“I was hanging on a cross just the other day,” John Legend joked to a packed crowd at the penthouse of NeueHouse Hollywood last evening (April 5). The occasion was an intimate cocktail party to debut his new single “A Good Night” and its video — filmed entirely with the new Google Pixel 2 smartphone.
The BloodPop-assisted song is a mid-tempo party romp about potentially meeting your soulmate. “I know it’s going to be a good night/ I think I just met my wife,” sings Legend on the chorus.
The video, directed by Mishka Kornal, was filmed with a total of 23 Pixel phones over 14 hours. Embracing both new technology and the new dating scene since the advent of Tinder and other services, the video is set in a club. Visually replicating the swiping motion used on smartphones, the video shows dating candidates literally swiping away potential significant others until one couple connects with each other. Making a cameo in the video: Jay Ellis of Insecure.
“This song was the first thing I wrote when I got off tour,” said Legend following the video’s debut. “My next album isn’t even done yet. But I wanted to put this out now for spring and summer to give people something to party to and feel good to.”
Legend later sat down with Billboard to chat about what’s next after portraying Jesus Christ, the new album he’s planning to release at the end of the year and the song that signals summer for him.
Where do you get your energy?
[Laughs] I was on a high after Sunday’s show. My whole family was in the trailer: my wife and daughter, my mother and father and stepmother, a couple of aunts and cousins. We all had a glass of champagne in the trailer to celebrate right after the production. Then we went out and had a little party afterwards, partied with the cast, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice. I couldn’t even sleep afterwards because I felt so good about how everything went and the response that we’d gotten. So I was on a high for a couple of days and now I’m back to earth. I’ve just been chilling this week other than doing this event.
Are you up for doing another stage production?
Definitely. It’s hard to match what we did because it’s such an iconic show and iconic role. How do you come back from playing Jesus Christ? It’s like what else do you play after that? But I could see myself doing an original production if we came up with the right concept for something for me to write for Broadway. In the meantime, we’ll just take the opportunities as they come.
Have people been talking to you about the possibility of joining the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) circle?
Oh, yeah, they’ve asked me [Laughs]. I don’t know what to say about it other than obviously I won’t turn it down.
How did the Google alliance come about?
Well, Google approached us about doing a bunch of things and it all kind of came together. We’ve been doing the Google Assistant ads and Make Google Do It; you’ve seen me and Chrissy in those. Then we just did some Google Duo spots with me and Chrissy and me and Luna as well that we’ve been publish online. And this all about the Google Pixel. The whole relationship has been great.
What were the advantages of filming the video with Google Pixel 2?
There were certain things that gave us more flexibility about using the phone. We could do a 12-camera circle around someone in a way that you could never do with more expensive cameras because you just wouldn’t have the budget to rent out all those cameras. To be able to use that many phones was actually more flexible and gave us a little more power to do things that we might not have done otherwise. I think it’s going to result in the democratization of storytelling and filmmaking that will be really cool.
You call “A Good Night” a song of summer. What favorite song always signals summer for you?
The song that makes me think about summer and house parties is Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” When I play that song, it makes me think it’s time for a cookout, it’s time to have some fun. It puts me in an instant good mood.
Speaking of instant good mood, “A Good Night” is a fun change of pace for you now.
I’ve done this kind of thing before, but I think people associate me with romantic ballads or political civil rights anthems. My career really covers a range of songs, but certain songs have kind of become my signature. So whenever I do something that’s not known as my signature, people are like “Oh, I didn’t know you did that too.” But this is part of me; it takes me back to “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” and “Green Light.” It’s not a foreign concept for me to do this type of song.
Is this the overall direction that your next album is taking?
I don’t know. I always say when I’m writing an album that it’s a discovery process. So I’m allowing myself to discover whatever is going to come to me and whatever collaborations that’s going to inspire as well.
What other projects are on your plate?
There’s the film Monster and we’re hoping to finish the distribution deal for that very soon. And there are a couple films that we’re premiering at Tribeca [Film Festival]. One is a documentary called United Skates and the other is a drama called O.G. starring Jeffrey Wright who is in Monster as well. I love Jeffrey; he’s one of the best doing it. We’ve also got some television projects that we can’t announce yet.
Any chance for your previous TV series Underground to return in the future?
Unfortunately, no. We tried very hard to find a new distribution partner and we couldn’t find one. And at a certain point, all cast members have to be released so they can do what they want to do. We just couldn’t find something in time to keep them all on hold under their contracts. We can’t resurrect it, and that’s a shame. The company that let it go, Sinclair, is the same company at the center of the viral video showing what they’re doing with local news. Clearly, they wanted to take WGN America is a different direction rather than keep the best-rated, most critically acclaimed show on the network. That was really a tough thing for us to deal with, because we couldn’t stop it from happening. They bought the network and that’s what they wanted to do with it.
And you’ll no doubt be taking some time off shortly when your son arrives.
I’m going to write until the baby comes this summer. Then I’ll take some time off and get back to work in the fall.