Over five decades as a hitmaking performer, writer and producer, Babyface has seemingly done it all. He’s produced six Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers (including Boyz II Men’s 14-week No. 1 “I’ll Make Love to You” and 13-week No. 1 “End of the Road”); won 11 competitive Grammy Awards and a 2021 Grammy Trustees Award; and written and produced top 40 hits in every decade from the 1980s through the 2020s.
But that doesn’t mean he’s beyond getting excited about major career achievements, like scoring his latest of dozens of Grammy nominations this year: best traditional R&B performance for “Keeps on Fallin’,” featuring Ella Mai, from his most recent album, 2021’s Girls Night Out.
“To get it at this point, to still be in the place of being nominated and not to be honored for past work you’ve done but the work that you do now, it makes it an extra honor,” Babyface tells Billboard‘s Pop Shop Podcast (listen below) for our new Grammy Preview Episode ahead of Sunday’s awards show. “It’s a privilege to be in the conversation and to be part of it. So it’s a very important nomination for me at this point.”
Girls Night Out is a collaborative album, for which Babyface teamed up with a lineup of all-female singers, including Kehlani, Ari Lennox and Muni Long. Ahead of the recording sessions, Babyface says some of the singers came in with preconceived notions about what kind of sound the producer/writer might create for them.
“A few of them definitely came in a little concerned that it was going to be an older, ’90s sound. And they weren’t sure that I would know how to go around that or be open to their ideas and open to going where they would want to go,” he recalls. “And being open to it allowed us to be able to take them places that they wouldn’t necessarily go. So that was the trusting part of it. And once you get comfortable with each other, then you just make music.”
One song created during those sessions was SZA’s “Snooze,” which the R&B superstar opted to keep for her own album, the seven-week Billboard 200-topping blockbuster SOS. When the project arrived in December, “Snooze” debuted in the Hot 100 top 40 – giving Babyface his first hit in the region this decade. “I think SZA is amazing,” Babyface says. “I think she’s very deserving of this. I feel like she’s been underappreciated, the talent that this girl has. She’s so unique and I’m amazed by her talent, to be honest, and very happy for her success. I think it’s very well-deserved.”
We also asked Babyface what his secret has been to working with a cross-generational, cross-genre collection of artists over five distinct decades, and how he manages to stay in tune with an ever-changing music landscape. He says the trick is checking your ego at the door.
“I think as a musician, I’ve always tried to not be one particular thing and be able to cross different genres,” he says. “I always kind of look at it [as], if you’re a full musician, then you should be able to do more than one thing. And what allows you to do that is to not have an ego, to the point to where you think what you do is the best thing and always the best. So it’s always great to collaborate and get into a room and learn.
“I would always listen to songs that might become big hit songs that maybe my initial reaction was like, ‘I don’t understand it,’” he adds. “I would listen to figure out, ‘OK, what is it that people love about it?’ And ultimately, once I would listen closely, then I’d figure those things out and I could appreciate it just as much. And so it’s a question of always pushing yourself to not necessarily fight things, but to really kind of listen to everything with an open ear.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Babyface talks about his upcoming tour dates with Anita Baker, kicking off next month, as well as his history of working with Madonna and whether there’s any chance he might join the Queen of Pop onstage for her Celebration Tour.
The 65th annual Grammy Awards air Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS, preceded by the Grammy Premiere Ceremony starting at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, streaming on the Recording Academy’s YouTube page.
The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard‘s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard‘s executive digital director, West Coast, Katie Atkinson and Billboard’s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)