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Grammy-winning artist Miguel on his viral TikTok track Sure Thing and his new music coming soon

 (Handout / Wyatt Troll)
(Handout / Wyatt Troll)

Grammy-award winning R&B singer Miguel started the year off relatively quietly, making the final tweaks to new material, mixing a new album. So it came as a bit of a surprise that one of his old tracks, Sure Thing, released as far back as 2010, has suddenly propelled him into the UK top 10. So surprising was it, in fact, that to start with he didn’t really even notice.

“I’ve been so tunnel vision on this new project and getting excited more internally with my collaborators,” he tells me when we speak. “I tend to be more laser focused in order to elevate the music.

“Getting the information that something of mine from so long ago is picking up, and exponentially picking up, week by week, is just fascinating.”

When he released Sure Thing, TikTok didn’t even exist (even clunky old Twitter was only four years old), but twelve years later it has provided the soundtrack, in a sped-up version, to a new dance craze on the platform that has sent the song global, propelling him into music charts across the world, including in the UK and New Zealand, as well as several European countries.

While relatively new to UK listeners, the Los Angeles-born singer has been in the music business for almost two decades, working with everyone from Mariah Carey to Tame Impala. The singer, who is of Mexican and African-American origin, took an early interest in music growing up.

Ultimately, it was his African-American mother’s R&B music collection would become his gateway to the genre. His father, of Mexican origin, exposed him to wider sounds of funk, hip-hop, jazz and classic rock.

“I fell in love with music very early on and I’ve always believed that music is what I was meant to do,” he says, though he’s also keen on art – “I love art – I love visual arts” – and movies. His hometown of LA has hugely influenced him, he says – his favourite film is Roman Polanski’s famous LA-set neo-noir Chinatown.

“It’s set in a time where the fate of Los Angeles was shaped. It stars Jack Nicholson when he’s really young and it just shows different layers of how seedy humanity can be – quietly – and how wealth can really shape cities.”

When it comes to music, though Miguel is known for R&B, his own listening tastes are more wide-ranging. “I’ve always had different taste,” he says. “I was listening to a lot of the cutting edge stuff that was way left of centre, out of the genre, from New York, like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.”

Sure Thing was influenced by legendary New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne, who during this period, Miguel was listening to frequently.

“At the time, it was around 2007-2008, Lil Wayne was having a real moment here in the States. He had a style that was very unique to him,” he tells me, singling out the rapper’s era-defining Tha Carter III album, which changed the sound of hip-hop.

Lil Wayne was experimenting with his sound during this period, releasing his auto-tune infused record Lollipop which hit number one on the charts in the States, pushing a sound that meshed R&B and hip-hop, and giving it mainstream appeal.

You can hear echoes of this approach in Sure Thing, which veers away from the traditional R&B sounds heard from the genre’s pioneers, including Texas superstar Usher, for whom Miguel had originally written the song, and incorporates a late noughties hip-hop flow – it could easily have been released by an artist like Lil Wayne, or rapper T-Pain at the time. For Miguel, who was trying to break into the industry as a bonafide R&B artist, this was a bit of a headache.

“Sure Thing was a very modern approach at the time for R&B; it was fusing a hip-hop approach in the writing,” he says. “No one wanted to sign me. It didn’t make sense to them. I think the industry was looking for, at the time, a more traditional [R&B] artist.”

The cream rises to the top, however, and the track would eventually get the attention of label boss Mark Pitts, who took a liking to it and to Miguel, and eventually got him signed to Jive Records. Even then though, additional legal obstacles would delay the track’s release for another three years.

 (Handout / Wyatt Troll)
(Handout / Wyatt Troll)

Eventually, the song came out in 2011, charting at number 35 on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts, but it didn’t make a huge chart impact in wider music markets. Still, his style of boundary-pushing R&B would go on to influence some of the genre’s most popular artists, including Frank Ocean and Janelle Monáe.

Miguel couldn’t be happier at the rapid, sudden ascension of his old material. “It was done through genuine kids and people finding the song. I’m grateful for people finding the song and making things with the song. It’s wild – it’s crazy.”

Various versions of the track have appeared since it went viral, including a popular sped up version. “There’s some really dope remixes that are unofficial that I’ve seen,” Miguel says. “I think I sound better sped up – we’ll release a full album at 180 bpm!”

The UK is a particularly tough market for R&B music, particularly for homegrown artists - with much of the mainstream chart impact coming from US artists. The song’s popularity is an indication of our changing listening habits, which have also recently seen singer RAYE top the charts with her track Escapism, after going independent and switching to the genre. Miguel says he hopes this is could be a pivotal moment for R&B artists in the UK.

“Big shout out to the UK R&B artists who’ve been doing their thing and deserve to be heard. It’s a big testament to how culturally, hip-hop and R&B really does touch a younger market. Black music is really influencing the world.”

With his new found popularity here, Miguel’s keen to get back to the UK for live shows.

 (Handout / Wyatt Troll)
(Handout / Wyatt Troll)

“The last time I played the UK was at least five years ago – pre-COVID. I can’t wait to get to come and see the variety and how many different fans there are. It would be nothing short of a massive blessing and so much fun.”

As for that album he’s been working on, yes, he says, new music is on the way, and his viral track has given him the momentum to get his latest project finished, he says.

“I’ll never take momentum for granted. For any endeavour, you initially have an idea and it’s exciting, but inevitably you’re going to meet challenges and that’s what makes it really hard to build momentum.

“That’s why people who are passionate and really love what they do are always going to win, because they love it so much that they push through the challenging parts,” he says.

“I’m putting out an album that’s exciting. I’ve always pushed for that – pushed for tomorrow’s sound.”