Pop & Hiss

Inside Miguel's twisted Wildheart Motel installation this past weekend

The invitation for Miguel’s two-day immersive art installation this past weekend was cryptic, yet enticing.

The words “Check into surreal” were typed in tiny black letters underneath the black-and-white crest logo for the Wildheart Motel. A red heart squeezed with barb wire was the only splash of color to be seen.

What did the alt-R&B singer have planned?

Once you were confirmed to attend, the secrecy surrounding the event continued. Location details for the experience, on Friday and Saturday nights, weren’t sent until the day-of -- and consisted of just a vague text message that offered enough details to direct guests to a nondescript patch of asphalt located behind a storage facility.

From there, a handful of shuttle vans awaited. "Wildheart Motel is maybe where I lose my life," a woman joked in the back row of one of the vans, where four of us sat, squeezed together, gripping one another’s knees as the driver sped down La Brea Avenue, leaving Culver City and crossing into Baldwin Hills.

It was a little after 10 p.m. when the van crawled to a stop at a space that had been transformed into the Wildheart Motel. Named after Miguel’s Grammy-nominated third album,the one-off experience saw the seedy Summit Motel turned into a maze constructed in celebration of the darkness, sex and hedonism of the album.

Miguel teamed up with artist Willo Perron to transform 21 of the motel rooms, and the experience wasn’t for the bashful. Upon entry, one side of the motel’s parking lot contained a glory hole, painted with a wide-open mouth and dozens waiting in the line. Satisfaction was delivered in the form of street tacos.

A number of beds, stripped of sheets, were in the motel's parking lot to provide guests with a spot to drink, smoke or make out before entry (as one couple did for an impressively long time). 

Once inside, the motel offered a surreal celebration of vice. One room was painted pink and featured a large portrait of a single eye, and a pair of inflated breasts that doubled as a couch. Another room was covered in faux grass shaped into valleys and peaks while another was covered floor to ceiling with mirrors. Another projected a crashing waterfall on a loop while one room featured a camera apparatus that multiplied your reflection and projected it on the wall, creating more copies of yourself the faster you moved.

There was a room packed with mini-fridges filled with miniature liquor bottles and fake limbs and another where guests were given a polygraph test about their sex life. One room covered in gaudy columns served as a dance club where a DJ spun until early in the morning, with sticky heat coming from dozens of bodies gyrating in the dark. 

Elsewhere, two women drunkenly stumbled through Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” as guests flipped through books of karaoke songs. Rihanna would show up later in the night and deliver a performance of Mary J. Blige’s “Not Goin' Cry,” which lit up social media early Saturday morning.

“Join us, join us, join us,” a quartet of women dressed in white gowns chanted in another room. They were worshiping Miguel, who appeared on a TV screen at their feet, offering a bounty of promises.

Things were beginning to feel like “The Shining” until the singer appeared in the flesh to take shots of liquor with the adoring women, who returned to their shtick once he left. "Bring him back," one of the women shouted. 

A "housekeeping staff" in pale pink uniforms surveyed the rooms -- most of them offering tips of what rooms to check out -- and passed out towels adorned with the Wildheart Motel logo.

As the clock inched toward midnight, Miguel -- who could be seen wandering the motel all night, talking to guests and posing for photos -- ventured into a tiny room covered in burgundy shag carpet and equipped with a tiny band set-up.

A little more than a dozen guests squeezed into the room, the rest spilling out and crowding the door and windows to get a glimpse of the singer who free-styled an acoustic set of selections including early fan favorite “Supernatural” and “Vixen,” a standout from his 2010 debut, “All I Want Is You."

"Tomorrow we have to get back to reality, tonight we belong to each other,” he said between songs.

Stopping to wipe away tears, Miguel launched into the story of his journey in the industry, detailing the many rejections he encountered because he didn’t fit into any box.

“I did this because I wanted to do something that makes you forget that fear of not being able to express yourself,” he told the small audience. “This is no pretension, no bull...”

gerrick.kennedy@latimes.com

For more music news follow me on Twitter: @gerrickkennedy

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