When we first met John Legend as a solo artist, it was through the quiet 2005 piano ballad “Ordinary People” — so it only makes sense that, nearly two decades later, Legend is going back to basics for his next project, LEGEND (Solo Piano Version).
The singer/songwriter took 10 songs from his most recent album, September’s LEGEND, and stripped them down to new piano versions, adding a pair of fresh covers to the Wednesday (Feb. 8) release. After years of performing with just a piano, Legend thought the idea made perfect sense.
“Half of my gigs are solo gigs. Even though we’ve done a huge production in Vegas, we’ve done big tours with like a nine-piece band all around the world, often a lot of my favorite shows are the ones where it’s just me and a piano,” he tells Katie & Keith on the new Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below). “And I think my fans like it, because it strips the songs down to their essence and they hear my voice, the lyrics, the melodies really purely.”
One revelation in making the album was LEGEND‘s second single “Honey,” originally featuring brand-new Grammy winner Muni Long, which Legend decided to bump up to the piano project’s opening track.
“The one I changed from the original the most was ‘Honey,’” he says. “I made it more kind of slow, I did it without a tempo, and it’s just kind of free and a little more jazzy. And I loved doing that spin on the song. It’s much different than the original, and it feels really fresh and new.”
The two covers Legend recorded for the album are Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Sade’s “By Your Side,” which he’s planning to include on the setlist for his upcoming Feb. 13 and 14 pair of Valentine’s Day concerts at Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“One of my managers loves Sade, and she suggested that I try a Sade song,” Legend tells the Pop Shop. “And she even suggested ‘By Your Side,’ among a few other ideas that she had. And that was the one that just stuck out to me and I just kept humming it in my head and just felt like, ‘I would feel really good singing that melody and those lyrics.’ And I sat at the piano and started working it out. And I just loved the feeling that it gave me. I love Sade anyway, but this song, particularly, I think is really special and beautiful. I love the sentiment of it, and I really loved performing it.”
Is Legend — who performed as a supporting act on Sade’s last tour in 2011 — impatiently waiting for Sade’s first album since 2010’s Soldier of Love like most music fans? “You know she’s gonna take her time,” he laughs. “I literally was on the last tour. That was 12 years ago!”
While Legend would love to take his piano show to other venues besides the Walt Disney Concert Hall, he’s trying to stay close to home at the moment, with the Jan. 13 birth of his new baby Esti. “We’ll do more,” he promised. “It’s gonna be sporadic since we had a baby and I’m trying to work a little bit less. I’ll probably do occasional weekends where we’ll go off to different cities and do shows. But it won’t be kind of a steady tour.”
Legend is staying plenty busy around L.A. this week, performing at Friday night’s MusiCares Persons of the Year gala honoring Motown founder Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, taping the Grammy Salute to the Beach Boys on Wednesday night, and joining DJ Khaled, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Fridayy for a pre-taped Grammys-closing performance of their song of the year nominee “God Did.” The Pop Shop spoke to Legend ahead of Sunday’s Grammy Awards, when he marveled at the unifying powers of Khaled.
“Everyone is so gifted and so powerful as an artist in their own right,” he said. “And for us all to be together — that’s the genius of DJ Khaled. He’s really great at putting all of us together. He’s like the world’s greatest A&R for hip-hop. He’s such a great convener. He brings us all together and makes magic happen.”
Listen to the latest Pop Shop Podcast episode above for the rest of the conversation, including his thoughts on the final Voice season for Blake Shelton, who’s “been the heart and soul of the show for so long.”
Also on the show, we’ve got chart news on how new songs from The Kid LAROI, Zach Bryan and Maggie Rogers, and P!nk all debut on the Billboard Hot 100, while TOMORROW X TOGETHER notches its first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and both Sam Smith and Lil Yachty bow in the top 10 with their latest releases.
Plus, we talk all about last Sunday’s Grammy Awards and this Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime spectacular, where Rihanna will headline the show.
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.)