UPDATE: Since this article was published, Robbie Williams has had to postpone the start of his Las Vegas residency dates due to the coronavirus. His July dates are still set to move forward: July 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 15.
Robbie Williams has a pretty simple goal heading into his 2020 Las Vegas residency: to please absolutely everyone. That’s all!
“I want people who have never seen me before to come to the show and be entertained and not be bored,” he tells Billboard‘s Pop Shop Podcast (listen below) ahead of his March 24 return to Sin City for 16 new dates of Robbie Williams: Live in Las Vegas. “I’m not going to bore people with songs that they may not know from my repertoire. So I’ve just constructed a show where if you know me or you don’t, you will be entertained and you will know the songs.”
When he performed his first 16 dates last year at Wynn Las Vegas’ Encore Theatre, some die-hard Robbie fans told him they were expecting to hear a bit more from the British pop star’s discography. “People have come to the show and said, ‘There’s not enough Robbie Williams songs!’ So it’s a dilemma. And I hear them and I get it. So I’m adding a few more Robbie Williams songs this time around, because I am Robbie Williams,” he quips. “We shall see how it goes. But for those people leaving comments … I’m really sorry. I’ll try my best next time to please absolutely everybody, because that’s what this job is at the end of the day: it’s pleasing everybody.”
There are many reasons the showman is a perfect fit for the Vegas stage, especially his pair of swing albums — 2001’s Swing When You’re Winning and 2013’s Swings Both Ways — which are both filled with big-band covers and Rat Pack favorites, and Williams definitely leans into this part of his catalog for the Live in Las Vegas set list. While all but one of the tracks on Swing When You’re Winning are cover songs, he feels he’s made them his own over the past few decades. “When I do songs from that album, people are like, ‘Hey! You’re not doing your songs!'” he says. “And I’m like, ‘Well hey! This was my biggest album, so eat it!'” (Find all of Robbie’s Vegas dates here.)
Here in America, Williams is best known for his late-’90s hits “Angels” and “Millennium” — his only two songs to crack the Billboard Hot 100, at Nos. 53 and 72, respectively. But in his native U.K., it’s a different story entirely. In fact, in December, he scored his 13th No. 1 album in the U.K. with The Christmas Present, tying Elvis Presley as the solo artist with the most chart-topping projects in the country and trailing only The Beatles. “It doesn’t make any sense,” Williams says when he hears the stat. “I know it’s true and it’s a thing and it’s remarkable that it’s happened to me, but as you say that, it can’t compute. It’s really surreal. It’s like a dream I had when I was 13, and I’d wake up and go [laughs] ‘Yeah, sure.'”
But there’s a sinister side to the chart achievement, he warns: “It becomes incredibly important that it happens again, because my identity is wrapped up in those statistics and being that guy. … Like this time when it was No. 1, the feeling was [exhales]. That was it. Relief. It wasn’t like, clenched fist and I’ve just scored a goal. It was like, ‘OK, next album’s coming out. How do we get it to No. 1?'”
And what will that next album be? Before his chart-topping holiday project, which was released in late November, Williams’ most recent LP was 2016’s The Heavy Entertainment Show. “I’ve got so much in the vault,” he says. “I’m like Prince, but I’m not keeping mine in the vault. Mine’s not just gonna stay there. Mine’s gonna get out there. It’s either a greatest hits next or an album proper, I’m not sure.” He’s also not sure what the music industry will look like when it’s time for that next project. “The landscape has changed so much for music right now. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. I don’t know what the function of it is. Music is full. It’s horrible news for musicians out there, but music is full. I don’t know if I should add any more noise to the pit.”
On The Heavy Entertainment Show, Williams has a song co-written by Killers frontman Brandon Flowers called “Mixed Signals.” So might he reach out to Brandon while he’s in his hometown of Las Vegas? “Here’s how it works with me: I don’t ask anybody just in case they say no,” the singer/songwriter says. “I don’t want to hate them for the rest of my life. … Brandon, if you’re out there and you’ve just heard me say that, if you want to, I’m up for it.
“I don’t even put myself out there,” he adds. “Like Taylor Swift asks everybody, and everybody says yes. I ask nobody just in case they say no. I’m very sensitive. I become easily upset. And then people become enemies for life.”
There’s much more from our chat with Robbie, including why he chose to include the cheeky 2000 song “Rock DJ” in his Vegas set (“Outside of the U.K., I probably have four or five, at a push, gold, platinum, sink-your-teeth-into, absolute archetypal Robbie Williams songs; ‘Rock DJ,’ for better or for worse, is one of those songs”), his plans to get into TV (“I’ve got like seven ideas that I want to do”), and his love of the salacious U.K. dating show Naked Attraction (“I never really, truly get a sense of patriotism, but when I watch Naked Attraction — yeah: That’s why Britain is great”).
Also on the show, we’ve got chart news about big album debuts for Lil Baby, Bad Bunny and James Taylor on the Billboard 200, plus a splashy debut on the Billboard Hot 100 for Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love” and a new high for Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.”
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 senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson 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.)