The American superstar talks to us ahead of his Abu Dhabi concert.
There was a time when male pop stars were all about choreography, clothes and curtains, and very rarely did creativity play a part. American superstar Charlie Puth is a rare, refreshing breed – he is a singer, songwriter and producer, and redefining the male pop star, one hit at a time.
FACT caught up with the singer ahead of his first concert in Abu Dhabi at the Etihad Arena on 1 October. Speaking on a video call from New York, he was dressed down in a white vest, gold chain and that signature scar on his eyebrow. He didn’t shy away from questions, whether it was politics or his personal life, giving smart, sensitive answers that ended in a smile.
New Jersey, United States is famous for giving the world amazing artists: Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston. Now, the Garden State can add another name to its alumni: Charlie was born in Rumson and was destinated for a career in music. His music teacher mother would put headphones next to her pregnant belly. She introduced him to classical music, taught him the piano and created a child with perfect pitch.
In an industry filled with reality TV stars, Charlie is the real deal. He studied music from a young age at Berklee College of Music and Manhattan School of Music. He had a Gen Z entry in the music industry – à la YouTube – as he was inspired by Justin Bieber to share songs. He caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, and signed with eleveneleven and then Atlantic Records.
Charlie started out making hits for other people. So, what made him believe he could shine in the spotlight? “I have always been obsessed with how people react to music. I love how music can change someone’s day. If they are having a bad day, if there’s a good song, they’ll be in a different mood.
“I wanted to be responsible for writing songs that alter people’s moods. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to be an artist, but I was a little shy. So, I told myself I would be the producer for artists. I’m happy that I can be both of those things now and wear both of those hats.”
In 2015, Charlie released his debut song Marvin Gaye with Meghan Trainor. His back catalogue includes Attention, How Long and Light Switch, and three studio albums. He plays with genres, combining pop with electro and funk, and catchy beats and catchier lyrics.
Over his career, he has collaborated with everyone from K-poppers BTS to rapper Wiz Khalifa. “I’m telling the truth when I say I would collaborate with anybody. They don’t have to be a world-famous singer; they could just have a really good voice and passion behind the project.” He pauses and smiles: “That being said – The Beatles. I have never worked with Paul McCartney before. So why not?”
He goes so far as to say that The Beatles’ I Will is his favourite song (right now). He enthuses: “Not only is it a pop song, it’s a classic written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon and a piece of art. It also has elements of classical music. Every great pop song should have a little bit melodically derived from classical. The Beatles did that very well. Paul McCartney still does that and I try and do that.”
He counts producers Max Martin (“he made some of my favourite songs”) and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (“I’m actually friends with them, which is crazy”) as inspirations. Who inspires him now? “Nowadays, music is so ambidextrous. It’s almost completely genre-less. I am paying close attention to people and how they speak. In conversation, they might inadvertently say the coolest thing and that might become a song.”
When you look at Charlie’s social media, he is #obsessed with production. He literally makes music out of anything, from the sound of a siren to Keeping up with The Kardashian’s Kylie Jenner saying “good morning”. Since he has more than 17 million Instagram and 22 million TikTok followers, do streaming platforms affect his craft?
“I’m never making songs for any platform. I urge any songwriter or producer to never water anything down to fit a 30 second block. Fine, have fun with the trends but you should be making trends. I look at those things as the vehicle: YouTube and TikTok. There was a time when MySpace was a vehicle. Take those things out of the equation when you’re making your art. When it’s time to do that, make alternations for each platform. As cheesy as it sounds, just focus on yourself.”
Charlie’s advice clearly works. He has acclaim, awards, adoring fans and 40 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Success in the music industry has changed, however, as streams mean more than songwriting credits. So, how does he measure success?
He laughs: “I ask if I am bored? And I’m not bored yet. I’m never going to be bored with making music. I wake up every day just as excited as I was when I first started in my musical career – and that’s over two decades ago.”
Another thing Charlie is excited about is coming to the UAE. He promises to perform old, new and newer songs – aka ones made up on the spot. He confirms: “Every place we perform in is special and should feel tailored just for the that region. I actually write my best songs when I get off stage. When I get off stage in Abu Dhabi, I am going to be inspired to make a song to come and play for them next year”.
As he is passionate about making music for himself and his fans, it’s hard to believe it didn’t play a role in his recent engagement. He proposed to his childhood friend, Brooke Sansone, and shared a gushing post and pictures on Instagram. He reveals: “It’s pretty anti-climactic. It was just over pizza and it felt natural. I never imagined it being pomp and circumstance, and fireworks going off in the background,” he moves his hands dramatically in the air. “That always felt corny to me. It was just a nice intimate moment with someone who I would like to share the rest of my life with.”
Not one to shy away from his emotions, he is part of the new wave of masculinity – and, importantly, talent – in the industry. Charlie Puth: part pop star, complete musical genius.
GO: Visit www.charlieputh.com for more information.