Are there still opportunities to rebel against the pop music standard?

John Legend, is an American soul singer, songwriter, and pianist. He has won six Grammy Awards.  Born John Stephens, Legend was a child prodigy who grew up in Ohio, where he began singing gospel and playing piano at the tender age of five. Legend left Ohio at 16 to attend college in Philadelphia, and it was there that he first found a larger audience. Not yet out of his teens, Legend was tapped to play piano on Lauryn Hill's "Everything Is Everything" in 1998.

After completing college, he moved to New York, where he began to build a loyal following playing in nightclubs and releasing CDs that he would sell at shows. He also became an in-demand session musician, playing and occasionally writing for a wide array of artists, including Alicia Keys, Twista, Janet Jackson, and Kanye West.

It wasn't until West signed the young talent to his new label that he adopted the Legend name with 2004's Solo Sessions Vol. 1: Live at the Knitting Factory. Get Lifted, his first studio album, was released later in the year. On the strength of enduring single "Ordinary People," the album reached the Top Five of the Billboard 200. This led to three Grammy Awards: Best R&B Album, Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, and Best New Artist. Once Again, which peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and number one on the R&B/hip-hop Albums chart, followed in October 2006. Live from Philadelphia, sold exclusively at Target stores, was a successful stopgap release that predated October 2008's Evolver.

  • Transcript


Question: Are there still opportunities to rebel against the pop music standard?

John Legend:  If you go in with the assumption that no matter what you do, you want to make it great. Great can be defined in a lot of ways, but to me great means there’s a certain attention to quality and integrity; that I just won’t relax.

Like I won’t put out throwaway lyrics that I think are just going to make the rhyme work, or just fit against the beat. I want to say something cool. I want to say it clever. I want to say it in a clever way. I want to say it in a way that’s honest, and that is real, and that makes sense to me, and that I think will strike a chord with people. And if I don’t do that, if I don’t have the attention to quality, then I think I’ll sound like everybody else. If I don’t do different things when it comes to the production of the arrangement of the song that make it interesting, that throw little twists that you might not expect in the arrangement, if I don’t do those things, then I think I feel like I’ll sound like everybody else.

So while a lot of the process may be similar to other people’s process, I think I go that extra step to make it special that they may not have gone, because I really care about making it special. I really care about making something that’s going to stand the test of time; that’s going to stand out; that critics are going to love; that fans are going to love. I really care about that, and have that attention to quality that I don’t think every artist has. But I just couldn’t do it any other way.

Recorded on: Jan 29, 2008