End of 2019, Charlie Puth heard the words no artist ever wants to hear: “your music sucks this year”. Worse still, they come from Elton John.
Puth had released a trio of unique singles throughout the year, and his third album – the follow-up to his acclaimed 2017 set, Voice Notes – was in progress. But after John’s comment, the New Jersey native shifted gears and fully owned the music he was making – and now he’s arguably bigger than he’s ever been.
Charly, Puth’s new and improved third album, arrived October 7th. To say it was a highly anticipated release would be an understatement, especially in terms of TikTok. He teased track listing on the viral video-sharing app two weeks before the album’s release, and at press time, this video has 47 million views.
Puth used TikTok as a marketing tool to Charlybut in a way that, as he puts it, “[fans] I feel like they wrote the music with me.” The singer/producer began letting fans participate in his creative process with debut single “Light Switch,” in which he cleverly transforms the sound of “a real switch into a romantic metaphor and, more impressively, a catchy beat. This video immediately took off, and Puth started teasing the others Charly pieces as they came together, garnering millions of views on each one.
TikTok and Elton John are two huge pieces of the Charly puzzles, but certainly not the only ones. As Puth suggests, the album is simply a musical mirror – one that shows he’s the happiest he’s ever been.
“I don’t really think you can assign a particular genre to this album because it’s almost chaotic, like in my mind,” he explains. “I just tried to soundtrack my own mind.”
Puth broke down all the inspirations behind his third album and explained why calling Charly his “most personal album” isn’t as cliché as it sounds.
He was the awakening [that let me know] that I only had to produce the music. It must be me producing the album.
It’s not like I object to working with other producers. I worked with two other producers when I did “Stay” for [The Kid] LAROI and [Justin] bieber. But for my music especially at that time, it made sense.
My last two albums lacked a bit of cohesion. So it was very important that I handled all the instrumentation this time around. I just involved too many people in these few songs [in 2019], so I dropped the project and really tapped into what I was going through and feeling. I put my feelings first.
His busy mind
I don’t really like talking to people about my problems — I like trying to solve them myself. I think I have it in me to understand things with the help of music. I almost called this album Conversations with myself for this reason. At the end of the day, I was like, I should just name the songs after me ’cause they’re my personality to an absolute T.
Like on “When You’re Sad I’m Sad”, there are these strings and this piano. It’s so melodramatic, and it’s just like, “Oh, man, go for a ride.” It’s very revealing of my personality. And then “Light switch” [is too, with] the quirkiness of the lyrics.
I’m not trying to be the cool guy anymore. I try to show my personality. So “Light Switch” is that, in a way. It’s almost theatrical. I’m very, you know, Spicy and jazz hands and just hyper – like, I drink three cups of coffee at all times.
“I don’t think I like it” it’s almost like [a] 2022 Penny Lane. My love of jazz and very rich sounds, David Foster– as chord progressions are present in this song – and lyrical angst.
I basically say I’m dramatic and musical. [Laughs.] I’m a theater kid who turned into a pop singer.
I was going through two different types of breakups [when I began writing Charlie]: I had left my original label, [which] felt like a bit of a commercial break. And romantically, [I was] going through a breakup. These two things had nothing to do with each other, but were so much alike – the handling and the feeling that you constantly have to be in a state to prove yourself.
In a very boring long explanation, I have [since] resigned to my original label. [But at the time], I thought I had lost the key person on the label that I would run everything with. I got a little scared thinking I don’t know what’s good anymore, but I had it in me all the time. That’s what I discovered on this album, and that’s sort of why I turned to TikTok — for approval, almost.
I really live for people’s reactions. And what better place to get those reactions than playing live music? But you know, [during] the pandemic, we didn’t have live concerts. So I turned to the internet for a new way to play. [I thought,] It could be an interesting way to make people get too familiar with the music before it comes out, so they will feel like they wrote the music with me.
I used to think I had to act like Prince and not let anyone into my musical world. I flipped the script and let millions of people participate in my process. It was exciting for me. Humans are the best recipe for me to make a song, and people just happen to be in one place right now.
When I did “Light Switch”, which was the first single from the album, it was so different from records like “Attention” and “One Call Away”, that I was still in a state of is it good? So I turned to the internet, and I had a massive boost of getting, like, 10 million unique streams in one night. I had a foam finger the size of Dodger Stadium telling me I could keep making this song.
It’s not like everything has to have this grandiose reaction for me to get the chance to put it on my album. It’s the wrong mentality – any artist should just express how they feel. But it just worked for me.
Another thing people can take away from listening to this album is that anything can be turned into music. For example, the sprinkler I’m looking at right now that’s watering a small patch of dead grass on my lawn, I know it’s stepping. I can’t hear it right now, but I watch it thinking, What would be the instrument that would most resemble this sprinkler? That’s how my mind works — it’s been going on since I was 8 — and that’s what I’ve been doing throughout this album.
There’s a song called “When you’re sad, I’m sad,” which is about not being able to let go of something you’ve become so dependent on. There’s a lyric in the second verse that says, “I hear the tears in your eyes when you say ‘Please come get me’.” about something [the] call? When humans cry, there’s not an audible sound that comes out of your eyes, and I just made a mental note of it. When I got the rhyme “here” and “tears” I just did the whole song – I reversed it.
The music he grew up with
I was influenced by the feelings my friends and I had when we listened to albums. I remembered the first time my friend played “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears back in 1999. I was in his basement trading Pokemon cards, and my musical mind wasn’t quite there yet, but I just remember that warm, shocking feeling – I had never heard a thing such before.
I always remember that feeling of hearing something for the first time – like when I heard “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga for the first time. Those kinds of feelings that I tried to capture, and I wanted to make my own songs that someone else could listen to and have a similar reaction.
Just having fun
I found myself through the chord changes. I found out who I was by going to Conway Studios in Hollywood and documenting the process for millions of people to see. I was putting up a wall before, and now there’s no wall. I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had.
I have always felt the need to fill a void. As, we must have the uptempo record Where we need to make sure we have a half tempo song ‘I had these little things in mind. I never really put myself first [on previous albums]. This is the first time that I put myself forward.
I don’t really think of music in terms of success. I think of it in terms of “How many people can I affect with my message?” That’s what I was trying to say when i said I feel like “the greatest I’ve ever been” – not because of my own ego, but I have more reach.
I reached my most successful peak so far by being myself. If you are truly yourself, you can be your greatest success.
Everyone has a unique story, and I want [people] to hear one of my songs and say, “I’ve never been able to explain this feeling, but Charlie described it perfectly with a little melody attached to it.
I want people to take this album as a whole and know the two different types of so-called breakups I’ve been through, and know that I’m not immune to normal feelings. I’m like everyone else – I happen to play the piano and make songs about my feelings.
I aspire to be an artist capable of surprising an album like Beyonce Where taylor [Swift] Where Duckwhere every song has not been heard and everyone is impatient [waiting] – as the anticipation of Rihanna to follow up on his 2016 album. But, you know, I started out wanting people to be excited about two songs. Maybe they’ll be delighted with a surprise drop from me one day, but for now I’m going to share too much.
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