John Legend on Friend Kanye West and His Own Political Activism: 'Speak Out for What's Right'
"Clearly I disagreed with some of the things he was saying, and I was worried that his saying it might empower some of the wrong forces," says Legend
Now, the “All of Me” singer, 39, is speaking out in a new interview with WSJ. Magazine for its annual INNOVATORS issue about his relationship with West, 41, and why it was important for him to respond publicly on social media.
“A lot of people have tried to armchair-diagnose him, but I leave it to him and his doctor to discuss what’s going on in his brain,” Legend says in the interview (shared exclusively with PEOPLE) about West, who previously revealed he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“Clearly I disagreed with some of the things he was saying, and I was worried that his saying it might empower some of the wrong forces, might be really demoralizing for people who looked up to him and thought of him as a leader.”
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Acknowledging that his friend may be drawn to President Donald Trump‘s “personality” and “marketing panache” and his “don’t-give-a-f—ness,” Legend, who was named entertainment innovator of the year, explained that he didn’t want fans to blindly follow West’s views.
“My point to him was that when you wear that hat, when you appear to be endorsing him, you’re endorsing his policies as well, all of his rhetoric and not just the parts you like,” said Legend. “I think we had to talk about it, because we didn’t want people to be deceived into following his line of thought without considering the full ramifications.”
Both Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen are politically active and use their social platforms to urge fans to hit the voting booth. Over the last week, the cookbook author and TV show host has been tweeting at her followers to “vote blue.”
However, he doesn’t see himself seeking office any time soon.
“People ask me if I want to run for office, but I don’t,” admitted Legend. “Maybe when I’m 60 — who knows what the world is going to be then? — but I love my life now and what I get to do. Part of me does want those things — when I hear things our leaders are saying, I’m like, ‘If it were me, I would do this, this and this.’ But I would not want to go to work every day, even at the Capitol Building or the White House. I just couldn’t see it as the life I would want to live.”
That being said, Legend has long been a supporter of education and prison reform, and he plans to continue advocating for these issues no matter who is in office.
“So many of the laws that affect criminal justice and education are determined in state legislatures,” he said. “So much of the practice of adjudicating and sentencing is done by district attorneys. It makes you laser-focused on the local and the state level, because we definitely don’t have a partner in the White House that will do the right thing. I still speak out against Trump as a citizen, as a voter, as someone who’s got a national voice, but a lot of the activism we do is focused on local and state.”
Indeed, the star wrote an essay when he was 15 years old in which he told himself he would one day use his voice as an artist to make a difference in the world.
Said Legend: “That essay said, ‘This is what I want to do — I want to become an artist, work in the music business, be successful and use that success to be a leader in other ways.’ If you read that essay, what I planned to do is almost to a T what I’m doing right now.”
WSJ. Magazine‘s INNOVATORS issue hits newsstands Nov. 10.
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