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Interview: Lionel Richie

Talking to Lionel Richie about the "Hello" video, Chinese food, and social media ahead of his Shanghai show on April 8th.
2014-03-24 16:56:05
Lionel Richie, the multi-platinum singer behind global hits like "Say You Say Me," "All Night Long," and one of the most memorable music videos ever for his track "Hello," sails into Shanghai for a show at the Mercedes Benz Arena on April 8. Using state-of-the-art computer technology, we caught up with him for a brief interview.

Originally we sent Mr. Richie some questions via email, which often results in short, boring answers written by PR flacks, but he was cool enough to serve up a .WAV file where he just dictates his answers in that silky smooth voice. This is a dude who played tennis in college as an economics major, sang with The Commodores, and then went on to sell millions of records as a solo artist and songwriter for other artists like Kenny Rogers, and still has time to sit down and record an interview for SmartShanghai. Seems like a really nice dude – here's what he said about Asia, social media and Chinese food.

SmSh: What's a typical day like for Lionel Richie in 2014? I'm sure every day is different so feel free to combine days.

Lionel Richie: Well when I'm on the road it's pretty locked in. I fight for eight hours of sleep. The second thing is I go and find me a great place to work out, which nine times out of ten is gonna be the stage, and then I try to stay as healthy as possible. That's my touring time.

When I'm home, it's a different story. I'm attacked by my family. I've got three kids – Nicole Richie, with the grandkids, I've got Miles Richie, nineteen years old looking for my car, any one of my cars, to take so he can go and take a girl out, and Sophie, my fifteen year-old, who's waiting to go on stage with me. So, I'm full-on attacked as a dad when I'm home. That's why I need the road to kind of go out and relax.

SmSh: In an interview with TimeOut London, you talk about how you're a Gemini and have a lot of different personalities, and go on to say "There’s the Asian version of the brother." Can you describe this Asian version of the brother? How often does he come out?

Lionel Richie: Well the Asian brother comes out probably sparingly as time goes on, but every once in a while, I think because of my touring and because of my love of certain art...It's definitely a freestyle. I'm very fascinated with the culture.

SmSh: Which new artists do you really enjoy?

Lionel Richie: I think my new [favorite] songwriter now is probably Bruno Mars. I love him as a songwriter; I just think he's fresh and probably has a long run if he just can keep his head on his shoulders. It's tough.

SmSh: How do you consume music these days? Do you still buy records? How do you stay up on what's coming out?

Lionel Richie: That's so incredible now, because it's streaming from so many different angles. It's Pandora, it's all kinds of things. I'm just bumping into it left and right. Plus, when I get to a country, I just turn on the radio, just locally to see what's on the radio, what is everybody listening to? But I'm kind of consuming it in a very mixed-matched kind of way now, because I’m traveling the world. I don't wanna hear what global radio is playing, I wanna hear what each region is playing, each country.

SmSh: I read another interview where you kind of complain that everyone is super connected with Facebook and other social media but we're not really paying attention to what's going on in the world, etc. Obviously music has changed a lot since the '60s and '70s — when did music take such a turn from being conscientious and talking about what's really going down? Why did this happen?

Lionel Richie: You know, truthfully, social media changed a lot because it went from "what's happening in the world?" to "what's happening to me?" and "what's happening to you?" It became personalized. Right now, I've got my daughter who follows her friends, as opposed to following world events. So, it's kind of funny now, if I say "Sophie what's going on in the world?" She'll say to me "Dad, did you see my new Instagram picture?" It's just the way the world has changed.

SmSh: What was your best show ever and why? What about your worst show ever and why?

Lionel Richie: Wow. My best show ever…oh my god that has gotta be the hardest question I've ever answered in my life. Well, probably the Olympics, which was the 1984 Olympics. The entire world was watching. This was before we had the computer, before we had Facetime, before we had anything – we had nothing but television. And so, when we had the Olympics closing or opening, the entire world was watching. I think that was probably one of the most exciting times, and the second would be "We Are The World," which was just global.

SmSh: Your video for "Hello" is one of my favorite videos of all time. Was the concept your idea? Do you have any stories about that video?

Lionel Richie: Well yeah. That was the one that caught me off guard. And I would love to tell you that I can take credit for the blind girl and the storyline but…I knew it was gonna be a great love song/story, and then Bob Giraldi, the director of the video, came in and said "I got a little twist I wanna make – I wanna make the girl blind." And I thought that was the worst idea I had ever heard in my entire life, until we actually did it in the video. And that is the part that made the video so popular. Everyone remembers it. It's one of my favorites, I must admit.

SmSh: The people wanna know - what's Lionel Richie's favorite Chinese food?

Lionel Richie: Well, if you're gonna go to a great Chinese restaurant, just leave me alone with the duck, some plum sauce, and some sticky ribs, and I'm the happiest guy on the planet.


...And for those of you who don't like to look at words. Here's a recording of the interview that you can stream or download.

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Lionel Richie performs at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Tuesday April 8, 2014. Tickets start at 380rmb, delivered to your door via SmartTicket.