I Interviewed John Legend on "Toxic Masculinity" and Race—Here's What He Said

Hallie Gould
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John Legend (born John Roger Stephens, but clearly he knew early on the legacy he'd amass) is one of those celebrities you feel like you know, even when you haven't had the pleasure. He seems like a person you've spent time with, either at a concert, on the internet, or as part of his wife, (model, TV host, and author) Chrissy Teigen's, love for that Arthur meme.

What sets Legend apart, though, other than his buttery vocal chords, is his well-spoken, thought-provoking cultural commentary. There are so many celebrities who speak out, but only a few who do it in a way that reveals such preparedness. That's what I remember thinking as I climbed the stairs to his trailer ahead of our interview.

"I would [discuss race, gender, and politics] even if I didn’t have a large platform—they interest me regardless," Legend says. "I do think being a successful artist and having an audience allows for more people to pay attention and care what I think. I've made a choice to use [my platform] in a way I hope will make the world better and make the conversation better.

"Every artist doesn't choose to do that, and I don't think they need to. Not everyone wants to deal with it—to do the homework, learn about all the things required to engage in a controversial conversation in a way that's fruitful. For me personally, it's part of who I am, and it's part of me being the full, whole, human artist that I want to be."

Legend partnered with Axe as a mentor and activist to better reach high school students with by sharing a message of inclusive masculinity, challenging traditional gender norms, and teaching confident self-expression. "[Axe and I] have been working together for a few years now, a lot of it up to this point has been about encouraging creative people to be fearless. They're selling [their products] to a bunch of men of various ages, so masculinity is a natural part of the conversation."

Legend grew up in a family that loved music and the arts, but jock culture still remained a part of his reality. "I loved sports, but I was never a good athlete. I enjoyed playing, but I was never the biggest, or the strongest, or the fastest," Legend says. "I was really into math and reading, as well as performing on stage. Though that's not necessarily valued in high school culture as much."

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