If you're a music journalist and you've written about R&B dynamo Miguel in 2012, chances are you've put the 27-year-old and Prince in the same sentence, as I have. And that's cool, says Miguel. Just don't get used to it.
"I'm offended for Prince because I'm such a huge fan of his and you can't compare anyone to Prince," says Miguel. "But if I'm associated with any ounce of greatness then that's a huge compliment - and that's what I think of when I think of Prince; I think of greatness, I think of timelessness, creativity, longevity, just unapologetic and unwavering sense of self. I can only hope to remind people of greatness."
There's no doubt that 2012 was Miguel's breakout year. True, he had shown promise on his 2010 debut album All I Want Is You, but it was this year's follow-up, Kaleidoscope Dream, that earned high praise from critics and fans alike, who unanimously seemed to agree that Miguel was part of an exciting crop of artists intent on saving a dying genre. "[Frank Ocean's] Channel Orange, [Miguel's] Kaleidoscope Dream, and [The Weeknd's] Trilogy rescued the art form from the monotony of 'baby, baby please' as Ocean, Miguel and Weeknd casually re-created it in their own images," wrote Rebecca Thomas at MTV.
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In many ways, that monotony Thomas writes of began when the self-proclaimed Pied Piper of R&B himself, R. Kelly, committed career suicide circa 2002. The game was just never the same – until now. As music journalist Erik Parker puts it, "Miguel's music came at a time where there was a wide open lane. He split the difference between Trey Songz' sex appeal and Frank Ocean's exotic and left-field style. He's pushing the boundaries in an artistic way that is not too much in the clouds. He's stretching R&B but it doesn't feel forced or too self-aware. "
With five Grammy nominations, including Song of the Year and Best R&B Performance for "Adorn," and Best Urban Contemporary Vocal Album and a spring tour with Alicia Keys coming up, 2013 is looking even better for Miguel.
But if greatness is what he's aiming for – and he's certainly moving in the right direction, as a singer, writer, and producer skirting the boundaries of traditional R&B - then Miguel has been influenced by more than just one musical great before his time, or "musical mentors," as he likes to call them. "I think that's [Prince] the easiest one because I guess I walk a certain line," says Miguel. "That and the ability to say really dirty things and get away with it," he adds with a laugh. "I'm like, ok guys, I get it, I see why you make those comparisons but don't forget Van Morrison, the Beatles, Donny Hathaway or Stevie Wonder, David Bowie or Freddy Mercury or Jimi Hendrix, or fuckin' Miles Davis, don't forget the Temptations and Smokey Robinson, Funkadelic, Hall & Oates…"
Born in Los Angeles to a Mexican father and African American mother, Miguel Pimentel was exposed to all sorts of music growing up - including Spanish oldies. "Every morning my [paternal] grandfather would play his records, just blasting lots of rancheras but then also boleros. I can't remember the names of the artists but I remember the writing style - I feel it's so much better [in Spanish]. It's so much more romantic and emotional."