Miguel is comfortable as a shapeshifter. He broke onto the scene in 2010 with a parade of instantly rewarding traditionalist R&B radio hits, which advertised him as a strong songwriter but not necessarily an artist that stood out from the crowd. He transitioned out of that and into a series of EPs titled Art Dealer Chic, in which he recreated the sounds of ’80s R&B—from Marvin Gaye to Prince—and packaged them in a way that, as the title implies, produced an image that was cooler and sexier than the music he used to introduce himself to the world. He saw that vision through with his excellent album Kaleidoscope Dream, and then flirted with the idea of rock stardom on Wildheart, his most recent album, which he released in 2015.
That album had its charms, but it also unmoored him from a larger audience who knew him as an idiosyncratic but approachable R&B singer. Thankfully, he has always been eager to switch styles and has not stopped morphing, even in the small period of time since he returned in earnest with his first new music since Wildheart. “Sky Walker,” his new album’s lead single featuring Travis Scott, felt like an admission that he had strayed too far from his roots; a bubbly and effervescent single, it shares far more DNA with his best and biggest song, “Adorn,” than anything we heard on Wildheart. Even still, he has presented “Sky Walker” to us in new forms: as the meditations of a beach bum busker on Colbert , while a version performed on the BBC was itchy and mechanical.
With “Told You So,” his latest single and the second off the forthcoming War + Leisure, he returns to those Art Dealer Chic EPs, still some of the most exciting R&B music of the decade, when Miguel put an energetic spin on the classics. Written and produced with longtime partner Happy Perez and new collaborator Jeff Bhasker, “Told You So” is a guitar-powered funk song with a distinct attitude and squelchy, aquatic percussion that helps it feel fresh. This is the type of song that Miguel is consistently great at writing, and always different ways: as an organ-house anthem on the second Art Dealer Chic EP, then airy and tingly on Kaleidoscope Dream, and as a spiky rattle-and-hum on Wildheart.
Miguel doesn’t quite fit in an easy box as popular music is currently constructed. He is not pop and he’s not a rapper, but mainstream R&B is having its own existential crisis of sorts right now, too. “Told You So,” really, is just Miguel, which his history instructs us, is great.