Since 2010, Miguel Jontel Pimentel has been at the forefront of R&B, mostly by defying any expectations placed on the genre. His breakout single, the heartbroken “All I Want Is You,” presaged the gloominess that would dominate R&B for the rest of the decade, but it retained a smoldering sensuality that made it feel less wallowing than its followers. Last year’s War & Leisure balanced apocalyptic backdrops with sun-drenched pop (“Pineapple Skies”), rumbling protests (“Now”), and late-night trips to the club (“Caramelo Duro”).
Miguel grew up in San Pedro, California, the son of a black mother and a Mexican father. “I’ve been in the middle my entire life,” he told Billboard in 2012. Indeed, possibility is his constant muse, as he writes songs that exist at the interstices of pop and funk, of politics and lust, of heartache and wonder. His four albums have a questioning spirit as their through-line, giving a glowing cohesion to his psych-funk shimmies, unbridled devotionals, carnal explorations, and vaporous soul cuts.
In the past year, Miguel has put his politics front and center; while nods to them were present on a few Wildheart tracks, the video for “Now” was shot right by the Adelanto Detention Facility in San Bernardino, California, which ICE is using to hold detainees. He also supplied the hook to Meek Mill’s “Stay Woke,” which calls for greater scrutiny for the American justice system. His protests are shot through with optimism, their hopes for a better world evident in their musical expansiveness and fearless vocals.
Live, Miguel is one of pop’s most spellbinding presences, his overwhelming charisma allowing him to command both festival stages and intimate clubs. He jokes with the audience; he flaunts his sex-symbol status; he gets serious about the issues facing his cohort; and he sings, with a voice that can soar into the stratosphere and then almost immediately retreat into something more personal. Miguel is a once-in-a-generation talent. Wherever he goes next will always be exciting.