As he releases another banger-filled album, Bigger Love, he joins Josh Smith to talk parenting with Chrissy, his hopes for the future, allyship and creating an album to have sex to. Yes. Really…
John Legend may be a certified EGOT, having won an Emmy, (multiple) Grammys, an Oscar and a Tony Award alongside being at the centre of *actual * America’s first family with his wife, Chrissy Teigen, but the singer isn’t resting on his success.
Congratulations, Bigger Love is full of great new hits but it’s also quite sexy, isn’t it?
Yeah. I was inspired – I have a sexy wife!
Did being called People’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ also influence it?
No, actually most of the songs are written prior to the whole ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ thing – a few were written afterwards, but either way, most of my songs come from either my own experience or my own conversations and just reflect what I think about the world, honestly. So, some of the songs are sexy, some are more romantic and loving, and some are more about loss or longing. Then some are about hope and resilience.
How has songwriting helped with your own mental wellbeing would you say?
Oh, I love writing songs. It’s a joyful thing for me. It’s exciting to collaborate with someone and be part of a creative process where you start with nothing and you end up with something beautiful and meaningful that could mean a lot to a lot of people. Songwriting is probably my favourite thing that I get to do as a performer, as an artist.
How has songwriting helped you evolve emotionally and deal with your emotions? Has that changed as you have become a father?
Well, I think you just evolve as a person and I’ve written songs inspired by the newness and joy of fatherhood and the uncertainty of fatherhood, but I’ve also written songs that I could have written before I had kids too. So, some of it is inspired by them and some of it isn’t, but it does just make you have a different perspective about the world you live in and what world you want your kids to grow up in as well.
This album is a very hopeful, it’s a very positive record and it’s come at a time of great challenges, but also a lot of positivity as well with Black Lives Matter. When you look at the world that we’re living in right now, what kind of world do you hope your children are going to be growing up in?
Well, you want a world where everyone loves each other and treats each other with respect and value. And you want their humanity to not be diminished by the color of their skin or where they come from or how they worship or who they love. Hopefully we’re getting closer to that world.
You know, I think in my lifetime, we’ve made some progress toward that kind of world, but it gets frustrating because you feel like there’s so much more we could do to make the world safer and healthier and more just for everyone, but we haven’t gotten there yet.
I think it’s important and hopeful that I see so many people in the streets, marching people of all generations, people of all races, people in different countries around the world. I think that’s a powerful, beautiful thing. Hopefully it will mean that the world my kids grow up into will be better than the world that I grew up into.
Your children have such a rich heritage as well, how do you begin to educate them about that as well?
Well, I think our kids are fortunate. You know, they have my ancestry in my family that has mostly African American and then they have Chrissy’s family. You know, her mother is from Thailand, her dad’s American, but his family ancestry is Northern European.
So, they have interesting ancestry to learn about and to draw from. They’re kind of quintessentially American in that sense because so many Americans come from so many different places and part of what makes America interesting – and the UK for that matter – is that so many people come from all over the world to live there. It makes our culture interesting.
It makes our lives interesting. It makes our food more interesting, all of it. But we also need to make sure that as we bring people into this country and into our society, that we value them, value their contribution and have a system that treats them equally.
When I interviewed Chrissy for the cover interview for Glamour, she was raving about how much of an amazing father you are. What do you think you’ve learned about parenthood from having Chrissy as a partner as well?
Well, she’s such a great mother. She’s so creative and fun. She’s told me that if her life was different, she might’ve been a preschool teacher. And honestly, she has so much creativity and imagination working with young kids that you could see her doing really well in that kind of job. It makes it easier for me to be a dad because she comes up with all the fun ideas and I just help her execute all the things in her imaginative mind.
What’s the funniest parenting moment you’ve had during lockdown?
Well, one of course you might’ve seen on this very medium: Instagram live. Chrissy did a wedding for Luna’s stuffed animals and had me sing Selena Gomez’s Hands to Myself at the request of Luna. And so that was pretty funny.
Your trophy cabinet is STACKED! When you come to doing new records, does it give you less or more pressure knowing what has come before?
I do put pressure on myself because I want my fans to think it’s my best album ever. You know, I want them to be really excited about it. I want them to be telling their friends about it. I want it to be something special that makes an impact. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish so I put a lot of pressure on myself that I have to prove myself every time I make a new album. That’s really the real pressure I put on myself, nothing to do with awards, but with making a quality album that people really feel, and it makes an impact.
I think a lot of people are getting down and dirty to it because it’s quite risqué…
It has some risqué moments! I feel like the first, like, six or seven songs are perfect for like a drive in the summertime. And then the next few songs are definitely good for getting frisky, then the last third of the album is kind of about what happens when a relationship kind of falls apart a bit, it’s about missing someone. It’s about things not maybe working out the way we thought they would. Then we end with a song called Never Break, which is really about resilience and not losing hope.
Do you feel hopeful sitting here today?
I do. I go back and forth because, you know, you get frustrated with some of the things you see in the news. You get annoyed, you get outraged by some of it, but you also see the silver lining when you see so many people marching in the streets for equality, not just for black people, but for the LGBTQ community and for immigrants’ rights. You just see a coalition of people that want this world to be more just, more equal.
It’s a multiracial coalition, it’s a multi-generational coalition. So, in that sense, I’m very hopeful. I feel like if we show that kind of love to each other and show that kind of acceptance toward each other, the world can truly be a better place.
I think it goes back to the fact that we should all be allies to one another right?
We should love one another. We should support one another’s rights to be treated equally and valued equally in our society. And it makes you realise, particularly when you look at all the different struggles we’ve seen over the years, like I said, from the black civil rights movement here in the U.S; women’s rights; immigrants’ rights; workers’ rights; LGBTQ.
So many groups who have been marginalised in different ways and oppressed in different ways have come together to say: ‘We would all be better off if we were treated equally, with justice, and let love reign supreme in our society’. I think that’s a powerful coalition and if we all believe that and fight for it, the world surely can be better.
Speaking of coalition, you and Alicia Keys’ sing off for Juneteenth day was amazing…
I had so much fun, we had a blast. Alicia and I were just giddy afterwards because the music was so fun. Our collaboration was fun, even the unexpected moments. When she started doing the talking part for You Don’t Know My Name and I started playing and singing, those kinds of moments, you just couldn’t have had them in any other setting. And it was really beautiful and powerful.
You have so many amazing collaborative experiences. Which one do you think has taught you the most as a person?
I’ve had extended collaborations with Kanye over the years. I think that’s probably been the most important to my career because I wouldn’t even be where I am in my career without him helping push me at the very beginning, helping me get a record deal, helping with my music as far as production and co-writing some of the songs.
So, the collaboration with him, it’s been over many years and has been extremely influential to me being where I am today. So, I think that’s probably the most important collaboration I’ve done over my life of work.
As we have been saying the album is pure escapism when we need it most, but for your own escapism you love a bit of Love Island, don’t you?
Oh yeah. We do watch it. The UK!
What’s your favorite phrase from Love Island?
Well, we just try to learn them, and we put the subtitles on, because sometimes we can’t comprehend the words that are being said. Chrissy thinks she’s getting good at learning the different accents of the different regions within the UK. I cannot claim to know them that well, but you know they introduce new terms, just like ‘mugging off’ and things like that, ‘pieing off’ and ‘cracking on’. You know, we learned a few of those phrases watching the show!