Miguel has always seemed like he comes from the future. The R&B singer’s music has consistently sounded stratospheric, but even the way he talks is rooted in ideas of machinery, upgrades and reconfiguring our internal systems – almost like he’s from another time or planet.
It’s coming up to four years since Miguel released his last studio album, the deft ‘War & Leisure’. Though he put out an EP of Spanish language music, ‘Te Lo Dije’, in 2019 and shared a handful of tracks in the interim, it’s largely felt like Miguel has been on an extended break from music. Indeed, in a recent press release he spoke about taking “a long hiatus from the business of music to reassess [his] objective as a creator”.
This time reassessing brought Miguel back to his old ‘Art Dealer Chic’ EPs – a three-part self-released series of delicious, explorative sounds that was first shared back in 2012. Earlier this year, in the midst of these everlasting lockdowns, the trio of EPs appeared on streaming services for the first time before Miguel released ‘Art Dealer Chic 4’ last month. A follow-up to these earlier collections, it brought soaring new sounds and feelings to his pre-existing sonic universe; much of which felt rooted in the year we’ve been having by being steeped in self-reflection and vulnerability. He described the return to the fan-favourite project as a chance to “take a look at [its] operating systems” and see which bits could be optimised and which should be deleted.
In the latest edition of NME’s In Conversation series, Miguel joined us over Zoom from his home in LA to discuss returning to ‘Art Dealer Chic’, the introspection of the past year and the projects he’s been working on beyond the music. Here’s what we learned.
The last year has given Miguel space to consider his relationship with creativity
We’ve all experienced some version of Groundhog Day this year, repeating the same routine and habits enough times to figure out what we might want to change. Or, as Miguel puts it, it’s been “a global pause to sit the fuck down for a minute and just really maybe consider… what really matters?”
For Miguel, what really matters has been rediscovering his love of the creative process for the sake of it. “Creativity is very much a bucket with a hole in it, and different things slow down the flow or speed it up. I think I needed some time to sort of refill and maybe even swap out the bucket,” he laughs. The pause has permitted him to re-evaluate his priorities, recharging and reflecting on what it means when your art becomes your business. ”It comes off as negative, like I lost something, but it’s not so much that it’s a loss – it’s that I grew,” he says.
The return to the ‘Art Dealer Chic’ saw him “optimise” his own operating system
Miguel sees the world and people in futuristic terms and compares humans to technology, discussing how, like phones and computers, our operating systems need to update every now and again.
“Coming back to ‘Art Dealer Chic’ was me going: ‘Let’s take a look at the operating systems, let’s see what parts of the systems need to be optimised, which ones need complete rewrites, which ones need to be deleted’. And then you can tweak. That whole concept starts at ‘Art Dealer Chic’. I was having this conversation with my fans, that you can curate your own experience.”
He’s been doing a lot of advocacy work around mental health
Last year Miguel spoke to various high schools about his struggles with mental health, and this month, alongside the likes of Trevor Noah and H.E.R., he’s been part of a virtual storytelling summit, Better Together: a space encouraging creators to speak openly about mental health.
“It’s been a real pleasure,” he says. “And really helpful in my own personal growth to speak about my experience… To be able to share the things that have helped me, to share that I’ve experienced it alone, I think is really cathartic. When things are avoided and taboo, to find there are these points of commonality, you realise there are so many people who experience these things who don’t really often talk about it.”
He says he’s rarely seen people in his field and from his background talk openly about this subject, explaining: “I think about the young me, and whoever that kid that can relate to my story is and how much it would have helped.”
Clive Owen and Julia Roberts approved the song ‘Triangle Love’
Sensual ‘Art Dealer Chic 4’ track ‘Triangle Love’ features audio from the incredible caustic interrogation scene between Clive Owen and Julia Roberts’ characters in the 2004 film Closer, when Owen’s character finds out Roberts’ has been cheating.
“As a guy I just related so hard to that scene, and I guess I was writing that song from every bit of personal experience in that situation. Who am I in every one of these positions in a love triangle?” Miguel explains. “I guess it’s just a fucked-up situation, and for whatever reason it made me think of that film. It’s one of my favourite films for dialogue… Clive Owen is one of my favourites, and he had to literally hear the song and approve it. It went through the studio, the director, we had to get approval from every level to use this. So knowing it was approved from the actors in the scene was kind of cool. I love them.”
He’s combating climate anxiety by working on sustainability projects
While on a musical hiatus, Miguel’s kept busy working on a host of projects beyond music. As well as the mental health advocacy and a forthcoming TV show about streetwear, he’s also an owner in technologies dedicated to transforming carbon emissions and single-use plastics. This includes Vessl, a company which supplies reusable closures, lids and seals for plastic containers in an attempt to find long-term solutions to minimising waste.
“I’m just looking at ways I can apply myself, utilise my creativity and whatever platform I have to bring in alternative solutions,” he says. “Because I think that’s the crossroads we’re at in humanity. We got to this point where we can share information instantaneously […] so now we have to start taking the information and start making the upgrades. It’s exciting to start to find these alternatives and make them more viable.”
Rather than being overwhelmed by the potential anxiety of it, he views climate change as a challenge akin to any other that humans have had to get through in the past. “I look at it like: ‘Hey, these are our challenges now’. Can I help meet some of these challenges, or at least inform people about them? How can I help? And if I do that in my lifespan, when it’s my time to go and they’re talking about the things I did, I can be proud about the fact that I tried to make certain ideas more viable and shed more light on challenges and the things we should be considering. The future’s gonna have its own challenges, but I know the challenges right here, right now.”