Wonderland.

THE GIFT

Late-blooming by nature but always worth the wait, Miguel is serving up his latest in a hat trick of bedroom-mixtape worthy records.

Miguel

Shirt by SAINT LAURENT BY HEDI SLIMANE, scarf by HAIDER ACKERMANN and jeans STYLIST’S OWN

Like a priapic centaur, Miguel is stripped to the waist, bounding around a north London studio, trilling and nodding to the beat of spangly rap, stopping only to request, “the firmest apple anyone can find” and to have his cult curls carefully pruned around his cherubic face. As we take a seat on a sofa, he asks if I mind if he remains topless for the interview,“It’s kind of hot in here,” he says just above his breath. I remain buttoned up in my coat and try to remain focussed on his face. I don’t know why I’m so taken aback, this is a man who embodies the maxim,“sex sells”. His 2012 breakout album, Kaleidoscope Dream, was one of the most exciting pop-come-R&B records in living memory, bagging a Best R&B Song Grammy for “Adorn”- a track that’s just about getting your freakiest of freaks on, and his live performances have since become legendary; he’d mimic carnal acts on stage in glorious and attentive safe-sex detail, even down to the unwrapping and application of condoms.

So how does the man appear now, three years down the line? Physically he remains the same: that overwhelming pocket-sized piquant androgyny of Prince, crossed with a Tele Novella heartthrob; with his shrink-wrap jeans, bejewelled knuckles and inked-up torso. Miguel Jontel Pimentel, who has just turned 30, would argue that with his new album, Wildheart, there have been fundamental creative changes. “Both my music and my performance have evolved. I think there is a kookiness to who I am that I don’t care to filter out anymore. When you’re live there’s no, ‘wait’, ‘delete’ or being too cool. I always want to push myself to the end of my breath. Can I still sing in key, all the time jumping up and down?’”

Wildheart is a 70s funkadelic sonic-orgy that feels like an ode to the female body. If you’re looking to get lucky, I’d keep a copy handy in your glove compartment. On tracks like “The Valley” Miguel croons about coitus; “Lips, tits, clit,” he checks them off his to-do list. His first single, “Coffee”, is a thinly veiled metaphor for love- making:“Coffee in the morning, coffee in the evening” he intones. So when I push him on his sex symbol status, I’m surprised by his reaction. “Should we? Must we? It’s not about sex. Lyrically I shroud a lot of my relationships and aspirations in love and lust.” I’m not buying it. I push him again, “You know, it’s a compliment, it’s cool. I’ll take it, but, I’m two sides of a coin. I’m really goofy. I mean I’m so goofy. I can be slick, but really, really goofy.”

It’s not too far a leap to imagine the bulked-up shirtless man before me as the studious and quiet child he claims to have been. Besides his well documented physical diminutiveness he’s also softly spoken, gentle, precise, articulate and immaculately mannered – if somewhat away with the fairies. Born in Los Angeles to an African American mother and a Mexican father, he lived with his disciplinarian estate- agent mom following her divorce when he was eight, but he often visited his “ridiculously charming father”. “My father was always playing music and singing in his house – that’s where I get my talent from. I remember singing ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ in my father’s car with the windows down, just like, driving up the freeway to my grandmother’s house. He played me The Fugees, The Beatles, David Bowie and Funkadelic.”The influence of his dad’s eclectic taste can be heard loud and clear on Wildheart;“I mean it’s a lot of rock and roll. I would say it’s a little bit of Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop.” He pauses, “I’d love to do a Spanish album. I think I have a unique disposition because I’m ethnic and I’m Latino. I practice my Spanish as much as I can.” I ask him if that package isn’t a little ambitious. “Business is about being able to identify a market and I happen to be a combination of a lot of things, my outlook, my music, there’s a lot going on, to identify one market with me is difficult, it means it’s going to take a little bit longer.” I suggest he has the globe’s female population already onside. “That’s cool for now. There’s more women on the planet,” he coos from under his long lashes.

From 14 Miguel was in the studio. “No one really knew me. I wasn’t exactly making friends and hanging out with them so that contributed to feeling like an outsider.”Then something changed, “I was mischievous, a late bloomer at 19. I was in clubs doing crazy shit; loads of women, drunk and shit. Not so much drugs, but drink and wherever that led me. Can you imagine what I looked like at 19? I had like no hair on my head, no facial hair! What were those women thinking?”. He’s now very publicly in a relationship with model and singer Nazanin Mandi and has been for over 10 years. “I have my moments, I can be very romantic.”The relationship has clearly gone someway to anchoring a restless soul, but a less settled past still enables him to speak to a younger generation. “I can’t imagine what it’s like growing up in this time, where you leave school and you can still be bullied and hear everyone’s negativity.”

The idea of dreaming crops up regularly, as does the notion of leadership. “I’ve got something to offer those kids. I want to promote dreaming and doing something against the tide.” One track on the album is a sore-thumb in an otherwise erotic oeuvre and poses the question, “What’s normal anyway?”. “When you realise that ‘normal’ is subjective, you just think, ‘I’m going to do what the fuck I believe in and what the fuck I want’.” The lyrics reflect his sense of displacement: “too square to be a hood nigger … too out of touch to be in style … too far out for the in-crowd … I’m in a crowd and I feel alone”. “I believe what I have to offer is great and important in a time where attention is the ultimate currency; a lot of quality gets lost in the shuffle. Your ability to aggregate attention actually means more than your ability to do something meaningful at this point, and I want to be someone who can do both.”

“I want to touch people that love music like I do and I want to touch people who are into music more conventionally. I want to be a part of popular culture and I want to reach people who are intellectual.” There seems to be an internal battle between the eccentric underdog and the billboard success and some brushes with disappointment have made him divinely discontent. Miguel’s first studio album All I Want In You, released in 2010, was a flop, his second was huge. “I have a tremendous drive to continue to evolve. I always want to learn. I want to be better. I want whatever I do in this dimension, on this planet in this time to transcend my physical time here. My father has always been there, and he’s always pushed me to do anything I’ve wanted. How beautiful is that to have someone constantly tell you, ‘you can, you can’?”

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Shirt by SAINT LAURENT BY HEDI SLIMANE, scarf by HAIDER ACKERMANN and jeans STYLIST’S OWN

MIGUEL

Miguel wears jacket by SAINT LAURENT BY HEDI SLIMANE, shirt by HAIDER ACKERMANN, jeans by LEVI’S and belt and jewellery worn throughout MIGUEL’S OWN, Céon wears shirt by DSQUARED2, jeans by LEVI’S and jacket, belt and jewellery STYLIST’S OWN. Opposite top left: boots by JOHN VARVATOS and trousers STYLIST’S OWN. Opposite top right: jacket by DIESEL

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Jacket by JOHN VARVATOS, white cotton t-shirt by ACNE STUDIOS and jacket (on floor) by SAINT LAURENT BY HEDI SLIMANE

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Photographer: Hayley Louisa-Brown

Fashion: Warren Leech

Make up: Danielle Kahlani using KIEHL’S

Hair: Nicole Kahlani using BUMBLE AND BUMBLE

Fashion assistant: Clara Reinhard

Photographer’s assistants: Samuel John Butt and Céon Broughton

Hand Printing: by Labyrinth Photographic

Words: Nellie Eden

THE GIFT

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