So, How Was Your Decade is a series in which the decade’s most innovative musicians answer our questionnaire about the music, culture and memorable moments that shaped their decade. We’ll be rolling these pieces out throughout December.
For more than 40 years now, Nile Rodgers has been proving himself to be one of pop’s most bankable hitmakers. In the Seventies, he served as one of the masterminds behind Chic and helped make hit albums for Sister Sledge. In the Eighties, he made monumental records with Diana Ross, Madonna, and David Bowie. And on and on it has gone.
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The 2010s were no different. He contributed to Daft Punk’s monumental Random Access Memories, won Grammys, toured relentlessly, and released a new Chic album with appearances by Elton John and Lady Gaga, among others. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, produced more records, and, certainly not least, beat cancer. Now he’s developing a stage adaptation of his life story. Here’s what he had to say about the 2010s.
My favorite album of the 2010s was: Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories for obvious reasons [Laughs]. It was a surprise to everyone, and that’s what’s great. Almost every big hit record that I’ve been involved in throughout the course of my career has been a big surprise. My whole life, I’ve been swimming upstream. And even that night when we won all the multiple Grammys, I would say to Pharrell, “OK, that’s it. They’re not gonna give me one.” He’s like, “Dude, you didn’t get a Grammy for ‘Let’s Dance’? You didn’t get a Grammy for ‘We Are Family’?” And I went, “Nope, nope. This is my first.”
My favorite song of the 2010s was: I would have to say “Lose Yourself to Dance” by Daft Punk [Laughs]. That’s because it’s basically a guitar trio that’s holding down the whole groove. There’s no keyboard at all. The only thing that’s like a keyboard is when Thomas [Bangalter] comes in and goes, “Come on, come on, come on, come on.” But basically it’s just a trio. How often in this world of computers and loops, do you just have guitar, bass, and drums hold down the entire groove? Please go listen to it and check it out. It’s just three people playing.
The artist who had the best decade was: Rihanna. With the number of hits, it would have to be either Rihanna or maybe Justin Bieber or Beyoncé or Kanye. Maybe even Taylor or Bruno. It’s between that group. But I think Rihanna may have had more hits than that collective lot. But that’s really a super A-list of hitmakers of this decade.
The craziest thing that happened to me in the 2010s was: Winning my first Grammy. Honestly, I have sat in that room so many times thinking, “Well, we’ve got this one in the bag.” [Laughs] It’s true, Let’s Dance was up against Thriller. OK, you’ve got to give it up for Thriller. Even I knew that. But maybe there’s another category where we might get a chance for a “China Girl” or “Modern Love” or something like that. Maybe Best Rock & Roll Album or something. But to be a part of that organization for so many years and to have songs like “We Are Family” and albums like B-52’s with songs like “Love Shack” and “Roam” on all that stuff and Madonna’s Like a Virgin, and Diana Ross and all these huge records that changed my life, and I never got a Grammy until I get the big one. Not only for song but to get Album of the Year for a dance album, which hadn’t happened since Saturday Night Fever in 1977. It was unbelievable.
My least favorite trend in the world this decade was: To me, the ability to do loudmouth bullyism on a grand scale. I’ve always hated bullies. I’ve always tried to be respectful even if I disagree – especially when I disagree. Of course, when I have a disagreement with someone I want them to see my side of the story. The only way they can do that is if I’m open enough to see their side of the story. It should be the antithesis of bullyism. We should be kinder and gentler. People that are already like you that think like you, you don’t have to go out of your way to be kind to them. You can be your natural self, whether that’s kind or a jerk. But I think the hostility and the willingness to jump into that deep end of the pool because people are somewhat anonymous really bothers me. Thinking, with gun violence, that because you’re not in the person’s face, you can shoot somebody from the hotel room two blocks away. It’s very impersonal. And just because of that sort of thing, I think it stems from the same kind of thing. Because you can detach yourself, you can do it a lot more easily.
The best new slang term of the decade was: Because I’m getting on in years, a lot of the slang terminology that I used to use back when I was a kid has come back in vogue again. I remember seeing this really pretty young girl when I was leaving a shop the other day. She couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18. She says, “Wow, man. That’s groovy.” I’m like, “‘Wow, man. That’s groovy?’ What the hell.” And this was a young black woman.
The most surprising encounter I had with a fellow artist this decade was: It was the group Haim on the red carpet at the BRIT Awards. They were standing behind me, and they were a little bit pissed off. It was maybe shortly after I had just won an award or something like that, and they were going on and on about how they deserved it because they’re a better band than Chic [Laughs]. I just happened to turn around and we started talking to each other, and we wound up loving each other. They said, “Well, when we think about it, we actually love you guys and we try and play like you.” [Laughs] I said, “OK, well, here’s the deal. If we do a show, and we’re on the same bill, let’s go out and play and you make up your mind whether you’re more dope than we are and we’ll make up our minds whether we think we’re more dope than you are.” And they’re like, “OK, cool.” We have yet to have that battle of the bands, but we adore each other. It was just so cool to hear somebody doing that.
It was reminiscent of very early on in my career; we were in the bathroom with the Bee-Gees. It was a BMI awards for songwriting and composition, and we were getting multiple awards because we were getting awards for Sister Sledge’s We Are Family, which had a lot of great compositions on it, and the Chic album [C’est Chic], and “Le Freak” and “I Want Your Love,” those compositions were on that album, so we were getting multiple awards back to back to back. And the Bee-Gees went, “Who the hell are these guys?” And we were standing in the bathroom right next to them. It was sort of like that. It was one of those weird things where it wound up being super friendly and great and wonderful.
Something cool I did this decade that nobody noticed was: Um, wow. That’s my life story. That’s what I do. I work every single day and most people have no idea. I’ll say this one, and it’s sort of like a prediction. I’m working with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the movie Cats, so when you see it, you’ll notice the people performing and most people leave before the credits roll, but I did the arrangement for Taylor Swift’s big number, and Jason Derulo’s big number, I did the arrangement. So that’s something that will probably go unnoticed. People won’t notice that I’ve done it. But that’s how my life is and I’m fine with it.
My biggest hope for the 2020s is: That I get a hit single. Isn’t that crazy, after all of my life of hit records, I would just like to have another hit single. I mean, what am I talking about? I’ve had a bunch of hit singles in the last decade. But it would be nice to have one that actually just says, maybe “Nile Rodgers” or maybe just “Chic,” and it’s not a collaboration, where it’s old school and we just go in and knock out a song. It would be fun at my age.
It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. If it was easy, we’d see a lot more people my age who are still really talented, brilliant, and great, and they’d all get hit records. I think there’s a number of reasons why that doesn’t happen, but it’s not because they’re not talented anymore. It’s because they don’t have an audience to them that are record purchasers of new songs. They’d rather just listen to “Ride Like the Wind” or “Sounds of Silence” or “We Are Family.”
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