April 15, 2013

JACOBS: While SNL Wanes, Miguel Shines

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I don’t usually find Saturday Night Live that entertaining. Every once in a while there will be a sketch that stands out — Jason Sudekis’ ‘Maine Justice,’ Christoph Waltz’ Tarantino spoof or Bill Hader’s puppet interpretation of the Invasion of Grenada (actually, Bill Hader doing anything). But, for the most part, SNL tends to come off as a little uninspired and oftentimes stale. Though hosts and musical performers can certainly spice up the formula — Justin Timberlake, on both counts — it’s hard to enjoy an entire episode.

This weekend was not much better. Vince Vaughn hosted, his first time doing so since 1998 (presumably promoting the still-excellent Swingers), but this time had no clear purpose for being there. His monologue was funny in a really uncomfortable way, and dragged on too long. Not the best tone to set in the first 10 minutes of the show. When he announced the musical guest, Miguel, it became pretty clear he had no idea who the singer was.

However, this singer quickly became the standout of the show, demonstrating not only his musical talent and confidence, but also a surprising ability to reinvent. SNL often gives the opportunity to showcase a different side of an artist, but Saturday was something on a whole different level. Miguel didn’t just subvert expectations, he rewrote them. If you haven’t watched the videos yet, do it now.

Miguel is by all definitions an R&B singer, but you might not have known that after the guitar scorched versions of his single “Adorn” and deeper track “How Many Drinks,” both off his newest album Kaleidoscope Dream. Miguel is no stranger to live television, having performed with Wiz Khalifa at this year’s Grammys, but the performance he gave this weekend was nothing like what he did two months ago. While getting introduced by Vince Vaughn is never the best way to establish your cool creds, Miguel proved to the entire SNL viewership that he is a powerful performer, one who was able to deliver radically different arrangements of critically acclaimed tracks and still displayed their innate brilliance.

“Adorn,” his breakout single, has been lauded since its release, and recently picked up a Grammy for Best R&B song, while also snagging nominations for Song of the Year and Best R&B Performance. It’s intimate, but large, and has a modern sound that ties into R&B’s past, but brings the genre towards the future. “How Many Drinks” is slower, and a little more traditional.

However, on Saturday night both were transformed into something new. Guitars took more attention, and deservedly so. The songs were a fusion of Miguel’s signature style and a new, rock-based energy and charisma. Miguel has a naturally crazy vocal range, but his SNL performance took it to a whole new level, showing the true talents of the artist as he powered through a spectrum of highs and lows. He also displayed a stylistic range, embracing the sound and positions of rock, which veered onto punk as his performance went on.

There is no doubt that Miguel has made his distinct mark on music. But this break in character on Saturday Night Live betrayed an artist who still has a lot to say and a lot of different ways to say it.

I would also like to highlight a different part of this weekend’s SNL: one of the sketches. A British punk parody, released in the wake of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death last week was a pitch perfect send up of the scene’s stereotypes. Fred Armisen played the fake British punk hero Ian Rubbish who, with his band the Bizarros, did a brilliant imitation/satire of — for all intents and purposes — the Sex Pistols. The video even included an interview with real life Pistol Steve Jones. Songs like “Hey Policeman” channeled both the language and the sound of the real life music, while the sketch’s identical recreation of the Sex Pistol’s infamous Bill Grundy interview showed a true attention to detail. It’s worth checking out for a funny, if not expected, play on the predominantly anti-establishment British punk scene.

Original Author: Peter Jacobs