Charlie Puth is a study in contradictions: A habitually private person with a tendency to overshare, sometimes to the point of TMI. A perfectionist who counter-intuitively loves to leak his unpolished drafts and demos. A shitposter with the emotional range to drop a tasteful nude on Instagram one week, then a tearful TikTok recalling the most brutal breakup of his life the next. And that special brand of shamelessness is what makes Puth’s latest release—a bop-filled, self-titled album called Charlie—so endearingly and inimitably him.
“It’s a big deal for me, because at the very beginning of my career, it was more about having the hit song, the hit record,” Puth admits. “Nobody necessarily cared about who was singing it… I’ve never put out music that is truly Charlie, that’s truly myself—my personality with some melody attached to it. And that’s what this album is.”
Charlie is an unexpectedly punchy tribute to the misery of losing a lover (and yourself) in the throws of a toxic relationship. Puth has been tight-lipped on the lover in question, but the arc of his fling with singer Charlotte Lawrence bears an uncanny resemblance.
“I have a song called ‘That’s Hilarious,’ where I went through a treacherous relationship and it was like an emotional, manipulative tennis match between two people,” Puth says of the new album’s second single. “And I became a pretty bad, ugly person in the midst of all that.”
It took three years for Puth to process the fallout and find closure. But the result is undeniably some of his best and most personal work to date.
“I’m just very excited about everything in my life,” Puth says. “Maybe sometimes I overshare a bit too much online, but I don’t fucking care…This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my musical career, and just so happens to be the proudest I’ve ever been in regard to the way that I look and present myself. I feel like I’ve really come into my own stylistically.”
To celebrate the release, the pop prodigy gave Glamour a peek inside his gloriously chaotic mind and the songs he loves to perform the most.
All these songs started out from conversations that I was having with myself…I don’t like therapy. I just like listening to music and figuring things out by myself. It takes a little bit longer, but I really do feel like you can problem-solve just by having conversations with yourself.
I was going through it at the time and I was thinking to myself whilst in the shower, of course: “What’s a creative way to explain to millions of people, potential listeners, that I, much like them, have gone through hard times emotionally in relationships? And what’s a creative way to say that, other than the typical breakup song?”
And I just had the word loser in my mind. Because I felt at the time, when I parted ways with this person, I felt like such a loser. Like I could have given so much more of myself and opened myself up, and maybe it could have evolved into something great. But I was very closed off at the time. And I remember saying to myself in the shower, I remember feeling like such a loser. Then: “How’d I ever lose her?” And it dawned on me that lose her—two words—sounded exactly the same as loser. And I forget what that’s called, I think it’s a homophone or something? Anyway, I just thought it was creative. And when I had those two words in my head, the melody just appeared.
“Smells Like Me”
I really love “Smells Like Me.” I love how it sounds like a 2005 reality show intro, but just describes and illustrates such a painful time in my life in such a beautiful musical way.
In a since-deleted tweet, Puth said this of the track’s meaning: “It’s about when you think of the person you were with for so long having sex with someone new but with they’re wearing clothes that smell like you still while they…. lol.”
I would have never been allowed to put out a song called “Smells Like Me” six years ago. I love this song though, because it has such an ugly title but it’s so beautiful musically. And I love that strict dichotomy.
Puth agrees with fans: There’s a synergy between “Attention” and “That’s Hilarious,” the second single from his new album.
Lyrically there are strict parallels—not about the same person obviously. Some years had gone by between those two songs, but similar with what was going on.
“Attention” was the first successful attempt at me breaking out from that box, where I was granted and allowed and given confidence that I could produce a record on my own and write it with one person and have it come out. And it’d be not only a commercial success, but a success for my heart…It’s one of the reasons why that’s still one of my favorite songs to perform.
Famously, Puth spent six months perfecting the track.
That was during the days where I was absolutely neurotic about everything sounding pristine and perfect in the mix of a song. Now of course, I throw up demos on TikTok and they’re not even remotely sounding the way I want them to sound ultimately. But it’s kind of in the nature now. I don’t need to be so hell-bent on the perfection of everything.
It’s one of my favorite songs and it kind of started as an accident honestly.
“BOY” is a perfect pop song—a fan-favorite track that is more or less a four-minute synopsis of The Graduate. It tells the story of Puth pursuing an older woman who won’t take himself seriously due to his age.
I started with 12 chords. And I accidentally—when I make music in Pro Tools, I accidentally highlighted all of those chords that I had recorded and dragged them over to the right one eighth note. I just accidentally dragged them over to the right. And I already had an eighth note high hat track, and it just opened up the song so much more, just from that one rhythmic mistake. I didn’t have the vocal, I didn’t have the verse melody, the pre-chorus melody, or anything. But it gave it such an interesting rhythmic pocket, when I dragged over these prerecorded synths, and it just opened up the song even more.
And it’s a complex rhythm, but it’s just so much fun. It’s addictive to listen to. You can just listen to it on a loop and it feels like it’s never-ending.
I love to talk shit, but not be vindictive. ‘Everybody makes mistakes’ is my thing. I always remind myself to not be too vindictive when writing music because you never want to make people feel bad. But the only way that I’m going to create real music is if I tell the truth. Every time I haven’t told the truth—maybe referencing my first record minus a couple of songs, minus “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” et cetera—it just hasn’t come off as genuine. And it’s no surprise that, when anybody is telling the truth… If they’re not trying to be funny, they end up being funny. Some of the best movies like Clerks by Kevin Smith were not made with high budgets and they didn’t really think anything of it. But of course it’s a cult classic and one of the most, I think, important movies of the ’90s to the 2000s.
That was a very far-reach example, but when I made “How Long” I was simply listening to a lot of Calvin Harris. And I was obsessed with one snare and I thought, wow, that snare would go great with this lyrical thought in my mind. And it’s again, on the verge of being too explicit in a way. But it’s fun because it just hops and the kick drum just bounces with the lyric, which I like a lot.
The quotes in this story have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Hanna Lustig is a staff writer at Glamour.
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