He’s one of the hardest-working people in music, ceaselessly touring the world with his hits — Hello, Dancing on the Ceiling among them — and irrepressible stage presence.
A show by Lionel Richie is not to be missed, as much for his incredibly positive personality as for those songs that are impossible not to dance to. That genuine joy comes across just as easily over the phone, too; you can almost hear that beaming grin and he comes on the line and yells out your name.
“This is gonna be fun. You think about it — what do they want to hear? They want to hear all the hits. And when you give us that little slot called the end of the F1 thing, the answer is we are gonna blow one hit out after the next,” says Richie over the phone from the US, ahead of his performance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26 (entry for F1 ticket holders only). The UAE regular — he last performed here in Dubai, in 2014, (Dubai’s Endless Love for Lionel Richie) — plays the third of four nights of after-race concerts at du Arena. His favourite part of a live show? The crowd’s reaction.
“I’m gonna sit back and watch the show from the audience, because the best part is watching everybody react to the songs we are doing. It’s going to be one of those nights where… the fever is in F1. Yas Island is incredible. It’s going to be incredible.”
Richie won’t only be on stage at the ADGP, which is the season’s closing race and will settle the drivers’ championship. His money is on his friend, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton — “he’s my guy” says the Endless Love singer.
Read on for more on his love of motorsports, who he’s bringing with him to the UAE, the state of the music industry — and the range of kitchenware he’s releasing that pokes fun at his legendary discography (think: hello — is it brie you’re looking for?).
Do you follow F1?
I am a major fanatic of F1. I’ve been trying to get to it, my son [Miles] has been trying to talk me into it, he’s 22 years old, he’s like “Dad we gotta go to Abu Dhabi to the F1” and I keep saying “Yeah, yeah, yeah” but never really doing it because it just seems too far away. Now I have a great excuse to take him. I don’t know whether I’m excited or he’s excited. This is the coolest thing that Dad could do.
Are you going to watch the race?
If I had my way, I think I’m gonna come in a day before or two days before, we’re gonna watch the race, we are going to have to do it. Whatever is happening when I get there, I am going to be all over it. I am so fascinated with anybody that can take four wheels and go 200 miles an hour. Are you crazy? That is the sexiest thing in the world as far as I am concerned. It’s a guy-girl thing. Guys love speed and noise that’s just a part of the whole right there. Put me in as a fan.
You’re expanding your interiors range. How did that come about?
This is a passion. Just because you can write a song, that’s not the end of the creativity. I know people who were photographers who became film directors, film directors who became artists, artists who became writers. You keep creating. One guy came by my house one day and said ‘what’s all this stuff’. I said ‘oh these are the things I designed for my house’. He said, you should sell this. [I] didn’t really take it seriously at first. And then you try it out, and you realise, oh my God, I am getting a fantastic reaction. So now we are going to expand the home line around the world. I am really quite thrilled about this.
How would you describe your style?
It’s really a combination of my entire world travels. I like to do my designs as I write my songs. The songs sound like they’ve been here forever, there’s not a gimmick to it. When you buy a great song, it’s not something that’s a fad for today. These designs are designs where any year, it doesn’t make a difference. My style comes from a lot of Europe, and little bit of Asia, a great deal of just shapes. We are so in love with shapes around the world we don’t really realise they are familiar to us. My job now is to make those shapes come to life in your home. And then not to mention the fact that what we are also going to bring out is also the Lionel Richie Studio line — which is “Hello, is it brie you’re looking for?”; “Hello, is it tea you’re looking for?”. We’re going to put out cups and saucers — this has been happening for a while, so I decided why not make that the best item ever. So we have some fun stuff coming. Hang onto your seats, it’s going to be a crazy ride.
You’re not afraid to poke fun at yourself, are you?
I woke up one morning, and the best thing that ever happened to me: Can you imagine looking in the mirror and going, “Oh my God, there’s Lionel Richie”. Once you know that, it’s how much fun can you have with Lionel Richie?
2016 was an unusual year, especially on the music scene. What’s your takeaway?
We went all the way around. The last 10-15 years we took melody out, we watched singers go out and DJs come in. We watched the end of an era, in terms of… artists get paid but songwriters don’t get paid because they created another thing called streaming. Which means where’s the next songwriter going to come from that gets paid?
And then from there what also happened was a great writer by the name of Prince died. You start thinking for a minute, we are going through a complete metamorphosis — and by the way, the music business has never been better — we just have to make it so that kids say I want to be a songwriter for the rest of my life, and it’s a business rather than a fun thing to do while you are in college.
When I got into the business, I enjoyed doing it, but holy cow, we were making a lot of money with the Commodores. I think 2016 was a turning point as far as I am concerned, where I think technology and business and talent — they are trying to figure out how to make that business, because the old model will obviously never come back again.
Do you listen to music on streaming services?
I am hooked on everything. I can’t avoid it. I’ll complain about it on one note but… there used to be a time where you would turn on the radio. The radio was your form of finding out where the new music is. Now there are 15-20 avenues of finding out where the new music is. There’s not one direction to hear things anymore. I am a junkie.
Who are you listening to?
Are you kidding me? I am a true groupie. Like [Frank] Ocean. The next thing was The Weeknd. I am on my game now to meet him. In order to be in the business you have to know who is in the business. It’s very infectious… you want to know, how did you do it, where are you going. I didn’t know who Frank Ocean was. As I kept hearing his name, then you finally find him. I didn’t find him on the radio. I found him on some streaming thing. That’s when I realised it’s all discombobulated, if you will. Once I get onto something I want to meet them and find out who they are. I want to get into their creative mind.
What’s next for you?
New music is coming in 2017. Probably not a lot of music, but that specific thing. And I am never going stop touring, because that is really to me where I go out and get my inspiration from. Look at that — I went from 2016 to 2018 in one blink.