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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Adorn" is classy 10s R&B at its best

Miguel's most successful song is a modern configuration of the genre, with an old-fashioned word at its core.

Okay, I am solidly in an R&B phase out of late. Today makes three tracks in a row to fall under the genre's wide umbrella, and this selection seems to be the most archetypal track of the three. That might be surprising given its relative recency, being a 2012 release, but once you take a listen and remember this track like I did, you may very well agree.

I'd forgotten about Miguel's hit "Adorn" for a number of years until it popped up on an auto-playlist a couple months back. When I finally did hear it, my mind instantly took back to a time before I could put into words how sensual the track is... or what "adorn" even meant. What I did know back then was how groovy it was, and even though I couldn't dance, I tried my damndest to move along to this one — just as I do now, even though I still don't have moves. Maybe that's fitting, though, because Miguel notably had a choreo mishap (to say the least) while performing this track at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards, which seemingly portended a downturn in his career... ouch.

Anyway, here's the track how I remember it, without a failed leg drop between stages:

"Adorn" wastes no time in its studio form, getting right into the beat and spoken opening. The various drums are light, but the reverb behind the higher elements gives the opening an icy touch. The opening words (which reappear in the background throughout) are filtered in a way that heavily reminds me of Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors" — which was released a year after "Adorn" — while still remaining understandable, despite Miguel's delivery being more understated than JT's. "She's art dealer chic" is a standout line which speaks to his love interest's high-class style, while also referencing the title of the digital EPs Miguel used to promote his album Kaleidoscope Dream ("Adorn" first appeared on Art Dealer Chic, Vol. 1 as its lead single, before being added to the album). The aforementioned elements combine to form a dreamlike soundscape, a feeling which is cemented by the spoken intro in the song's video, which begins: "Hello. I am your subconscious." Talk about hitting the nail on the head.

When the verse begins, "Adorn" is immediately filled by a driving, thumping, long-tailed synth bass which dominates the track from then on. I could hear its prominence from the first time I heard the song, which is quite the statement when you consider that I first encountered it through an old clock radio with a nearly nonexistent low end. While the bass grounds the track, I also hear it as detracting a bit from its dreamlike mood. In the verse, the bass comes off as being quite abrasive; I owe this feeling to it staying largely on one note and having a constant quarter note attack. When the chorus arrives and the bass climbs, this abrasiveness gives way to a still full, but more dulcet tone. Perhaps it's a quirk of how the bass synth was designed that led to such a difference between certain notes, but the lighter aspect of its sound does help to highlight how Miguel's vocals soar in multiple incarnations of the chorus.

As for the vocals themselves, Miguel's smooth tone calls back to some of his older inspirations. Chiefly among them is a richness richness like Donny Hathaway, but a brightness reminiscent of Stevie Wonder is also quite audible and makes for the praise-like lyrics throughout the track to feel exalting, elevating his subject to the vaunted status his words suggest. The lyrics are simple, but the time Miguel takes to deliver each line make them more impactful. The time between lines also allows for a somewhat brassy synth to provide a quick 'response' figure that always gets in my head.

Everything in "Adorn" adds up to validating its title, a word which I've hardly heard used outside this song's context. The verb "adorn" means "to make more beautiful or attractive," and between Miguel's praise- and love-filled lyrics and the track's smooth, classy sound, I can definitely hear its embodiment of the word. Lyrically, it's not the chorus that cements that for me, but the bridge, in which Miguel asks his love to let his affection adorn her "[t]he same way that the stars adorn the skies." Are celestial lyrics maybe a bit cliché and/or cheesy in love songs at this point? Maybe, but that line definitely drives home everything about this song for me. It's the first time we hear the word be used outside the chorus and outside the immediate context of his love, and it's an excellent way to validate the use of the word as a title and a lyrical focus.

Dang, now I just want to use that word more. I'm so impressed by how, despite it not being in common use, its employment by Miguel doesn't feel forced... as opposed to any attempts I've made in my personal life. *shudders* Maybe I could take a few cues from Miguel — not including failing a leg drop and injuring two concertgoers, of course.


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