexuality, whether or not I was going to be around a long time. There were things that were getting in the way of the music.” The crooner calls his rebooted look “more mysterious,” “a little dangerous,” and “counter to the R&B status quo.” He sums up his latest release as “the pulse of my lifestyle.”
With Kaleidoscope Dream, Miguel is carving out a unique space in a genre that in the past two years has been plumped up and anesthetized by manufactured dance beats, or in the case of less radio-friendly acts, like the Weeknd and Frank Ocean, tugged down into a sort of skewed, mind-altering, morally ambiguous otherworld. Miguel’s music, refreshingly, teeters somewhere in between. Some of it is cloaked in prophetic-sounding high drama (“Don’t Look Back”); some of it is fizzy and retro (the Prince-influenced “Adorn”); some of it is downright pervy (the winking, faux-improvised “Pussy Is Mine”). The best line on Kaleidoscope Dream—and there are no doubt some great ones—turns up in its highlight, “Use Me,” when Miguel tells his lover in a rafter-shaking falsetto, “Baby, you can devour me, defile me.” The song is smoldering, and, yes, scuzzy, but it’s also unusually vulnerable, even for an R&B vocalist. Miguel may be hell-bent on getting laid, but he’s still scared to have his walls “come crashing down.” Many R&B singers re- and deconstruct their identities, sexual or otherwise, from one record to the next, an evolution of the self. But Miguel is at the mercy of his soft side, unabashed about how he sometimes feels exposed.
“I have always been the outcast,” he says. “I’m mixed heritage. I grew up in the hood during a time when racial tension was really, really crazy. I was always caught in the middle because of my culture: ‘Are you Mexican or are you black?’ My mother was really religious, my father wasn’t. It took me a long time to come to terms with me: What do I want? What am I? What do I represent? I was being pulled in different directions.” He considers Kaleidoscope Dream his reintroduction, a clearer vision of the real Miguel. “I think I was catching up to my music. I’d spent so much time behind the scenes. I knew exactly what I wanted to do musically, but as far as being an artist—I didn’t have a grasp of doing that and being myself. The last year has been me coming into my own.” He may be 2012’s most convincing horndog with a heart.
Kaleidoscope Dream by Miguel is out now on RCA
HAIR KAYLA MICHELE USING BUMBLE AND BUMBLE (ATELIER MANAGEMENT) GROOMING STEVIE HUYNH (THE WALL GROUP) PHOTO ASSISTANTS RYAN GARCIA, STEPHEN WORDIE, TAYLOR MILLER STYLIST ASSISTANT LUNA GARZÓN-MONTANO LOCATION SPLASHLIGHT SOHO