The Democrats chose John Legend, one of the most outspoken advocates for social justice in pop, to close out the second night of their 2020 convention. But it wasn’t the fiery side that sometimes turns up in interviews and on social media he was showing — it was Legend as healer and romantic, singing “Never Break,” the gospel-infused closing song from his latest album, “Bigger Love.”
Legend filmed the song on the stage of one of downtown L.A.’s venerable movie palaces, but the camera faced the empty auditorium rather than the rear of the stage, with Legend appearing to be alone at his piano at first before he was joined by a chorale of singers with their backs to the non-audience. “I’m not worried about us / And I’ve never been / We know how the story ends,” he sang.
“Thanks to the @DemConvention for asking me to close out a powerful night with my new song #NeverBreak,” Legend tweeted. “The song is about love, hope and resilience, and I think we could all use some of that right now.”
It won’t be the last time Legend’s music is heard during the convention, as he offered a preview of what to expect musically on closing night Thursday. When a fan tweeted, “I was hoping for Glory. But maybe another time,” the singer answered back, “Stay tuned for the rest of the week!”
Legend’s message was more peaceful and soothing than the songs heard on Monday night, and was clearly designed with the segue in mind of coming out of Jill Biden’s upbeat speech, one of the few major ones at the convention to avoid the subject of the current president.
The song got more airtime on cable networks than the closer Monday night, which had Stephen Stills and Billy Porter teaming up on the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth” — a song that many had to go online to find as anchors cut away to have pundits immediately discuss Michelle Obama’s speech. Legend got a little more respect Tuesday; MSNBC cut away before his appearance, but CNN let his song play out.
When his “Bigger Love” album came out earlier in the year, Legend provided an origin story for “Never Break.” “I wrote this song with Mr. Hudson, Nasri, and Greg Wells back in early 2019, and who knew how meaningful it would be now, during the pandemic and protests and all these things?” he told Apple Music. “It’s an ode to love and hope and resilience, and the power of the human spirit, and I felt like it was the perfect way to close the album.”
Although Legend shies away from politics in his songs, no one in music has been bolder about taking a stand in the public sphere. When Legend spoke with Variety recently for a cover story, he made his well-known feelings about Donald Trump even more abundantly clear.
“President Trump is obviously a bigot,” Legend told Variety. “He’s been a bigot his entire life. His father was a bigot, It’s part of his worldview (in which) there is a hierarchy of races. I believe he is an Eugenesist. That’s ingrained in him, He’s also a narcissist, so he’s not actually very good at managing anything. He’s bad at managing the pandemic response. Even bad at executing his own twisted ideas. That’s probably one of his only saving graces — he’s not capable of executing all the truly terrible things that he wants to do in this country that are manifestations of his sick mind… He’s not capable of leading the country well, particularly, when we have moments of racial unrest and responses to racism. Having a bigot as chief executive is a terrible thing — someone who also has authoritarian impulses who wants to use the military to wage war on undesirable citizens. We’re always going to be a weaker nation with him in charge, and it is an urgent priority that he is not in charge.”