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Elton John on What Advice He Gave to Young Thug, His Return to the Hot 100 and His Upcoming Hip Surgery

Elton John’s new album, The Lockdown Sessions, comes out Oct. 22, but it’s far from the only project on the superstar’s plate. At 74, he is — to his delight — as busy as ever.

John and fellow legend Stevie Wonder spoke to Billboard last week about “Finish Line,” their duet on the former’s new LP. He also filled Billboard in on some of his other upcoming activities, his advice to Young Thug and how the insatiably curious superstar stays current on new music.

Update on John’s hip surgery

Up next for John is surgery Oct. 9 to replace his right hip. Last month, John announced further postponement of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour after he injured himself in a fall this summer. The already rescheduled European tour dates, which had been pushed back to later this year because of the pandemic, will not happen until 2023. The U.S. portion is still slated to re-start in January 2022 in New Orleans.

The three-year world outing started in 2018 and was scheduled to finish in 2021, but has been extended because of COVID-19. “It’s been long overdue and I can’t wait to get it done, rehab and get back to normal,” John tells Billboard of the surgery. “It’s just wear and tear. My left hip is the hip of a two-year old and my right hip is the hip of a 90-year old.”

On his return to the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in 21 years

John made his way back onto the Billboard Hot 100 after a two-decade absence with “Cold Heart (PNAU Remix)” with Dua Lipa from The Lockdown Sessions. The song marks his 68th career entry with a span of 51 years between “Cold Heart” and “Border Song,” which bowed at No. 93 on the Aug. 15, 1970 chart.

“You can imagine how I feel,” John says. “A lot of it is, of course, due to Dua Lipa’s popularity and the brilliant Pnau remix, but I feel very very content and happy that I’m relevant. I’ve always tried to be relevant. I think a lot of that is due to the fact that I do my own [Apple Music] radio show, [“Rocket Hour]. My object when I do that is to play new music by new artists. I’ve come into contact with them, promote them and become friends.”

The Devil Wears Prada musical is back on track

John is no stranger to Broadway, having scored a number of musicals, including winning a Tony in 2000 for best original score for Aida. His latest effort, writing the music for an adaptation of the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, is being workshopped in New York now with an eye toward opening in Chicago in July after being delayed because of the pandemic.

“It’s in really, really good shape. I’m very, very happy with it,” John says. “David [Furnish, John’s manager/husband] will be going to New York twice before Christmas to see workshops on it. It’s mostly all women involved in it. It’s a woman’s story and it should be told by women: we have a woman director, a woman playwright, a woman lyricist, a trans choreographer. I’ve never worked with a woman lyricist before and Shaina Taub has been remarkable to work with. I’ve enjoyed every single second of working with her… I haven’t been this excited about something I’ve written for a long, long time as far as something for the stage.”

We can thank Elton John for Young Thug singing

John first met the rapper after Young Thug sampled John’s classic “Rocket Man” for his 2018 track, “High.” Young Thug and Nicki Minaj appear on “Always Love You” on The Lockdown Sessions. “He wanted to meet me…and we shot the breeze for 40 minutes,” John says. “He said, “What do you think? What advice would you give me?’ I said, ‘Did you sing in the choir?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, of course I sang in the choir. Gospel choir.’ I said, ‘Sing more. Don’t just rap, sing more, because the mixture of rap and musicianship and melody is what really makes rap take off.’ And he’s doing that now.”

John also recalls the rapper freestyling in the studio for “Always Love You,” and being “just blown away. I mean, I’ve seen Marshall [Mathers] do it in Detroit, but I’ve never seen someone like Thug come in and do that. In the end, I had to leave because I think he felt a bit intimidated that I was there and I just wanted him to relax. But it’s just an amazing moment in my musical life… I have no understanding of how rap records are put together and it’s fascinating to watch.”

His thirst for new music remains strong

For years, John has listened to almost every new release put out each week. When he lived in Atlanta years ago, Tower Records would open early each week for him to come in and buy all the new music. Now, his method has changed slightly, but his hunger remains as intense.

“I get a list of all CDs that come out Friday morning at ten o’clock,” he says. “Then I ring [someone] up and say, ‘These are the ones I want.’ I also got the vinyl list that week, and that’s how I get [those records]. And I go to various websites and and see the things they’ve left off and order those as well. It’s not the same [as going into a store] — but when I’m in L.A., I go to Amoeba and London I go a Rough Trade. I still get the excitement of going to those places.”

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