John Legend is as real as it gets. When it comes to his music, the man born John Stephens only expresses himself in truths and absolutes. In just a few years, the Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter/composer’s work has permeated airwaves, bumped in iPods, and flown off store shelves. His latest effort, “Evolver,” takes fans on a new musical journey that highlights his personal growth. ESSENCE.COM caught up with the Springfield, Ohio, native to discuss name-dropping women, the significance of this election, and how he deals with “keyboard gangsters.”
ESSENCE.COM: We’re loving your new single “Green Light,” which lets your object of desire know that you’re ready to get it poppin’. Since you’re growing stardom, have women been giving you the red light?
JOHN LEGEND: (Laughs.) Not so often. It seems like I’ve become more charming than I used to be. Honestly, as an artist, you have to understand that when women approach you it’s truly not because your game is so tight; it has something to do with your status. Now, I won’t sit here and say it doesn’t help sometimes, but I am fully aware of what the [allure] truly is. My biggest pet peeve is women who feel a need to tell me every celebrity they’ve met or know, because it doesn’t make you seem cool or more appealing to me.
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs.) Ya hear that, ladies? Name-dropping doesn’t preserve your sexy with The Legend! Folks have often compared you to the Black Frank Sinatra. What’s your take on your vocal dexterity?
LEGEND: (Laughs.) I’ll take the comparisons to The Boss and his old-school swagger. He had one of the great voices of all time, but I’d like to think my body of work is a little more diverse.
ESSENCE.COM: Most definitely. So you debuted your inspirational song “If You’re Out There” at this year’s Democratic National Convention. What have you found to be most inspiring and disappointing about the election?
LEGEND: It has been inspiring. Never before have we had a candidate who was virtually an unknown mobilize and inspire people to vote. Obama is running an air-tight campaign despite coming from relative obscurity. There is a hunger for change, and it’s disappointing when the press distorts information and plays the race card to cater to people’s ignorance. It’s just sad to see people resorting to the lowest common denominator to insult and tarnish his reputation. I mean, they don’t call the Republicans out on their bullsh-, yet the media continues to treat lies like they are truths. When things aren’t true or if they’re reported incorrectly, [the media should correct them]. Through it all, Obama has kept his head up. So overall, it’s pretty inspiring to have someone who is gifted with the ideas and has the hunger for change.
ESSENCE.COM: Love your passion for politicking. As a celeb, you live under a microscope, and one of your closest friends, musical mentor, partner and head of your label, G.O.O.D. Music, Kanye West, had to check the paparrazo in Los Angeles recently. Has anyone ever caused you to act out of character?
LEGEND: I’ve been under control pretty much. I take it all in stride, but for the most part, the media is very positive about my success and I’m grateful for it. For the most part, people tell me they love my music. I understand that you have to let them talk, and if they’re not talking about you, then you’re not worth talking about. I call the bloggers “keyboard gangsters” who have nothing else to do other than to try to feel bigger and better than other people by writing negative things. When I first started out, some people said they didn’t like my music, I was gay, and then criticized any girl I dated up and down. I was a bit more sensitive then and thought, These people are mean. After a while, I only started reading the comments because I like constructive criticism. So if I do a show, I’ll read up on what they are saying, and it’s helped me improve my shows-like once they said my show was “slow and boring,” so I added more things to my show to make it more lively. I think there’s a difference between legitimate criticism, and I take that into consideration. The negative comments I just let roll off my back.
ESSENCE.COM: What would your fans be surprised to learn about you?
LEGEND: Well, people usually comment on my height. They either say, “I thought you were shorter” or “You’re taller than I thought.” It’s funny to me because I can take those comments to heart-it’s sort of like a backhanded compliment (laughs). But it’s all good. I enjoy my career and I enjoy being known for making great music and having people tell me that when I walk down the street. If I can inspire and motivate people to be better in some way, all of this-the negative and positive comments-are all worth it.