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October 21, 2023 11 min read

“This is a beautiful, violent, joyous album and moment in life”: Miguel talks fifth studio record, viscera.


The Grammy Award-winner is finally ready to let the world in again.


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Words Nicolas-Tyrell Scott

Expression in its simplest form involves one showing us how they’re thinking or feeling overtly through words, or by a series of actions. In the arts, then, artists are often expected to be stewards of expression, more specifically artistic expression. Academic writer Tori DeAngelis asserts that the arts provide the artist with the opportunity to “explore the inner inspirations and depths” noting the affinities that aspects of the wider world have for artistic displays of expression.

R&B-experimentalist Miguel is musically ready and waiting to shed the most intimate parts of himself as he approaches the release of his fifth studio album VISCERA. “Art is a service-led job,” he states vehemently, pausing before he continues as the morning progresses in Los Angeles. His urgency is felt, beyond our 5,000 plus miles in distance at this time, it’s more than a fickle sentiment, but instead forms the basis of his overarching praxis as not only a musician but a person too.

“It's through expressing as truly as we can and as purely as we can that we are of service to our audience and our audience can evolve, and it really is about more of those that connect most with our honesty. I think that’s why we can see works of art that we don’t understand, but we can feel deeply and when we hear works of art, even if they aren’t in our given language, we can connect deeply with them.”

But Miguel has always felt across his over twenty-year span in music. “Sure Thing”, what most regard as his bonafide entry into mainstream music, was a record that wasn’t first intended for mass consumption because of how intimate it was. In the bashful, but urgent 2010 single, Miguel is embracing of love and how liberating and hopeful it makes him feel. “There is an optimism that you have when you feel the kind of love that has no limit,” he said when talking about the song earlier this year.

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 The world though has changed since Miguel’s arrival, for not just himself, but artists and creators globally. With the advent of social media platforms at the turn of the millennium began a shift in the way everyone expresses themselves, moving the physical into digital media. Moments outside of the realms of craft become YouTube vlogs, arguments become Twitter/X threads and the expectation of artists then was to provide intimacy for their fans not just offline through meet and greets, but now online en-masse. The pandemic superimposed that. Some stars, like Will Smith, have leaned into it, in the past, mastering various social platforms with ease, whilst others — think Frank Ocean and Sampha — veer away from them, only utilising them around album promotional cycles.

Miguel, as of late, has been noticeably active on these platforms, displaying impromptu posts for the world to consume. Hours before our meeting, for example, his cat Muchie made a sporadic appearance on his Instagram Story. He’s warming to the idea of letting go and wrestling with his reliance, outside of music, to keep a barrier between his personal life and the all-consuming contemporary world. He is, however, reframing his thoughts about this tension entirely. “Look man, I’m typically very to myself, I like to keep my life and private life private for the most part. But there are things that I’m excited to share that are personal to me. My cats are like my kids.” Bambi, his other cat, wasn’t posted, but Miguel enthuses that he’s a very enthusiastic ‘cat dad’. He’s thoughtful across our discussion and in dissecting the social media landscape and is slowly converting to the idea of it, simply moved to share the finer moments, if it feels right to him.

One of the newer social media providers, TikTok, gave way to an unexpected metamorphosis in Miguel’s career earlier this year, officially contributing to the revived sleeper hit status of “Sure Thing” after the track exploded on the platform. Informed of its newfound success by Mark Pitts – the executive who first signed Miguel and now the President of RCA Records and Miguel’s A&R – both of them watched on as the song eventually reached the apex of the US pop airplay chart and subsequently graduated from its former Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs #1 status to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. Looking back on the version of Miguel who crafted the song 16 years ago, he notes his meticulous demeanour and drive for music in 2007. “I was hyper-focused, delusional, determined. Very naive. A thicker skinned, clearer visioned-person looking back, few scars and stronger for it.”

The aptitude for the craft is swathed across Miguel’s entire career to date. It’s contributed to his pivotal role in expanding R&B’s palette across the ‘10s alongside contemporaries The Weeknd, Tinashe, Frank Ocean, Jhene Aiko and other architects, with Miguel strongly infusing components such as new-age funk, rock and hip-hop into the ether both honouring the genre, but also moving it forward. “Waves” and particularly its Travis Scott-assisted remix, for example, utilised a typical concoction of soulfully-crafted runs — Miguel yearning for the thrill and euphoria of good sex — with subdued forms of progressive rock, electronica and trap, the pair quickly finding natural synergy, complimenting each other over 808’s, electric guitars and synthesisers throughout.


Scott appears once again, on Miguel’s last album, 2017’s War & Leisure, then providing his psychedelic trap to the balmy “Sky Walker”, solidifying the chemistry of the two even across a more hip-hop-laced package. It's these moments of artistic chemistry and variance that have made Miguel endearing and entertaining to watch in his exploration as an artist. It’s reminiscent of an older generation of song-makers — including one of his idols Prince, as well as Jimi Hendrix, Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott known for their pervasive and relentless contributions to music. “Travis features in the past have pretty much usually been ideas of mine,” he says, enthusiastically. “It’s always been crazy synergy when we connect. I think it’s just been on [‘Waves’ and ‘Skywalker’] a true uniting of worlds.”

Miguel isn’t shying away from this canvas, still limitless and beyond the restrictive and ahistorical monikers of solely R&B, he explores trap once more, this time, an even more elusive, hypnotic, and fun creation is concocted. Lil Yachty, an animated addition to the subgenre’s eco-system possesses a sometimes nursery rhyme, childlike approach to music — even if his last release reframed his abilities as a more “serious” rapper. On the recently released, Miguel-fronted “Number 9”, Yachty compliments Miguel’s tranced vocals adding playfully provocative cadence into the equation in his ad-libs and half-sung half-rapped omnipresence throughout. Acting as the second of VISCERA’s singles, Yachty was brought to the table because of his own musical output.

“Number 9”, beyond its musical makeup, tells the story of renewal and re-awakening, with Miguel remerging for VISCERA. Of the wider album, Miguel sees the project as an emotional and spiritual “upgrade” in both who he is and in his progression as an overarching creator. Newness for the most part has come to inform that transition — in multiple terrains. Last October, Nazanin Mandi, Miguel’s former spouse made their second separation permanent, filing for divorce due to “irreconcilable differences” meaning that for the first time in 18 years, the path to Miguel’s singlehood is now binding. But loss also comes in the recent passing of grandparents on both sides of his family. Forming the first intimate deaths in Miguel’s purview, they expectedly took a toll on him.

“The deaths in my family, the transition in my romantic life at this point and my personal life – there was a want to understand my choices better,” Miguel admits, slightly solemn at this point but self-assured in his reflexiveness. After a moment, he continues to interrogate. “Having help with all of that with therapy, [I found] there are revelations in situations and lessons in situations if we choose to pay attention to them, they can inform massive growth. I’m still learning and wanting to apply the things that I’ve learned.” Miguel is eager to dissect. At multiple junctures in our dialogue, he expresses the willingness to lean inward and cultivate and understand who he is as a person. It’s more than the previously mentioned responsibility to audiences, it translates as an unwavering commitment to learning about oneself.


Where music is concerned, he employs particularly his romantic pastures as a medium for honesty. The soft-rock-seeped “Always Time” is one of the best displays of Miguel’s vocals across the VISCERA preview I received prior to our interview; the sobering, disciplined vocals of the 37-year-old exhibiting both passivity and exhaustion, a ceasefire when his layered whims ponder love meaning letting go. “When you love this hard and cry this hard, and it’s still not enough” is one of the more prominent admissions throughout also. Juxtaposed with the ambition in “Number 9” are the realities of a nearly two-decade relationship — an abundance of effort and commitment, one that can and does leave room for emotional healing.

“When you have a partnership, showing up as a whole person should be a bassline.” Reflecting on the concept of relationship in totality and on the album’s discussion of such themes, he extrapolates his point. “I think that the most profound thing in this time is me understanding that. Becoming that for myself is an ongoing process, but understanding how rewarding that is has been the most encouraging and sustainable part of all the ups and downs. [Being single] is something new to me now.” Despite the freedom, there are real feelings of loneliness, that Miguel admits, then quickly departs from optimistically implying that there’s a softness there that he’s becoming one with.

Part of Miguel’s hiatus involved other forms of personal work, one of those being an opportunity to visit native Mexico for the first time with his younger brother (and sometimes co-writer) and father in 2017. Powered by Earthworks, a two-part special, now available on Live Nation’s YouTube, sees Miguel reunite with his Mexican family. “I’ve performed in a lot of local places, and I haven’t felt the kind of nervousness I’ve felt at the radio station,” he says, as he performed in Spanish for Catedral de la Música 91.7 FM during his visit. Calling the experience a “no-brainer”, he’s audibly excited as he recalls it.

“I f*cking loved everything,” he laughs. There was minimal angst about recording the process, as Miguel welcomed the documentation of something important to his evolution as a person. “[Mereditch Danluck] was the creative director at Viceland at the time and her husband Jake was the DP for the show and I already had a great vibe with them. The framework of it was really good and safe for me, so it made it really easy.”


“Te Lo Dije”, a 2019 EP, included five of Miguel’s War & Leisurealbum tracks in Spanish. When asked if the trip, or meeting his Mexican family prompted the release, Miguel pushes back. “Honestly, the biggest personal takeaway from the trip was, I felt like I didn’t need to prove anything or do anything in Spanish. Imposter syndrome isn't the way of saying it but if I all of a sudden started doing big projects in Spanish, I feel like it would’ve been looked at as a commercial endeavour.” At the time, Miguel rightfully points out that there was a revival in Latin and Spanish-speaking artists at large. With a cluster of acts breaking through like Bad Bunny, Karol G, Rosalia, and J Balvin across Europe and American territories, a bonafide leap into the space with a new LP might have been received as disingenuous and aptly-timed to pocket on the incentive.

However, Miguel will engage in Spanglish and infusion of outright English and Spanish as he wishes, it appears — VISCERA being no exception. Sing-rapping about his desire for playful sex on “The Killing”, in emails after our interview he notes that Spanish felt natural to infuse here. Nested amongst his bilingual humble brag is Miguel at his most playful in relation to production and with subject matter. Recalling its construction, he says: “I asked to grab various size Chains from a hardware store. It was a fun idea and fit the sonic idea well. We tried a few methods and most of what we kept is the chains being dragged on the floor.” Seemingly playing into kink culture, the number provides clarity that VISCERA’s overarching thematics share connective tissue with his previous output even in light of life changes. Take 2015 LP Wildheart, for instance, his most sexual project to date, but also his most exuberant as it pertains to vocals. On album tracks “FLESH” and “NWA” he traded vocal play for lab experiments with sonics when making the subject matter of sex fun for listeners.

In a way, VISCERA feels like an open-door safe space. Part of that lies within the album's collaborator list, comprising the likes of DJ Dahi, Bryan Warfield, Carter Lang, and Brook D’Leau who help it feel foreignly familiar. These aren’t just frequent collaborators on previous Miguel releases, but what he calls “framily” (friends and family). “This wasn’t by design, but by the energy that came together. These are the people who have been my close friends in this transitional era. This transformational time. I think this album is very much a metamorphosis. They all represent the care, safety, and intimacy that my growth, in all senses, requires. They help make these songs as emotional as they can be.” A sense of gratitude engulfs the call with Miguel, once again, getting tender. The empowerment around his project doesn’t feel indoctrinating, but more so earnest and inspiring. Miguel feels like a man venturing through life as an ever-evolving life’s work, willing to confront the uncomfortable procedurally.

Controversially, in August, Miguel went viral once more — this time for his visual VISCERA experience live from Los Angeles. With a viewer discretion warning provided, Miguel partook in body suspension with hooks inserted into his back. With many visibly shocked, commentary online questioned the act and the rationale. Miguel has seen the responses and welcomes them. “This is a beautiful, violent, joyous, album and moment in life and this lets audiences in a new way. The event was meant to let people into the tonality of where we’re taking this. It gives audiences a chance to get closer to me and me to get closer to them.”

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Miguel makes the distinction between fans and audiences throughout our conversation, he views his community of listeners as people on equal footing as opposed to feeding into a hierarchy. This also relates to how he now views fame, notoriety, and interrelated topics. “I think in my life now, just having an audience is way more interesting and freeing,” he begins. He distinguishes a time in life when he did this but in the context of trying to gain fandom.

Now he has attained an audience — even if that exists fluidly, and he is content with that. “The fact that I even have an audience at all is a blessing in itself. My interfacing with all of this is making the work that’s true and those that connect with it truly will connect with it. Trusting in that is the most cathartic part of my process now.”


Interview taken from Man About Town Autumn/Winter 2023.

Photography by Domen & Van de Velde
Styling by Luke Day
Words by Nicolas-Tyrell Scott
Production Coordinator Andre Shahjanian
Grooming by Amber Amos at The Only Agency
Editorial Director Charlotte Morton
Editor-in-Chief Damian Foxe
Editor Andrew Wright
Art Director Michael Morton
Production Director Ben Crank
Producer Isabella Coleman
Production Intern Lola Randall
Photography Assistant Laura Berrou
Styling Assistant Elliot Soriano

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