When we meet, it's been five days since John Legend won his latest Grammy. It’s the 11th of his career, but it’s bittersweet this time.
The video for ‘Higher’, DJ Khaled’s track featuring Legend and the late rapper Nipsey Hussle, was filmed days before Hussle was killed aged 33.
“We all love him, we all miss him,” said Legend in his acceptance speech for best rap/sung performance. “It is terrible that we had to lose him so early.”
The same day of the award ceremony (January 26), tragedy struck again. Beloved basketball icon Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter accident that left the world stunned.
Legend, Khaled, Meek Mill, Roddy Ricch and YG put on a powerful tribute performance on the Grammys stage, as an image of Hussle and Bryant flashed on-screen behind them.
“We’ve seen so much tragedy, today and last year,” said Legend, flanked by Hussle’s family members. “So much has gone on. Let’s love each other, let’s love our families, let’s hold each other close.”
Legend has been a proponent for love since his 2004 album ‘Get Lifted’, which won him the first three Grammy Awards of his career.
His soul-filled music has become so synonymous with romance that his first No 1 hit — and his most known track to date — was ‘All of Me’ in 2013, an ode to wife Chrissy Teigen and the preferred wedding track for hundreds of people around the world. Legend’s latest song ‘Conversations in the Dark’, released last month, is another achingly unconditional homage to Teigen.
So it’s no surprise that Legend and Teigen have become the ultimate celebrity power couple. Former model and best-selling cookbook author Teigen is known as the ‘Mayor of Twitter’, frequently posting hilarious and candid anecdotes about her family to her 12.3 million followers. (Plenty of people have adopted Teigen and Legend as their virtual ‘parents’, although their kids Luna, 3, and Milo, 1, might have something to say about that.)
On Friday night, we went backstage at the closing concert of the 25th Dubai Shopping Festival at the Coca-Cola Arena, where we sat down with an ever humble Legend to discuss everything we could, including his Grammy tribute to Hussle, his status as one of the only EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) recipients in history and whether or not he has Teigen’s Twitter notifications turned on.
First, I have to ask. You’re one of 15 people to have an EGOT. What does that mean to you?
Well, it means I’ve had a really wonderful career so far, and I’m really grateful for all the people I’ve gotten to work with and all the fun projects I’ve gotten to be a part of that helped lead to that.
Do you have a favourite EGOT winner, other than you?
Oh, wow. I love Whoopi Goldberg. That’s one. And I won [the Tony award] with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice — I’m a big fan of both of them. I was happy to collaborate with them on ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’.
At the Grammys on Sunday, you were part of a moving tribute to Nipsey Hussle, who means a lot to a lot of people. What was it like working with him on ‘Higher’?
You know, we shot the video together. We didn’t record the audio parts together, but we shot the video together, and that was just a couple of days before his life was taken. We were right near his neighbourhood where he grew up; we were right near the area where his life was taken. It was very moving to be there with him in that moment, because you could tell how proud he was of his community and how much he was invested in giving back to the community, which made it all the more tragic that he lost his life right there.
Last time you performed in Dubai, you incorporated protest images from Black Lives Matter and other marches. Why is it so important to you to include social movements in your work?
Well, I grew up on artists that did the same thing, like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone, and have always looked up to artists like that. And I feel like that’s part of me being an artist, is telling stories about what’s going on in the world.
You and Chrissy have become the ultimate power couple. Who do you think is funnier between the two of you?
Oh, Chrissy, of course. No question.
Do you have her tweet notifications turned on?
I don’t need to. I just check pretty regularly!
It’s the closing night of the Dubai Shopping Festival. What are your weaknesses when you’re shopping for yourself?
Weaknesses? I don’t know. I do like to shop, you know, and if I find something that looks good on me, I usually, uh ... [laughs] I’ll go ahead and get it. I feel like I’ve earned the right to do a little shopping, every once in a while.
Finally, what are your plans for 2020? Can fans expect an album?
Oh, yeah. It’s coming this year. We’ll have more news on that very soon.
JOHN LEGEND: THE JOURNEY SO FAR
John Roger Stephens — now known as John Legend — was born to a seamstress mother and factory worker father in 1978 in Springfield, Ohio. Legend began singing with his church choir at the age of four and began playing the piano by age seven.
He had an extraordinary academic journey, skipping two grades and graduating high school as the second-highest ranking student of his entire class.
Legend has said he had received several scholarship offers, including from Harvard University, but chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania where he studied English with a focus on African-American literature.
A year before graduating in 1998, a friend introduced Legend to Lauryn Hill, who hired him to play the piano on her hit track ‘Everything is Everything’.
But it was another meeting that changed his life for good: in 2001, Devo Springsteen introduced Legend to a rising hip hop producer by the name of Kanye West. West began hiring Legend to sing the hooks on a number of his songs, and signed him to his record label GOOD Music. Before even releasing his debut album, Legend had already sung on Jay Z’s ‘Encore’ and Alicia Keys’ ‘You Don’t Know My Name’.
Since then, Legend has released a total of six solo albums and is behind one of the best-selling ballads of all time, ‘All of Me’.
Legend, who celebrated his 41st birthday in December, is also known to be outspoken about social issues and politics.
25TH DUBAI SHOPPING FESTIVAL COMES TO A CLOSE
The 25th edition of the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) ended with a bang on February 1. The annual festival, which began on December 26 this year, offers citywide discounts — between 25 per cent and 75 per cent — as well as various retail experiences and activations for the whole family. DSF opened this year with two free concerts at Burj Park with performances by UK artists Liam Payne and Jorja Smith, as well as Arab stars Cheb Khaled, Hussain Al Jassmi and Shereen. The closing concerts at Coca-Cola Arena included performances from Rashid Al Majid, Majid al Muhandis, Faia Younan and John Legend.