People are always talking about how gracious Miguel is. And we can vouch for that. Back in 2008, he picked up Bob and Will and the camcorder they borrowed from Will’s day job from the airport and showed them around San Pedro, where he was raised. His parents did a really good job at that. Will also has a story about running into Miguel at a restaurant, one of the ones that's really feeling itself, back when “Adorn” was popping off. They got there at about the same time. Will and his girl, both white, were offered a private table; Miguel and his manager at the time, both not, were relegated to community seating. Will says it was ugly. He says Miguel fell silent. He leaned back and took a deep sigh. He knocked on the table and shook his head. He was hurt. He got up and spoke to the hostess and told them he was disappointed and he left. We do not tell this story to praise him for his composure or his grace. We tell this story because we know him to be a regular person and we are seeing injuries of this sort happening regularly to people we love. We tell this story to remind ourselves and you that Miguel’s spiel on his latest album — do you — is no small thing.
There is a state people arrive at, usually after some years of some type of therapeutic relationship, when their bedrock beliefs, their most sincere explanations of themselves and how they move, when they say them out loud, sound trite. Basic. Boring. It’s a bummer, right up there with being forced to admit that more sleep makes you feel better and drinking a lot of water does work. The only compensation for realizing your mom was right this whole time is that the results of aphorisms like “If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else,” “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and “Yes we can” always vary. “We all want the same feelings,” Miguel told us. “But getting there is a very different thing for everyone.” The other thing that happens in that state is you don’t care if it sounds corny. Fuck it. It’s true.
“I've always had a really deep belief — I would just say I’m fucking crazy. I was just crazy enough to believe deeper than the odds,” said Miguel when Will pointed out that seven years ago, when he was 22 and shelved, effectively silenced, holding none of the, as he calls them, success indicators, like, say, a Grammy or a plaque, he expressed no doubt or bet-hedging or fear. “It helped to have a father and a mother who were supportive. My father always told me I could be and do whatever I wanted, regardless of what it was. Setting that in the mind of a child early on, I think, is invaluable. Just having your parents be like, ‘You can.’ Positive reinforcement is underrated, especially when you’re a child, because along the way a kid is gonna deal with so much negativity just in school alone, from his peers. I think if you don’t have it at home it makes it really really tough to be positive.”
There is a state people arrive at, usually after some years of some type of therapeutic relationship, when their bedrock beliefs, their most sincere explanations of themselves and how they move, when they say them out loud, sound trite. Basic. Boring.
When YT was just a glimmer in our eye, back in 2008, we shot a young hopeful in San Pedro. He took us by his house, told us about his family. He was stuck, then, in a contract with a label that wanted him to be somebody different. He was busy holding the line, a little flustered, but not shook. He believed. When we went back to him this summer, we found the same person.
Will asked him that time travel question — if he could talk to his back in the day self, what would he want him to know? “If I could talk to myself at the time, if I could give myself some advice, speak to myself in the past, I would probably just say normality is subjective. And the moment we let go of this notion that there is such a thing as normality — I think the better way of phrasing it is that normality is a farce. There’s no such thing.” Normality is also a con.
As Miguel has made his rounds promoting Wildheart, he’s hewed to this conversational line. All the outlets got the same thing. An amount of strategy makes that happen; we also have pre-RCA footage that doesn’t put the lie to what he’s saying now. Almost every interviewer also saw fit to mention Miguel’s manners. This felt weird to me. First of all, as Charlie Wilson would say, what you thought? And if the writers who find his civilities noteworthy because they have personal experience with other subjects acting otherwise then good lord we all need to do better. People have to stop letting people treat them like shit just because the asshole is accomplished or “winning right now” or she was here first. Everybody is everyday people until we tell them different. Yes, Miguel holds eye contact. Yes, Miguel listens when you talk and so he remembers to ask after your grandmother the next time you see him. No, Miguel does not behave as though you are an irritation. He’s professional, by which I mean he’s aware and in control of himself and he’s decided to do this today so that’s what he’s doing.
“I would be really fucking foolish to imagine that there’s not some musician somewhere WAY better than me who can sing and write and do all the things that I do much better than me that has not been discovered yet. There are millions of kids out there who are making music and discovering themselves and studying and so focused on music, right in this second, who are already way ahead of the game. That’s where their time and focus is at, whereas mine now is not only just music on but it’s on a career and business and my family.”
“If I could talk to myself at the time, if I could give myself some advice, speak to myself in the past, I would probably just say normality is subjective. And the moment we let go of this notion that there is such a thing as normality — I think the better way of phrasing it is that normality is a farce. There’s no such thing.”
This is another thing Miguel says that is both plain and urgently accurate. He is a superior songwriter and singer and showman. But any separation his talent pushes between him and people without talent comes from them, not him. Fandom is seductive, but it’s a false construct. So much of career and business runs off the energy of sorting people — what is cool, what is not OK, what is valued, what is gross. Gossip is a billion dollar industry. When Miguel is encouraging people who listen to him to think about what's normal, he’s taking shots at our entrenched material culture which depends on people hating themselves and buying things to mask the offending parts.
“There’s just so much noise, and so much direction and misdirection that a kid can find just in the palm of their hand at any given time of the day. Simple things like even finding the facts about a issue is so difficult. Imagine how difficult it is to figure out — decide what a kid likes because they’re being influenced at all times, and marketed to at all times, and being herded and directed in all these directions.”
Some people, a lot of the deciders, act like music is unnecessary. Impractical. After the fact. Like if civilization was a house on fire and we could only grab one thing before we ran out, we’d grab, like, maize or the assembly line or something. People think affirmations are for the weak and emoting is silly. People think that singing, particularly singing about sex and love, is feminine. People think feminine is one thing and it exists for only one reason. We are raised invested in what is bad and thereby what is good. People are very afraid of being sorted into bad, because bad becomes imperiled fast. We punish people for looking bad and we punish people who don't follow the rules. The rules tell us which of our customers to disdain.
Miguel’s out here playing the late night shows, doing all the phoners he can, hitting the road, beating that old drum called knowledge of self. This is how he's chosen to fill his time. “We can just kind of fall into a current and let it take us,” he says, talking through our options. “The more time we spend with ourselves to know the answers for ourselves and where we stand, the less likely we're just doing things because it is acceptable or it’s the general ideas of cool or happiness or success.”
Extrapolate. Remember who the real enemy is. Remember when you were a little kid. White people, men: divest. You’re enough, even when there’s nobody below you. Everybody: stop worrying about whoever's next. Nobody is better than you. You're fine. We gon' be alright.
Some people, a lot of the deciders, act like music is unnecessary. Impractical. After the fact. Like if civilization was a house on fire and we could only grab one thing before we ran out, we’d grab, like, maize or the assembly line or something. People think affirmations are for the weak and emoting is silly. People think that singing, particularly singing about sex and love, is feminine. People think feminine is one thing and it exists for only one reason.