Flush with boldness in the wake of his breakthrough success with the 2013 album Kaleidoscope Dream and its Grammy-winning, million-selling hit single “Adorn”—and the equally popular hit “#Beautiful” with Mariah Carey—Miguel aims to transcend the narrow definitions of musical “normal” with Wildheart, his perfectly titled new album on ByStorm/RCA Records.
Aiming to achieve more diversity and depth in his songwriting, with variations in topic and even a bit of lyrical allegory and introspection, he works with a unique mix of producers—some of whom he calls “the usual suspects” (Salaam Remi, Fisticuffs, Happy Perez) and others (Benny Bianco, Benny Cassette, Cashmere Cat, AK Paul, Raphael Saadiq) he’s vibing with for the first time. The San Pedro, CA native, whose full name is Miguel Jontel Pimentel, is credited as sole producer of Wildheart’s sexually charged lead single, “Coffee.”
Miguel’s multi-faceted thematic approach to songwriting on Wildheart, and the interesting dichotomy of feeling connected vs. feeling lost, is epitomized by two key tracks, including “Coffee,” which paints a picture of a romantic night that whisks by like a beautiful blur, while “What’s Normal Anyway?” in which he expresses his desire to belong and not feel alone in a world where being of mixed race (Mexican-American father, African-American mother) is a greater challenge than it should be.
Miguel explains “Coffee,” which he co-wrote with Brook Davis, as a memoir of a special night when he met someone unexpectedly who shares the same sense of humor, leading to amazing conversations and a sense of adventure that takes him and the girl form one place to another as they stay up all night. Its edgier, re-imagined alternate version featuring rapper Wale is called “Coffee (F***king).”
“It’s like there’s a real connection,” he says, “and it’s all so vibrant, all so thrilling because even though you’re connected, you know you just met so everything is brand new, and the world just seems to vivid and brilliant. You wake up in the morning and it’s just like, wow, something really happened. I was trying to paint that picture with the lyrics. I wanted it to be a montage lyrically of just an epic night. So all of those things, like ‘word play turns into gun play, and gun play turns into pillow talk,’ that’s my way of describing how it happened and what it felt like. I was hoping to capture lightning in a bottle and paint it.”
The singer sees “What’s Normal Anyway?” as the spine of the album, the start of the journey to being “wild-hearted” driven by the answers to a small set of questions. These are: What do you stand for? What do you believe in? What are you willing to sacrifice? What are you not willing to sacrifice? He believes that when we take the time to answer those questions for ourselves, we arrive at another question: “What the F*** is normal anyway?” And yet another: Why are we striving so hard to appease other people’s opinions of what happens or what success is?
“I say, ‘Throw away any need or expectation to conform to other people’s opinions, or perspectives, because the truth is normality farce.’ Normality is subjective. The moment we take the time to answer those questions for ourselves, what we stand for, what we believe in, what we’re willing to sacrifice, and so on and so forth, because we know who we are and where we stand, we’re more likely to make decisions that resonate with who we truly are, as opposed to making decisions based on other people’s opinions of how we move and act. That in itself is such an empowering and powerful disposition which I think is the position of anyone who has done or accomplished or thought of anything timeless, great, or of note.
Here’s the video of Miguel’s new single, “Coffee.”
“Nothing that matters in this world has ever been accomplished by being faint of heart, or by being fearful, or being conformist,” he adds. “It always took a little bit of delusion, a little bit of crazy, a little bit of wild heartedness to go against the grain. Because the truth is, being yourself is wild hearted, because no one will ever be like you. I think that’s to be celebrated, as opposed to being muted, or being edited down, or trying to mold ourselves to be single-minded with monotone ideals of what people should be. The tone of the album is more a representation of that, because I’m way more apologetic and actually the songs are so much more aggressive than I’ve ever been. And I think that’s the confidence that kicks in when you answer those questions for yourself. It gives you that. You approach things with a much clearer idea of what you want and how you want it. So, I think that’s why the album sounds the way that it does.”
In addition to this sense of self-exploration, Miguel brings a lot of career momentum into the release of Wildheart and his 2015 summer tour, which starts in Austin and includes stops in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The singer first hit the mainstream in 2010 with his single ‘All I Want Is You,’ from his major label debut album of the same name. The album’s other two singles were “Sure Thing,” which hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and “Quickie,” which reached #3 on the same chart. Miguel’s single “Adorn” from his follow-up Kaleidoscope Dream hit #1 on two Billboard charts, Adult R&B Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The longest running #1 in the history of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart, “Adorn” won the Grammy for “Best R&B Song” and was nominated for Song of the Year and Best R&B Performance.
Asked to explain his general process of songwriting and how he knows when he’s written a great song that will connect with the public, Miguel starts by claiming he doesn’t have a perfect response, adding “If someone has the answer, tell me, you know?” Upon further reflection, and hoping perhaps to inspire young songwriters who look up to him as an inspiration, he says the most important thing is truth. “Truth is often simple,” he says. I don’t know how to explain what truth is. But we all know what I mean when a truth is just very simple. It’s cut-and-dried. And that for me is what has worked the most, being true to my emotion and not editing, or watering it down to make it more palatable. I think your taste should inform the creativity.
“Other than that,” Miguel continues, “it’s also studying the music that you love, just really, really taking your time to understand why something connects, why this melody connects, or what’s the point of the repetition of this melody, or even little things like the way vowels are pronounced can change the way songs feel, or a word feels, or a phrase feels. There are so many intricacies that I think when it comes down to it, the best songs of all time to me were songs that took a really powerful idea, or resonating idea, and explained it in a way that was simple yet clever, and understandable by children and older people. In his song ‘As,’ from Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder sings, ‘As around the sun the earth knows she’s revolving, and the rosebuds know to bloom in early May, just as hate knows love’s the cure, we can rest our mind assure that I’ll be loving you always.” That is vivid and simple. A kid can understand that. I think that’s a great example of a perfect songwriter. He writes good ideas and, clever, simple explanations, and great melodies.”
Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also on Google+