Relationships

John Legend, King of All Wife Guys, Is Indeed the Right “Sexiest Man Alive” Pick for Our Times

John Legend as Sexiest Man Alive on the cover of People magazine.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by People magazine.

People magazine named John Legend its official Sexiest Man Alive this week. In many ways, Legend is an obvious choice. Like 100 percent of past winners, his name is familiar, and his face and body are nice to look at. People aims to choose “the guy of the moment,” as an editor once told the Washington Post, and Legend certainly qualifies. He has an EGOT, a role on a popular television show, and has appeared on the covers of Time, GQ, and Ebony, among many others. Last year he played Jesus Christ himself in a live network television musical, for Pete’s sake. But Legend brings something new to the historical landscape of Sexiest Men: He is a wife guy.

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Many previous Sexiest Men Alive have been married men. But none had adoration of his wife at the center of his public image the way Legend does. Legend and his wife, Chrissy Teigen, aren’t just better together; they’re more famous together. They’ve shared the covers of Martha Stewart Weddings, DuJour, and Architectural Digest. Legend’s appeal is not just that he’s happily married, but that he’s happy to play straight man to a charming and accomplished wife. On the cover of the current issue of Vanity Fair, he kisses her cheek while she reclines into him and closes her eyes in bliss, their two perfect toddlers snuggled in their laps. The cover announces the couple as “The First Family We Deserve!” “I’m so proud that I have a wife and two kids I’m so in love with and so connected to,” he told People, putting first things first. “I’m also so proud of my career.”

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Legend’s and Teigen’s careers have flourished in such perfect tandem that even their individual efforts benefit from the glow of each other’s support. He recently appeared in a promotional video for her new cooking website. She gazes on adoringly as he sings. His biggest single, 2013’s “All of Me,” is a slow love song dedicated to Teigen, and the music video features the couple showering together and making lusty eye contact through a patio window. A few weeks ago, Teigen tweeted a video of a cheerfully “wine drunk” Legend singing an impromptu riff on “All of Me” at Universal Studios; it was incredibly charming. America loves John Legend, sure, but it really loves John Legend with Chrissy Teigen.

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The couple’s online banter in the wake of the announcement has generated its own glowing news cycle. People itself swooned over Teigen “trolling” her husband, after she simultaneously teased him and promoted his success on Twitter:

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Legend’s image as a Wife Guy makes him a very logical People pick for this particular moment in the history of female lust. One of the many lessons of the #MeToo era is that any famous man could be a monster when the cameras are off, even—especially!—if he seems charming. Marriage is no inoculation against monstrosity, of course. But Legend’s unceasing performance of his devotion to Teigen—he cried while introducing her at an awards ceremony last year!—certainly makes him seem like the safest possible choice for this award right now.

To be fair, the Sexiest Man Alive has never been someone with a truly dangerous image. Last year, Idris Elba was billed as both “smoldering” and “sweet” on the cover. But the magazine’s branding of its Sexiest Men has evolved with the times. In 2013, a tattooed (and unmarried) Adam Levine got the cover lines “cool, confident, seductive.” The first Sexiest Man Alive was 29-year-old Mel Gibson; his worst faults were then unknown, but he still projected a stone-faced aloofness in the cover shot.

In 2019, an actively “seductive” Sexiest Man feels all wrong. But can a man be Sexiest without being, well, sexual? The solution may just be a man whose sexuality has been tamed within an extremely horny style of public monogamy. Sure, Legend looks nice buttoning his suit on the magazine’s cover. But the real attraction is the wedding band facing the camera.

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