IN THESE TIMES of internet-induced cultural fracture, where one man’s kitsch is three other men’s kitsch but no one else knows or cares about it, daftpop holds dear those rare incidences of transcendent phenomena that happen OFF DA NET. I’ve been thinking deep about events which occur in what we once quaintly called “the real world,” mostly because of the CTU strike. Word up: I’m a first-year teacher, and I took part in the strike activities all week. The most astonishing thing to my 21st century brain was how word-of-mouth was the only instrument in gathering thousands of people together. No one emailed us about where to be or what to do. Our union reps just shouted at us through megaphones about where to be with often less than a day’s or a few hours’ notice; the details were often wrong or scrambled, and yet thousands of people showed up to downtown rallies, etc. Besides the strike, there are not terribly many things I can think of that occur without the aid of the Internets on some basic and crucial level.
AND YET (rough transition): there’s a song that is hot on the streets RIGHT NOW, and it did not need to the internet to become what it is. Like strikes in the days of yore, organized from a groundswell of the people’s will, this song found its telos, WIDESPREAD POPULARITY, by relatively primitive means. All around town, people are bumping this same jam. It arrived on the airwaves; radio djs astonished themselves by actually wanting to hear this particular song, introducing it by saying, “Wow, this is my JAM!” People called in requests; it frizzled on 15-year-old girl’s cell phone speakers; the kids danced to it out front of the Boys & Girls Club near my house. The song blew up. This song is Miguel’s “Adorn.”
A lot of white people I know don’t know about Miguel. He’s not an R&B institution like Ursher or Chris or The-Dream; he’s a minor player with caramel pipes who seems to find useful artistic constraint in making narrowly-themed songs, only really rising to popularity after last year’s “Sure Thing.” His song titles are indicative of what the song is actually about, and he does not deviate from the central idea, often resulting in tight, focused ditties. “Sure Thing” features a string of intricately linked things that are analogous to how Miguel and his lover are linked; for a song on the radio these days, it’s pretty clever, and it’s nicely phrased: “If you be the cash/I be the rubber band/ You be a match/ I will be a fuse, boom!” The other pairings go on to be a painter/muse, reporter/news, cigarette/smoker, raising bets/joker, etc. The beats are crisp, low-key mechanical pops backed by a timid altissimo-d out synth-line. It’s a little too precise to have the kind of organic fire one looks for in an R&B song, but its sound is distinct from both the old school Kelly-esque bump-n-grind and new-school synth-wall-of-sound of radio R&B. In other words, it was on to something.
ADORN is the next level, building on the unique clutch of sounds that made Miguel popular with “Sure Thing,” and expanding it into firmly adult-contemporary territory. And it is a fucking revelation. The first time I heard this song on the radio, I was just like, “Nuh-uh, did someone really do that?” Like a few other R&B adventurers out there, this song looks backwards to the much-maligned genre of SMOOTH. “Adorn” is so fucking smooth. Marvin Gaye-Curtis Mayfield-Fucking-Smooth. It starts with drum machine stutters, a fuzzed-out bass, and Miguel’s own organic vocal whoops, making for a “whispers in the dark”-kind of unassuming boogie. Like the analogies of “Sure Thing,” the lyrical content here is again organized in a clean, yet literary way, this time employing some low-key synecdoche: “Baby these lips can’t wait to taste your skin/ and these eyes can’t wait to see your grin.” Etc. But the loveliest, most elegant aspect of this song is the central concept, which is the imploring of the speaker to “let my love adorn you.” Adorn is such a good word for a slinky, out-of-time jam, like silk sliding effortlessly over smooth skin, or a similarly timeless concept of sexin/lovin. Most importantly, Miguel really SINGS as a come-on, teasing with vibrato when necessary, releasing the tension with a little belting, reeling you back in with whispers.
Isn’t it comforting to know that THE PEOPLE out in the REAL WORLD are still a force, a force whose will must be reckoned with, whose preferences and desires must be heard and acknowledged? The LOVE needs to be out there on the street, and not just stashed on a message board or…ahem… a blog, for all the world to partake of. Now, just le-le-le-let this love adorn you!