'There's No Box For Me': Miguel On Embracing Difference

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Wildheart is the follow-up to Miguel's 2012 breakout album, Kaleidoscope Dream. (Daniel Sannwald)
Wildheart is the follow-up to Miguel's 2012 breakout album, Kaleidoscope Dream. (Daniel Sannwald)

On his last album, Miguel sang songs that swooned with the emotion of a first kiss. Wildheart, the new album by the Grammy-winning R&B artist, takes things a little further. While that sleek mix of bass, synths and soul that powered his 2012 breakout remains, the songwriting on Wildheart takes a much more personal, introspective approach.

Miguel is the son of a Mexican father and a black mother, raised in Los Angeles. He says finding his voice has also meant finding his place — a winding journey that stretches back to the standardized tests he took at school.

"At the very beginning, you fill out your first and last name and your middle name — and right after that, it's, 'What's your ethnicity?'" he tells All Things Considered. "You go down the line and you start to realize, wait a second, there's no box for me. I don't have one. I'm other. And it's a real weird, subconscious way of reminding you that you kind of are different."

That sense of difference manifests in songs like "what's normal anyway," where the singer recalls a childhood spent between worlds: "Too proper for the black kids, too black for the Mexicans ... Too opinionated for the pacifists, too out of touch to be in style." Miguel says those lyrics reflect conversations he's had with himself in moments of solitude.

"My taste was just different. So I would get around my black friends and play up whatever the idea of being black was, and then with my Latino friends, I kind of played that up there. And it just wasn't, you know — it wasn't real."

And yet, Miguel says, recognizing difference can be vitally important. For him, it was a first step toward self-acceptance.

"That's what it's all about: being who you truly are, living in your moments and trusting your instincts. This album is a step in that direction for me, as a human being," he says. "At the end of the day, we're not here to please everyone. And for the short amount of time we have in this dimension, in this place, or however you want to say it, the best we can do is act on the things that we believe in."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On his last album, R&B singer Miguel sang songs that swooned with the emotion of a first kiss. His new album, "Wildheart" - well, let's just say it takes it a little further than that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COFFEE")

MIGUEL: (Singing) Wordplay turns into gunplay. And gunplay turns into pillow talk. And pillow talk turn into sweet dreams. And sweet dreams turn into coffee in the morning.

CORNISH: This song, "Coffee," is typical of Miguel's sleek mix of soul, synths and bass. Now a confident Grammy winner, his latest album showcases songwriting that comes across as more personal, more introspective.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S NORMAL ANYWAY?")

MIGUEL: (Singing) Too proper for the black kids, but too black for the Mexicans. What's normal anyway? Too opinionated for the pacifists. Too out of touch to be in style. Too broke for the rich kids. I don't know what normal is. What's normal anyway? What's normal anyway?

CORNISH: Miguel was raised in Los Angeles, the son of a Mexican father father and a black mother. He says finding his voice has also meant finding his place.

MIGUEL: In the United States, there are still standardized tests. And at the very beginning, you fill out your first and last name and your middle name. And right after that, it's what's your ethnicity, essentially. You kind of go down the line and you start to realize - wait a second, I don't - there's no box for me. I don't have one. I'm other. And it's a real weird, subconscious way of kind of, like, reminding you that you kind of are different. "What's Normal Anyway" was almost a conversation I was having with myself. That phrase came out of solitude.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S NORMAL ANYWAY?")

MIGUEL: (Singing) What's normal anyway?

I said, well, I just never just aesthetically fit in. But then, on top of that, my taste was just different. So I would get around my black friends and play up whatever the idea of being black was. And then with my Latino friends, I kind of played that up there. And it just wasn't - you know, it wasn't real.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S NORMAL ANYWAY?")

MIGUEL: (Singing) Look around and I feel alone. I never feel like I belong. I want to feel like I belong somewhere.

MIGUEL: But then, at the end of the day, you have to address your differences and get to a place where you can celebrate them, almost, and be proud of them and love yourself, trust yourself. That's what it's all about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FACE THE SUN")

MIGUEL: (Singing) I ain't a saint. I think you know. But I see a way I'm going to go. It's no debate that I belong with you.

This album is a step in that direction for me as a human being because at the end of the day, we're not here to please everyone. And for the short amount of time we have in this dimension, in this place or however you want to say it, the best we can do is act on the things that we believe in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FACE THE SUN")

MIGUEL: (Singing) I belong with you.

CORNISH: And you can hear Miguel's new album, "Wildheart," at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FACE THE SUN")

MIGUEL: (Singing) Yeah, I got a temper, but I'm just saying. You're pushing buttons just 'cause you can. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.