“What’s normal anyway?” Miguel asks the audience of his sold-out Oakland show last Tuesday. Photographs of despondent, racially ambiguous teens shuffle haphazardly on the screen behind him. He’s in the midst of one of many inspirational speeches of the night, or “critical thinking,” he calls it, placing his index finger on his temple, “…if you will.”
I walk into Tuesday’s show as a big fan of Miguel, particularly of his latest album Wild Heart, which unless a deluge of magnificent releases occurs over the next few months will certainly make my top-5 of the year. But I know little about Miguel as a person. Professing to love artists without having any idea who they are or even what they look like is a strange phenomenon of the Spotify age, and makes seeing shows live extra special.
“He’s so fucking hot,” my friend Nick tells me before the show, shortly before we watch a YouTube video of Miguel head-locking a girl with his thigh earlier this year at the Billboard Music Awards. Given that Nick tends to ascribe hotness to anything with a penis and a pulse, I’m not expecting much.
I am therefore truly blown away by Miguel’s sex god status. In fact, I could write an entire post about his abs, which are shinier and more defined than anything I’ve seen in the “after” portion of a CrossFit ad. And a significant percentage of the audience appears to be in attendance purely to look at them, or, more generally, him. And I’m pretty sure I see a girl faint – a girl who spends her pre-comatose portion of the evening fanning herself with a glossy poster of Miguel that’s at least half the size of her. And Miguel caters to the audiences’ drooling stares. Halfway through the show, he rips off his white leather fringe jacket, allowing his sinewy abdominals to glisten under the stage lights for the remainder of the evening (while the fringe miraculously dangles solo on his mic stand).
I am also surprised by Miguel’s fan base – another interesting aspect of live performances in the Spotify era. Given his BNM status, I’m expecting stiff hipsters of the type to be racked with crippling anxiety when expected to dance in public. To the contrary, the audience is almost entirely composed of stoner Asians, people who, when Miguel launches into his monologues about his struggles with Otherness-with-a-capital-O, really feel him (and I might inappropriately join in the cheers once or twice). And when he infuses trap jams into his set – in between songs, underneath them, with seamless, body-bumping precision – the crowd can hang!
But what surprises me the most about Miguel’s set is his sincerity. Maybe I shouldn’t be taken aback by earnestness from someone whose touring album is called Wild Heart. But as I lump Miguel with nouveau RnB acts like The Weeknd, who is too numb to feel his face, and Frank Ocean, whose first single was called “Novacane,” I expect Miguel to be similarly sedated. And given my classically millennial assumption that drugs are the only rational way to explain peoples’ behavior, I at first assume that Miguel’s earnest excitement is due to his being coked out of his mind. (Nothing like a little nose candy to push you through those extra 500 sets of crunches!) Then, during maybe his fourth inspirational speech to a spacy MacBook-screensaver-esque background, I think he’s tripping. But my Internet research reveals no obvious drug habit; instead, the singer cites Transcendentalism as his mind-soother of choice, and it turns out his song “Do You… [Like Drugs]” is really just a metaphor for love…. But then I do more Internet research and realize he was arrested for a DUI, but, for real, who hasn’t?
This is all to say I’d highly recommend seeing Miguel’s Wild Heart tour live, particularly if you, like me, are charmed by meandering soliloquies, trippy visuals, and all white threads, and have never really felt like you fit in. In the end, his live show begs the question: “what’s normal anyway?”
By Anna Dorn
Photograph courtesy of defpenradio.com