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Yesterday, I caught a couple of clips of Miguel on Saturday Night Live and I still can’t tell him apart from Bruno Mars.

And I’m not saying that because they are both are…er…well, brown singers in a field dominated by black  or white folks. I am well aware that they don’t look anything alike. In fact, both singers do have their own distinctive appearance. Mars has an old-school Elvis Presley at a Sock Hop-type of flare about him, whereas Miguel’s style reminds me of an extra from The Fifth Element. My issue is that they both have that soft, airy voice reminiscent of El Debarge, and both perform this R&B-lite type of music, which while entertaining, is not the R&B we are most familiar with. And that means, vocally, there is not much that sets them apart.

I have had a hard time distinguishing between the two vocally since Miguel first came on the scene and dropped “All I Want is You.” I was at work and a co-worker, who was working but not really “working” at her desk at the time, was watching music videos. Familiar with the song from the radio, I walked by quickly, glanced at the screen and said, “Why does Bruno Mars have on a cowl neck shirt?” My co-worker laughed. She said it wasn’t Bruno Mars but Miguel and I was like, “What’s a Miguel? And she said, “He’s the guy that sings some of those songs you think are Bruno Mars’.” A couple of months later, I’m Google searching for my favorite campy song at the time, “Beautiful Girls” – except that was not the name of the song, and I had no idea who the rapper on the track was. I did, however, know that Miguel was on the chorus, but that was until Google responded, in that highlighted and italicized snarky sort of way, asking, “Nothin’ On Youwith Bruno Mars?

Google you smart a**, of course that is what I meant! Shortly after, Miguel stopped getting radio play and kind of faded away into the musical background and I was relieved – not that I didn’t like him as an artist, but at least I wouldn’t have to go through the torment of trying to distinguish between the two anymore. To me, the music industry had spoken and Bruno Mars would be the token El Debarge-esque sounding brown-skinned singer on the scene from now on. At least that’s what I thought…

Fast forward to a few months ago when I’m out having drinks with the same coworker and she says, “You know whose album you need to get? Miguel’s!” I said out loud, “For real? Damn! I thought we got rid of him for good.” And then she responded saying, “I thought you liked Miguel? You are always around the office, humming the chorus to “Lotus Flower Bomb.”

From that moment on I was thoroughly confused, because after all of that time I was singing the song, I was thinking that Mars was on the hook. I tell her she is a liar. She pulls up the discography on the phone and proves it to me. Later that night, I’m driving home, still reeling from the shock, and “Adorn” comes on the radio. I instantly become completely frustrated and dismayed. Is left really right? Is up really down? Who the hell sings this song: Miguel or Mars?

Maybe it is an age thing. Perhaps I am too old to relate fully to today’s R&B music. Admittedly, as much as I try, I just don’t jive completely with the unromantic and non-committal hookup parties, which makes up a large portion of today’s musical landscape. This is particularly true of today’s R&B. I like to hear songs about love and the complications of love. To me, a one-night stand doesn’t need a song. Not to mention that everyone does sound alike. This is pretty much true of many top-of-the-chart singers outside of Mars and Miguel. I also think that the industry back in the day used to work on making sure their artists had their own distinct sounds. You might have compared Teddy Pendergrass with Marvin Gaye, but you never confused the two. The same with Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle. In high school, my friends and I were all about the hip-hop/R&B New Jack Swing with Mary J Blige and Faith Evans leading the pack for the ladies. I remember when we first heard their remake to Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” We had a loud boisterous conversation about whose verse was better than whose. It’s a debate that still largely remains unresolved today. The irony is that if we had Miguel and Mars on the same track, would we be able to tell the difference?


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