The musician opens up about his teenage years, confronting toxic masculinity and how with Chrissy Teigen, he's grown as a husband and father

Few stars inspire #husbandgoals like John Legend. From the platinum-selling sweet ballads he sings as odes to wife Chrissy Teigen, to the countless adorable selfies of him doting on their 16-month-old daughter Luna Simone, fans agree he’s the quintessential catch.

It’s no wonder Axe tapped him as the face of their new Find Your Magic Initiative and Senior Orientation program, which aims to teach and promote inclusive masculinity amongst high schoolers. Legend, 38, who’ll soon be mentoring teens back in his home state of Ohio, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue that the topic strikes a chord with him.

“In high school, I was two years younger than everybody in my class so not only was I not athletic but I was short and just this little 12-year-old showing up at high school, hadn’t gone through puberty yet,” he says. “I was super shy.”

For more on John Legend pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.


The star says talent was his saving grace. “Expressing myself musically was the way I started connecting with people. It made me more confident. I knew I could get up on stage and just move people.” Despite the awkward phase, Legend was still a ladies’ man, of sorts. “I was a church boy, good grades, student body president … moms liked me more than their daughters!”

When it comes to toxic masculinity (often described as problematic norms of behavior encouraged upon men such as aggression, hypersexuality or suppressed emotional output) Legend says it’s something he’s had to confront. “I’ve dealt with it, particularly because I collaborate with a lot of hip hop artists and I think hip hop is such a masculine, homosocial environment. In the studios, it’s usually all men, on tour, it’s all men. I think because of that, it’s an environment where toxic masculinity can flourish.”

For more from Legend, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Madonna and her family on the Sept. 18, 2017 issue of PEOPLE

But thanks in part to pal JAY-Z, Legend says that’s changing. “With Jay on his last album [4:44], with him confronting the things that were going on in his relationship and talking about therapy and really being introspective…all of us feel emotions, pain and hurt. I think it’s healthy that we acknowledge some of that.”

For his part, Legend has been open about supporting his wife Teigen, 31, through her postpartum depression and her recent decision to cut back on drinking.

“[Marriage] helps you develop more empathy. Part of being a good husband and father is being able to listen, be humble and compromise. It’s not about dominance and power,” he says, adding, “You learn as you get older, the best relationships are about give and take.”