Miguel interview: From teenage preacher to California R&B star

"I want to be a popular artist. I want my music to reach the masses."

Spiritual Cali R&B star and former teen preacher Miguel tells Jordan Bassett about latest album ‘War & Leisure’, being compared to Prince and that time he landed on two women at the Billboard Music Awards

‘War and Leisure’ is more straight-up and fun than your experimental 2015 album ‘Wildheart’. Why?
“I want to be a popular artist. I want my music to reach the masses – I think that’s the better way of saying it.”

‘Wildheart’ won critical acclaim, but it was, well, a weird record…
“There’s, like, brand deposits and brand withdrawals. ‘Wildheart’ was a major brand deposit. It said something about what I stand for. The critical reception was incredible and I feel so blessed. It was definitely a different feel for me. On the human side, that was an adjustment. But I can look back at it and say, ‘I still f**king love this album.’”

What was it like working with Mariah Carey on 2014’s ‘#Beautiful’?
“Awesome. She’s probably one of the most underrated people when it comes to people knowing how involved she is in the creative side of things. She’s a really, really amazing writer.”

People are critical of her live performances, which often go viral for being subpar. Is that unfair, do you think?
“I’m not just being politically correct – I would say this anyway – we all want to see Mariah be amazing. I know I do. I think that’s all it is. When people see their idols and people that they love not at their best, they just want to see them at their best.”

You were a preacher when you were younger…
“Yeah, all the way up until about 16 or 17. It started when I was young, going door to door. That was my mum’s influence. I would go around preaching about the Bible.”

You say very inspiring things onstage. I wondered if that’s influenced by your background?
“I suppose it is. I think my overall desire is to help somehow. To hopefully find kids like me that believe in something great for themselves, but are dealing with their own struggles.”

On ‘What’s Normal Anyway’, you explore your identity as an African-Mexican American man: “Too proper for the black kids / Too black for the Mexicans”. Do you still feel that way?
“Yeah, but I’ve accepted it. I don’t feel negative about any of those things now. At one point, those are things that I struggled with.”

Do you think you would have still reached this kind of self-acceptance if you were, for example, waiting tables?
“Yeah, I think it has to do with your own work on yourself and figuring your s**t out.”

You tried to jump across two stages at the Billboard Music Awards in 2013 and, instead, accidentally landed on two women. That clip went viral. How did all that feel?
“Oh, man. Embarrassing. But… funny? (Looks uncertain) OK, embarrassing. I think it was the beginning of this part of the culture where the laugh is actually bigger [than the attempted stunt]. These sorts of things are actually good for you, you know? The spectacle of it. But it was terrifying. I carried on with the performance, because what else was I supposed to do on live television? I did the best that I could.”

You’ve been compared to Prince throughout your career…
“No one’s ever gonna be Prince. He’s the standard of excellence. Everywhere. He is the ultimate artist. The absolute student of music and everything else. Excellence across the board.”

Did those early comparisons ever put you under pressure?
“In the beginning I was like, ‘I don’t know…’, but I started to take it as a compliment and understand that no one’s actually expecting me to be Prince. I don’t feel like I’m trying to prove that I’m going to do anything close to Prince. Because I’m going to do my thing instead.”