Sure, to fixate on Miguel’s Herculean, topless body might be unprofessional. After all, the R&B singer’s Tuesday night performance at the Fox Theater had so many other merits. There was his exhilarating charisma, which pulsed at the audience like a solar flare. There was his soaring falsetto, which peaked with such vibrancy that it trembled through the bodies of the audience like a — well, let’s not go there.
But the truth is that any conversation about Miguel’s artistry is actually about his abs. After the R&B singer stripped and thrust for his fans — again and again — Miguel made his eruption of sexuality a clear theme of the show. It would be hard to believe any concert patron who denies sharing in this erotic experience, as if a 14-year-old boy were to insist that he reads Playboy for the witty articles.
In front of an intergalactic print and a rock band cloaked in white, Miguel strutted onto the stage. His own all-white ensemble consisted of a biker jacket with feathers running down the arms — like the limbs of a flamingo — and uncomfortably tight, distressed jeans. There was a heavy irony to the motif of white, an evocation of purity. And of course, he was shirtless.
Miguel began his set with the power ballad, “A Beautiful Exit”. This first song swirled into an amorphous medley. He swept through so many minute-long cuts from his latest album, Wildheart, that it was impossible to keep track of what he was singing.
Yet, his song choice never seemed to matter. Miguel’s sex appeal could fill a stadium all on its own. His stage presence evoked the riotous eroticism of rock legends such as Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury.
With this heritage, Miguel’s Saint-Laurent aesthetic and his newfound embrace of rock and roll felt so appropriate. For most artists, an evolution into stadium rock is a step backward into convention — a sound that draws radio play and bigger concert crowds. For Miguel, this artistic direction has been natural and liberating. At the show, he seemed to glide on those guitar-solos to a heaven where he could admire his own abs without shame.
His unique take on stadium rock captures the strange nuances of Wildheart and its accompanying tour. Everything that felt gratuitous became so necessary. For instance, before his autumnal mood poem, “Leaves,” he stood on a platform, staring into the spotlight, with his silky, unbuttoned shirt flowing in the wind. He belonged on the glossy cover of a trashy, Harlequin novel. Yet, just like his stadium rock aesthetic, his glistening abs were not a cheap trick to win new fans. His sexuality is a complex answer to his ongoing existential crisis.
Throughout the night, Miguel explained his philosophy of the Wildheart. His song, “What’s Normal Anyway,” explores his problems of cultural identity — “Too proper for the black kids, too black for the Mexicans.” Before he sang, he asked people to recite empowering messages such as “I will believe in myself,” and “I will trust myself.”
Before, in 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream, Miguel was full of questions and insecurities — “What about lust? What about trust?” The artist finally has some answers for people in doubt.
The all-white garbs no longer felt ironic. Miguel stood there like a spiritual figure, preaching his own, eclectic brand of religion. He led his audience through a dark, expansive visual of space to a very sexy nirvana. With his shirt off, Miguel only asked for his audience to have the same self-love.
Miguel taught the audience that eroticism and spirituality are two sides of the same coin. Several Christian allusions popped out of his lyrics, and one might have never noticed them without the live performance. While performing “Coffee” during his encore, Miguel sang, “Now I’m swimming in that sin, that’s baptism.”
Miguel’s live performance is not a shameless moneymaker. It is a necessary guide to understanding the ideas in his album. All of his provocative decisions will click into place after he’s preached to you about the Wildheart. Go ahead and take your shirt off. We can all be thirst traps, just like Miguel, if we believe in ourselves.
Jason Chen is the arts editor. Contact him at [email protected]