Ahead of his award-show hosting debut tonight (March 27) at the 2023 iHeartRadio Music Awards, Lenny Kravitz is feeling cool, calm and collected. “It’s an honor to be here and I’m happy to be asked,” he says.
When it comes to his hosting approach, Kravitz plans to “keep it chill” and notes that he hasn’t called up any previous hosts for advice. “I purposely have not called anybody [or] watched anything,” he tells Billboard. “They’re like ‘Did you call LL [Cool J]? Did you call Usher?’ I’m just gonna go up there and do what I gotta do.”
It was his authentic approach to hosting that caught the attention of old friends and iHeart Radio execs John Sykes and Tom Poleman, during the induction of Lionel Richie into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November. “He won over the room,” Sykes says. “He was funny, he connected with the audience because he’s such a serious musician. When we saw this other side of him and called him up, he said, ‘I’d love to do it.'”
The 58-year-old hitmaker has served as an inspiration to generations of pop stars and rising artists throughout his decades-long career as a boundary pushing rock star. Watching a new class of Black artists centered in pop, rock and alternative spaces, Kravitz feels great to witness “that artistic freedom.”
Recalling the climate of the music industry at the time of his first record deal, he says, “Everything was in these really tight boxes, white and black. Like ‘the pop department,’ it meant white, and the Black department was R&B.”
Kravitz says that watching artists like Steve Lacy — who he interviewed in October for the “Bad Habits” singer’s Billboard cover story — “reinspires” him. “It makes me feel great that there is that artistic freedom. I’m always flattered and honored when those artists come up to me and tell me how much I meant to them. They grew up listening to my music and looking at the visuals, and felt that they could push the boundaries.”
For the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Poleman and Sykes are planning a “special moment,” planned in part by rap legend LL Cool J.
“We really thought the Grammys did a wonderful job doing this,” Poleman says. “LL [Cool J] had a very cool idea of how, in a very short period of time, he could tip his hat to the artists that inspired him in the 80s to get into hip-hop. It started back in 1973, when DJ Kool Herc played a song at an outdoor party in the Bronx and a format was born.”
Kravitz, who spent his early years in Brooklyn as the seeds of hip-hop were just sprouting, is excited by the evolution of the genre, but hopes to see more positivity in the future. “Well, in every genre,” he adds. “But things have to go the way they go, and that creates a reaction and turns into something else. There’s great artists and great concepts of how they’re doing their beats, sounds and styles.”
Kravitz has his next two albums “pretty much cut” and is eager to set off on the continuation of his world tour. “I was two years into a three year world tour when COVID hit,” he explains. “So I’m really happy to be getting back on the road and playing and sharing that experience with the people.”
The 2023 iHeartRadio Music Awards will include nine performances across a variety of genres, including a set from Kravitz himself, Kelly Clarkson, Keith Urban, Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo, Latto, Muni Long, Cody Johnson and Coldplay, who will appear at the event live from its Music of the Spheres World Tour stop in Brazil.
“We don’t foster competition. This is not about who’s better — we actually celebrate the artists that have gone to No. 1, and tell the stories that come during the show,” Poleman says of the show’s purpose. “So many artists know already that they’ve won, and it’s more of a celebration.”
“This is the first year we’re giving [an award to] the most-played artists across all of our genres — that’s going to be Doja Cat. She had so many hits, so it’s nice to honor her. We have some socially voted categories, like best use of a sample in a song.”
The award show will also feature appearances from Cher, the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin, Donald Faison, H.E.R., Joel McHale, Jordan Davis, Nicole Scherzinger, Nikki Glaser, Phoebe Bridgers, TLC, Vella Lovell, Zach Braff and more. The 2023 iHeartRadio Music Awards airs tonight (March 27) from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.