John Legend, Jonah Hill and Others Honored at WSJ Magazine Awards

WSJ. Magazine 2018 Innovator Awards - John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Grace Seo Chang and David Chang -Getty-H 2018
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The 12th annual awards honored innovators in food, fashion, design, entertainment and more.

WSJ Magazine celebrated its 8th annual Innovator Awards, honoring innovators in food, fashion, design, entertainment and more, on Wednesday night at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“Everybody here is really creative. We make music. We make art. We make food. We make fashion,” John Legend told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think we’re all just being recognized for trying to do the best work that we can do.”

Legend received the Entertainment Innovator Award, presented to him by Gayle King. Legend concluded the evening with an intimate performance at the piano, singing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “Ordinary People” and “All of Me.”

“Honestly I don’t need an award for the things that I do because I truly, truly love what I do every day. The work itself is a reward for me,” Legend said from the MoMA podium. “I feel so lucky to get to do what I do. Part of my job is to tell the truth; part of what all artists do is tell the truth about the world as we see it. But I think the even more exciting part is we get to create a new world every single day.”

Legend also thanked his wife, Chrissy Teigen, for calling him her “second-favorite man in the room.” Teigen presented the Food Innovator award to David Chang, who earned the favorite title. “I’m not an innovator!” Teigen told The Hollywood Reporter on the carpet before the event. “She is though,” her husband insisted.

Teigen recalled frequenting Chang’s Momofuku when she and Legend lived in the East Village and also thanked him for making Asian food cool. “I grew up in an Asian household with an Asian mom who was really embarrassed to make Asian food,” Teigen said. “I had my friends over all the time. She was using fish sauce, she was using MSG, fish heads, innards of anything really. I just want to thank David for making it cool and making it accessible and for making it exciting for people all around the world.”

She also announced that Chang and his wife, Grace, are expecting their first child, saying he is “going to bestow that exact same happiness on his own little lucky peach in Grace.” Chang confirmed the news when he accepted the award and then he attributed his innovative success to failure.  

“I got into cooking because I really wasn’t good at anything else. I really wasn’t good at cooking. If you ask my first partner in cooking school, she dropped out rather than work with me,” Chang said. “Innovation, at least at Momofuku, is fucking up over and over and over again and having the grit to get up every single day.”

Channing Tatum presented Jonah Hill with the Film Innovator Award. On the carpet before the show the pair ran to each other and embraced several times for the cameras. Hill was honored for his directorial debut of Mid90s, and Tatum recalled their time working together for the first time on 21 Jump Street.

“I had never been in a comedy before and naturally I was terrified that I would not be funny. I guess people might have laughed at my movies but probably not intentionally,” Tatum said. “Jonah promised me that he was going to make me funny, so I consider myself one of the first people that he’s directed.”

Hill was supported for the night by many friends, including Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and he spoke about how Mid90s was a tribute to his childhood. “I haven’t invented an app or cured a disease, so I take the innovator title with a grain of salt,” Hill said. “But I have [been] fortunate enough to have a 15-year dream acting career, which gave me the opportunity to get an education and the experience and the confidence to do what I have always wanted to do, and that is to write and direct my own film.”

Cara Delevingne presented Phoebe Waller-Bridge with the television innovator award. Waller-Bridge has risen to fame quickly from turning her play into a cult-favorite Amazon series Fleabag to creating the hit series Killing Eve.

“When we talk about comedy we often say it’s funny because it’s true. Phoebe takes that truth telling to another level,” Delevingne said. “Her characters give voice to the inner monologue, which we’re all embarrassed and ashamed of. She gives strength to that voice in a time when women everywhere need to feel empowered most.”

Waller-Bridge shared an anecdote Leonard Cohen had told. He’d had the idea for a song while driving, but since he had no way of capturing the idea, he just kept driving. Then months later, he heard that song on the radio written by someone else.

“The practical artist in me was like, fucking pull over Leonard. Fucking write the thing down. Are you mental?” Waller-Bridge said. “It really stuck with me that. When I was thinking about being here tonight with all the other innovators, I was really proud to be in a group of other people who pulled over and wrote those ideas down and changed things.”

Lupita Nyong’o presented Black Panther costume designer Ruth E. Carter with the Design Innovator award. “When we first encountered this new world and stepped into these garments it immediately felt exciting and empowering,” Nyong’o said of the process. “For me as I prepared to play Nakia, Ruth’s collaborative spirit was a gift … Ruth and I were often negotiating revisions to Nakia’s wardrobe right up until it was time to shoot another scene and she never lost her cool. She always trusted her process and rolled with those punches.”

Darren Walker presented Agnes Gund with the Philanthropy Innovator Award. The art collector donated $100 million from the sale of a Lichtenstein painting to the Art for Justice Fund, which aims to reduce mass incarceration. Lena Herzog presented Nonny de la Peña with the Technology Innovator award for her work with virtual reality and journalism.

Virgil Abloh presented Ralph Lauren with the Fashion Innovator award, and Lauren harkened back to his beginning as a designer, when he turned down an offer from Bloomingdales to sell his ties if he changed the width and put the store’s label on the items.

“That was a turning point in my life. I turned that down because I believed in what I was doing,” Lauren said. “It was only a tie, not a piece of art. But I treated it like it was because it was my whole life. That tie helped me by giving me a sense of who I am, what I want to be.”