John Legend explores the countless contradictions of life in the United States in his charged new song “In America.” Legend co-wrote the track with acclaimed producer and songwriter Dave Tozer for WGN America’s pre-Civil War series, Underground.
“In America” moves deftly between a thumping verse and a sweeping chorus, building incrementally to a gospel-tinged fever pitch that tapers swiftly into a sparse, chilling end. Legend presides over the track with equal parts anger and hope. “In America, in America/ I still can’t breathe in America,” he sings, alluding to the death of Eric Garner. “Watch them squeezing my neck/ Watch them bullets connect/ We still gonna fight in America.”
“‘In America’ was born around the same time I was working on my most recent album Darkness and Light,” Legend said in a statement. “It’s a song I was writing while thinking about the duality of America, where it’s known to be this place of freedom, equality and where anyone can make it. The song points out the tension between the promise of America, the ideals of America, and sometimes us not living up to those ideals in practice. ‘In America’ was perfect song for Underground, a series I’m incredibly proud to be a part of, and one that does a beautiful job of portraying a challenging time in our nation’s history while reminding us that change is possible.”
In a statement, Tozer spoke about the song’s mix of optimism and pessimism. “When John and I were writing ‘In America,’ we wanted to give voice to the frustration that some people have been feeling in recent times,” he said. “To channel the experiences of people who feel targeted for who they are and those forced to work long hours just to keep their families afloat, and show that as a country we sometimes struggle to live up to the promise of the American dream. But we also wanted it to be hopeful, and show the optimism that leads people to pursue that dream.”
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“In America” was featured on the Season Two premiere of Underground, which is centered around the Underground Railroad running through Antebellum Georgia. Legend is a producer on the series, which airs Wednesdays, and will make a cameo as abolitionist Frederick Douglas on an episode airing April 5th.
Legend also recently appeared on the soundtrack for Disney’s live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, covering the titular song from the 1991 animated film with Ariana Grande. Legend released his last solo album, Darkness and Light, in 2016. He’s set to embark on a North American tour May 12th in Miami.