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Stevie Wonder INFJ/ISTP analysis

May 17, 2012

Stevie’s birthday this week, part of a string of May birthdays: My brother, the 10th, Kim Fields (one of few girls my age on TV back when we were teens), the 12th, Stevie, the 13th, Janet Jackson (the most significant girl my age back then), the 16th, and Malcolm X, the 19th.

This is from yet another type post from awhile ago, and most people believe Stevie Wonder is introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving (“INFJ”), yet I believe he is really introverted, Sensing, Thinking Perceiving (ISTP). As was said on a periodic “Jesus’ Type” topic, “anyone who…has sympathy for people, and who is insightful or a visionary gets typed INFJ”. (On a totally opposite irony, so does anyone like Hitler! It’s known as a very enigmatic type, so anyone simply unusual, whether very good or very evil, often is assumed to be the type).
My theory of ISTP came from reading profiles of that type that portrayed it as artistic, and because it is Melancholic on the social level, which he seems. He also seemed to have the pragmatism of the SP, though this mellowed out later, for a possible reason we shall explore.

(To understand some of these terms, see Personality glossary and MBTI Type from scratch)

To start analyzing his music, we cannot really go by the first decade of his career, as he was young, and had little creative control. So he did a lot of what was most popular, which was of course, “love” songs. Yet, with all the sociopolitical turmoil going on at the time, he had much to say, yet had to wait until he came fully of age and negotiated a new contract.
He gained more creative input as time went on in that original contract, but it was with the last album of under it, that you really see “where [he was] coming from” as the title even indicates. He was planning to leave the company, and put together a collection of self-written and produced songs that marked a radical departure from the company’s previous style.

So in this album, and the three that followed it:

Initially appeared to be a “man of the head” rather than a “man of the heart
•very focused on “the mind”, in song lyrics and album titles
•photos from this period are portraits of a deep Thinking type.
Appeared to have more of a concrete focus, though the abstractness was there.

His musical engineers during most of this period described having to coax emotion out of him!

This first self-produced album consisted of nine songs, the only hit and familiar song from it being the standard love song “If You Really Love Me”. Three others were also love songs; one of which played upon a theme of the war (“Think of Me as Your Soldier”), with Vietnam as an underlying theme of the album, with even a picture of him as a soldier handing out a cookie on the front cover.
The opening song was very abstract in language, (though focusing on the mind, and lamenting its “emptiness”), followed by another song using similar abstract discourse, but then offering the very concrete advice of “educate your mind”. The first song on the other side is an analogy of the freedom he was fighting for under Motown, cast in the theme of the equally relevant issue of race relations. It’s hilarious as he vocally alternates between a poor, destitute version of himself, and a southern redneck. Afterwards is a song saying to “Take Up a Course in Happiness”, and closing is a sort of double song passionately pleading for impoverished children, and then lamenting war and rising crime in the modern US.

In this experimental album, we would see a wide range of the four functions of Sensing (S), intuition (N), Thinking (T) and Feeling (F), but the next period would seem to shift more to S and T.

The majority of songs in the first three albums of the next contract followed his love life, with the breakup of his first marriage, and the beginning of new relationships. You had political commentary songs such as “Big Brother” and “Living for the City” (and “You Haven’t done Nothing” on the next album). Spirituality songs were only “Evil”, “Higher Ground”, and “Jesus Children of America”. Then, you had ‘general wisdom/knowledge’ songs, such as “Superstition”, “Too High” (about drugs), and “He’s Misstra Know It All”. On this last album before his focus really changed, you also have a new direction, the almost title track “Visions” (which still focuses on the mind rather than the heart).

While many of the songs would have technical metaphors (such as “Sunshine” or “Big Brother”), they were really more concrete in focus. Love and politics are in their own right, concrete realities in the world. When you start talking about particular political concepts or love as a philosophy, then it becomes more abstract.
“Superstition” and “Too High” may be seen as using a lot of metaphors, but both songs are actually speaking against the ignorance induced by either unsubstantiated beliefs or drugs, and are very concrete focused.
His overall ST communication during this period reminded me a lot of my ISTJ father, who also similarly criticized a lot of abstraction and illogic.

The dominant and auxiliary functions are confident and mature “ego-achievers”, while tertiary and inferior are immature and often deal with vulnerability and childlike innocence and ideals.
Even though he has promoted himself as such a humanitarian, he is primarily a musician. His genius clearly lied in the music, which would naturally tie to his more mature functions, and would be a product of introverted Thinking (Ti) and extraverted Sensing (Se), not introverted intuition (Ni) and extraverted Feeling (Fe), which are the INFJ type’s preferences.
If he were INFJ, Ti and Se would be the immature, “innocent ideal” functions, but in reality, Ni and Fe seem to fit that better.

The obvious limitation he already had in one of the main sensory faculties might have helped push him more toward the abstract. Ni would be the tertiary and “inflate” itself anyway (inflation is something associated with the tertiary function).
Still, he appeared to be very Sensory focused; as much as he could be, and of course, the biggest evidence of this being the musical genius. He clearly fit the profile of an “Artisan” (which is the name of both the SP temperament group, as well as Keirsey’s old name for just that one [ISTP] type. SP was called “Dionysian” at that time, and that definitely seems to fit him as well).

Either type would make him a “Chart the Course” [“Interaction Styles” type group] or Melancholy in Inclusion (introverted, directive), which will appear to be a deep “thinking” type, in the generic sense, and is what he did appear as.
Still, his “social image” as I call it (type group factored as E/I + T/F), appeared in this period of his career to be IT, rather than IF. Sociability temperament (E/I + J/P) appears to be IP, a dominant introverted judging type.

He seemed to be more “pragmatic” than “cooperative” in leading the rebellion, so to speak, against the Motown machine, and warning Berry Gordy that as soon as he hit 21 (and the first contract ended), he was “going to do my own thing”.
Either type is “Motive-focused”, meaning “focus why people do things in order to work with the people they are communicating with rather than trying to force them into a preconceived structure”.

In a brain theory of Jon Niednagel’s “BTi” (Brain Types Institute), and popularized in type community by Lenore Thomson, “P” preferences (determined by extraverted Perception and introverted Judgment preferences–“Je/Pi”) are “right brain”, while “J” preferences (extraverted Judgment with introverted Perception–Je/PI) are “left-brain”.

At age 23, right in the middle of this period, trauma to right side of his head (through a log dislodged from a truck ahead on the road) seemed to push him to his left-brain functions (PiJe), which could very well be what made him more resemble the INFJ type, (using the same four primary functions, but with the “mature” and “immature” pairs reversed) and it was thereafter that he became more focused on things of “the heart” (peace, love, altruism, etc), and even more abstract in language. He considered himself “moving in a new direction”.
At this age, the tertiary (Ni for an ISTP) would normally have been fully developing anyway, so if his inferior (Fe) now became strong as well (while perhaps his dominant and auxiliary suffered), then he would in effect appear to “become” an INFJ.
(And most people are looking at him well after the accident, and so assuming he was always this way).

Hence, it is also afterward that his talent seemed to wane a bit as well. One more album would be released (closing the second contract), before a major change in his sound and focus. While most fans will uphold the first album of his third contract, Songs In The Key of Life, as his greatest work; most will admit that the four preceding albums (which comprised his first contract in total independence) were better.

One biographer, John Swenson (Stevie Wonder, Harper & Row, 1986) even describes this album being produced in a state of chaos, as he suddenly switched engineers (promoting studio technicians to the position, due partly to some sort of power struggles within his organization), and constantly pulling the project back to remix songs. This seems to mark a big increase in the “perfectionism” he became known for. (Which still betrays the introverted Thinking dominance, though now other factors were tugging at his attention).
Albums also started being released further apart at this same time, and he began devoting more time to humanitarianism, even planning to quit the business and move to Africa at one point.

Songs became more about “universal love, peace, joy” as well (a more “NF” focus), and he spoke about God a lot more as well. Swenson also criticizes a new “philosophy” he tried to introduce in the sleeve text accompanying the album, called “love mentalism”, and that songs such as “Love’s In Need of Love Today” and “Have A Talk With God” lacked the powerful message of ealier ones. So it seems that a lesser N and F focus was really trying to take over, but was not as skilled as the earlier S and T focus.

Many fans will find Swenson’s book anathema, since it is so hard on “Songs”, but even these fans will acknowledge the previous string of albums as a better run, and will also tend to be very critical of the albums made after Songs. In fact, it was not until the last album (“A Time 2 Love”, in which he made an attempt to restore some of the retro sound and go lighter on the synthesizers), that fans and editorial reviewers were generally pleased with a new album. Some people had even hoped he would allow someone else to produce him, such as Wyclef.

The accident had occurred right after the recording of Innervisions, the third album under the second contract. A sort of omen was the song “Higher Ground” (The one that goes “Teachers, keep on teaching; preachers, keep on preaching; world keep on turning… “) which spoke of “second chances” (“So darned glad He let me try it again, cause my last time on Earth, I lived a whole world of sin. I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then” gonna keep on tryin’; ’till I reach the highest ground“). This is the age when a tertiary Ni would be developing, so it makes sense, and he didn’t seem to be very Ni-heavy before this.

His whole theme then became this spiritual awareness and elevation of consciousness. This was reflected in the next album, Fulfillingness First Finale. The change towards F and N is evident with the opening song, “Smile Please”, followed by “Heaven is Ten Zillion Light Years Away”. On side two, you have “They Won’t Go When I Go” (also about Heaven), and “Bird of Beauty” (which also still retains some of the earlier “T” focus on the mind).

What’s interesting is the transitional material, produced at this same time, some left off from this album, and then promised for a “Part II”, and eventually becoming apart of Songs and later albums, and others never released. Several examples of these have leaked out online in the past few years; first on file sharing sites, and then many of them being picked up by fans and posted on YouTube.

Like you had one beautiful sounding love song (a typical lament about a broken relationship in his home town when he moves away) which by the time it is released on Songs, becomes a song about a planet (Saturn), which he wants to run away to, to escape all the turmoil of earth.
Nearly the same instruments in both versions, it clearly sounded more natural (especially emotionally) as the love song. In the final version, the vocals were very monotone. (Keep in mind, the emotions involved in love do not indicate “Feeling” preference, nor orientation. It would be what we call an “undifferentiated” natural human emotion).

Other songs were changed significantly, and the result was usually to become more “conventional” sounding, and less free-flowing, and involve more people playing instruments with him rather than the previous “one mand band” sound. Examples of this are “Contusions” (inspired by the accident; performed in live shows well before its official release), and “Another Star” (an early session contains the recurring phrase “deep inside your heart” and using the same production techniques as the earlier hit “You Are the Sunshine”).
Hence, Swenson being so hard on the final “Songs” release.

So all of this shows Stevie was now focusing more on N and F than his earlier S and T. This is also around the time he became more playful and people-connecting (devoting more time to other people’s projects, shows like Saturday Night Live, etc. into the 80’s and down to the present), as opposed to his earlier “serious” image.

In fact, on the BBC documentary “Stevie’s Wonder Men”, about Margouleff and Cecil (the engineers of the second contract’s four albums), they shed some more light into what was happening at the time:

On this full one part video of it: Around 22:30, it says as Fulfillingness was being completed, Cecil was becoming increasingly angered by Stevie’s “hangers on”. He reports recording a vocal, and about 30 people making a racket, and when he tries to quiet them, Stevie tells him “don’t talk to my friends that way!” He then compares how it used to be just them in the studio doing the music, but now “the relationship’s changed”, and “now there’s all these people partying and having nothing to with the music; distracting me, distracting Stevie, and they’re more important”. (“…perhaps then, they can help you make your album!” and walking out. And friends and family producing the music with him more, afterward is basically what seems to have happened).

Margouleff then goes on to mention them feeling they were not receiving due recognition and royalties (especially the Grammy’s for “best engineering” for Innervisions, where they wen’t even thanked), and feeling unappreciated.
Around the 20:00 mark, you can even see a possible racial component to the issue (suggested by British music historian Mark Sinker), where people were apparently afraid of the picture of two white guys coming in and getting so much credit for all the success (“especially in an intensely political time”).

This aspect of the breakup I had never heard before. And it’s such a shame.
All I really had to go on before was Swenson’s biography, which was very vague on this particular issue, and mentioning only something about Stevie’s brothers and the organization. So this sheds more light on it.
I can imagine them saying “why should THEY be able to muscle in and take what’s ‘OURS’!” It figures, as I had long heard that a big complaint among blacks was “everytime we make something good, they come and in and take it and make it their own”. Rock & roll itself being the biggest example.

But in any case, you can really see here where an Fe perspective has clearly taken over. And it’s likely not natural function development as it was so rapid, and following the accident. It clearly seemed to be a sudden shift from right-brain Ti to left-brain Fe.

Afterwards, albums would continue to be a mix of the same themes, but the titles and concepts behind them would be deep, and he would continue to grow as a humanitarian figure.
All of this could be viewed as just the natural development of Ni and Fe, but again, it does seem to have been jump-started by the accident. Anyway, in either case, it would make more sense for this to be an ISTP developing his Ni and Fe, than for these changes to be that of an INFJ developing Ti and Se.

See also:
Song by song review of “Songs In The Key of Life” (Compared to previous albums)

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