It’s well-known that John Legend has been inspired by music made in the '60s and '70s at the height of the Civil Rights movements. The EGOT-winner earned his Oscar for the song “Glory” from Selma, Ava DuVernay’s film about the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights marches, and he’s been known to cover Marvin Gaye’s landmark 1971 protest album What’s Going On in its entirety live. It could be argued that times are as troubled now as they were a half-century ago, maybe even more so -- but as Legend sits with Yahoo Entertainment, the socially conscious singer offers an interesting theory as to why we’re not hearing as much politically charged music in 2019.
“It’s interesting because with the anti-Vietnam War movement, I think there was a lot of urgency. … I think some of that urgency came from the fact that there was a draft, and so that a lot of young people who maybe in this generation can ignore bigger issues of the war and things like that, they couldn't ignore it back then. Because literally as soon as they turned 18, they could have been sent to Vietnam — unless they had bone spurs,” Legend adds with a chuckle.
“So, I think that sense of urgency permeated the youth during that time, and I think it affected the music in a lot of ways. Whereas, I think, even though there are all these crises are happening in America right now and people are concerned about them, I do think a lot of youth don't feel as connected to them as they did back in that era. I'm not saying we should implement the draft, I'm just saying that a side effect of us not having the draft anymore is that I don't think people feel as personally invested in some of these bigger political issues. And I think it does affect the art that's created.”
Legend cites Lizzo and Janelle Monáe as two current outspoken artists whom he admires (“These are the artists, particularly women I think that are really aware of what's happening in the world, and speaking out for women, speaking out for justice, in a way that's really powerful”), and he says his top political concern right now is climate change (“The bottom line is, if we don't figure out climate change, a lot of these other issues are going to be exacerbated”). But there are plenty of naysayers that think musicians, and celebrities in general, should stay out of politics altogether. To that, the “Preach” singer offer another amusing, slyly Trump-skewering response.
“The interesting part about people saying that celebrities should just shut up is that the ones that are criticizing me often voted for the guy that hosted Celebrity Apprentice to be the President of the United States — with no prior experience that would lend itself to him being a good President,” he quips. “So, if you believe that celebrities shouldn't be involved in politics, it seems like an odd choice for that guy to be your President. I find that most of the time, people only want celebrities to shut up when they don't agree with them.”
Legend is vocal about his opinions and passions on Twitter, seemingly unworried about the flak that he (or his even more Twitter-happy wife, Chrissy Teigen) might receive. So, how does he deal with Twitter trolls and not let online hate get to him him? “Sometimes I just ignore it; sometimes I employ the block and mute buttons very well,” he shrugs.
“But I think I'm OK with people criticizing me, because when I'm saying the things I'm saying, I'm saying them because I believe in them. There's no other really hidden agenda. My agenda is what it is, and I'm speaking out for things I actually care about and issues that I think, if we fix them, if we solve them, it could help a lot of people. I speak out because I care, and I actually want to see the change happen, so I don't mind too much when people criticize me.”
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