Miguel Breaks Out: Billboard Cover Story Q&A
28 million viewers (and Kelly Clarkson) catch up to the best new sound in R&B
Kelly Clarkson was a testament to the power of Grammy music discovery when she said during her acceptance speech for best pop vocal album at last week's Grammys, "Miguel, I don't know who the hell you are, but we need to sing together. I mean, good God. That was the sexiest damn thing I've ever seen."
Miguel Stars in Our Special Grammys Issue
PLUS: Analysis on post-show sales bumps • a Q&A with Hunter Hayes and Ed Sheeran • a minute-by-minute look at social activity during the telecast • party photos from music's biggest weekend
She was talking about Miguel's performance of "Adorn," and clearly a lot of music fans felt the same way, as Miguel's single achieved its best sales week ever on the strength of Sunday-night sales alone, rising to 44,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, a surge of 229%. The single also won for best R&B song. His album, Kaleidoscope Dream, was a breakout hit when it was released last fall, debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and also one of three nominees in the inaugural best urban contemporary album category at this year's Grammys.
The impact of Miguel's Grammy moment was still taking shape when Billboard reached the 25-year-old singer at home in Los Angeles on Feb. 13. In the past 72 hours, Miguel had been approached by "a few artists I'm truly a fan of," but no one he could confirm. "The cool part is you want people to discover you. It's such an awesome opportunity and awesome time for that to happen," he says. "I'm on like cloud 12, man."
Congrats on winning your first Grammy. Since the award wasn't televised, where were you when you found out?
I found out in the car as we were pulling up to the red carpet. It was an "Oh, shit" moment. I had my girl with me and it was like, "How crazy is that? And I get to perform?" It was just a great feeling.
When did you know that the performance was happening, and how did you arrange to start singing the song from the crowd?
A week-and-a-half out we knew that we could perform. I wanted to make an intimate thing but I had a bigger vision about the crowd. I got to tip my hat to [telecast producer] Ken Ehrlich-he really had the vision. I did want it to be a stripped-down performance, and it really was genius of him to put us in the aisle.
So you win the award, have a great performance, Kelly Clarkson shouts you out in her speech. How did you celebrate?
I stopped by the Sony party-had to do that to say thanks. I've been to these parties for years, but this seemed like the special night. I actually own something. I wasn't just a part of it. So then I stopped by Chris [Brown]'s party to see Mark Pitts-he signed both of us; he's like my mentor. Then I went to my room. I had a suite, and I had all my friends over and family and we just partied. I didn't sleep until the next day, which was awesome.
All this success in the last 12 months means a lot to you, coming off how you began this whole process almost exactly one year ago with the Art Dealer Chic mixtapes. You released those independently rather than through RCA just after the Jive merger. Why?
In late 2011 I was like, "I'm going to put out a series of micro EPs." I just knew I wanted to put out free music and make it very quality vs. quantity, very personal. Make the whole thing a personal creative process from the artwork to the painting to the design to the production and writing-just for the people who discover music like I do online or my favorite blogs. We put out the first one at the top of February of 2012, and "Adorn" was on that and it got quite a buzz. It got a great response and Mark Pitts, my A&R, was convinced that it should be a single and I was excited, but I was like, "Are you sure this could work?" He was like, "Man, that shit is going to kill." And he was right.
GRAMMYS 2013 ON BILLBOARD: Videos, News, Photos + More
You had written the song "Kaleidoscope Dream" with Salaam Remi almost two years before the full album came together. How did that ultimately determine the direction of the album?
I wanted it to be as edgy and alternative as my lifestyle. I don't think I live the lifestyle that's expected of a quote unquote R&B artist. I'm just not that dude. I don't go to the club and pop bottles. I have my smooth moments, I suppose, but my life isn't like that. Honestly, I don't really listen to R&B music. I'm much more into lots of rock'n'roll. That juxtaposition was really important to highlight. Overall I wanted people to feel the way we would if we had a drink for the first time and we actually have a conversation. I wanted them to walk away knowing I wasn't going to give them my deepest, darkest fucking secrets, but that there was some character to my personality. So that when you do have drinks with someone for the first time you can go, "You know what, this guy is kind of cool. I like where his head is at."
Some of the songs are romantic, others are more overtly sexual. How much were inspired by your own seven-year relationship, and what does your girlfriend think of some of those songs?
"Pussy Is Mine" was not her favorite song. That whole song was freestyle. What makes it interesting is the juxtaposition of ego and vulnerability. It's kind of rolled in this vulnerability, wanting to claim it -- "Tell me that it's mine" -- but it's also out of this vulnerable need: "I want to feel I'm the only one in this moment." I've really been there. It felt like such an honest moment.
You're about to go on tour with Alicia Keys. You'd worked with her on "Where's the Fun in Forever" for your album, so did that opportunity come about through the collaboration?
She just laid it on me. She really came out upon gearing up for the release of Girl on Fire. She just kind of asked me, "Hey, would you be down to come out?" And I said, "Absolutely." We had enough time to really appreciate and respect each other's integrity as musicians. I really love her as an individual, and she's a light amongst a lot of the bullshit in this whole thing. I'm really excited and honored that she invited us out. We'll do our damnedest to work the crowd up before she plays.
So, since you're about to tour with Keys, you may know that her secret for voice lubrication is melted gummy bears. Do you have any rituals of your own for keeping that falsetto intact?
Nothing as good as that, but all-natural honey is my favorite. And then an apple before I go on. What are those pink and yellow ones? Honeycrisp. You know what else I like as an alternative? Nectarines. It's a similar texture, especially when you get a good nectarine.
An artist you may have worked with is Beyonce. What's the story behind that photo of you two in the studio last fall?
Have I worked with Beyonce? [laughs] I was really nervous to ask her, that was all, I just asked her to take a photo with me and she was really sweet about it. That's all I can say. I've honestly never worked with Beyonce. It would be awesome, though, I would love that.