Charlie Puth was only 23 when he wrote and performed the 2015 song “See You Again” with the rapper Wiz Khalifa. It was one of the biggest pop hits of the decade, staying at number one for 12 weeks. It also got nearly six billion views on YouTube, making Puth a real star. After that, he made two big solo albums with big hits like “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” “Attention,” “How Long,” and “The Way I Am.”
Wiz Khalifa’s song “See You Again” ft. Charlie Puth:
But in early 2020, Charlie Puth said that his much-anticipated third album would not be released because, in his words, “none of the music felt real.”
“Tony Dokoupil, a co-host on “CBS Morning,” asked Puth, “You were a bankable star. You had multiple Grammy nominations, a billion streams of your songs, and you toured and sold out stadiums. So, saying “Stop” is a big deal. How did you feel when you said, “No, we’re not going to do this”?”
“I’ll never forget it,” said Puth. “When I decided to start over, I went to a restaurant in West Hollywood. The maitre d’ came over and told me that Elton John wanted to meet me.”
The pop star had heard an early version of the album from a friend. “He told her, “That music you just released wasn’t very good.” And I was surprised by that, not because I disagreed with him, but because you don’t usually run into Elton John at a restaurant and have him tell you exactly what you were thinking 10 minutes earlier.”
Puth said, “It did, but it didn’t.” “It hurt for about two minutes. When I returned to the table, I pointed up and said, “That proves everything.”
It was a moment that made Puth think about how he fell in love with music as a kid in Rumson, New Jersey. His father was a builder, and his mother taught music.
In an interview with Dokoupil in 2018, Puth said, “Every day, she would play the piano when I woke up. That was her playing the alarm clock. My brain would be musically awake before I even ate breakfast.”
Soon, Puth’s parents realized their son had a unique ability to remember songs: “It was much easier for me to listen to The Beatles. When I was ten, I thought I could listen to the record and play it back by listening to it. I thought that was just the way things were.”
By the time he was 10, the musical genius was playing at school and in church. It all started when the organist didn’t show up. “So many times, I had heard the mass and the music. Just now, I played the whole mass.”
Dokoupil said, “It’s almost like the “Is there a doctor on the plane?” thing that happens on planes. But it was like, “Is there a church organist?”
“I put up my little hand, but my feet couldn’t even reach the pedals!”
“What gave you the courage to do that in God’s house, in a room full of adults?”
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is save the day!” Puth answered.
Not only did adults notice, but so did his classmates. “I was shy, but I wasn’t at the same time. I wasn’t shy when I was making music that I liked. I was very shy when I had to do a science project.”
“But you can just walk up on the stage and play the organ at church or a school assembly?”
“Yeah, because I was sure I understood. I knew that on that day, no one else would be able to do that. I could say that in the most humble way possible.”
“You don’t have to be that humble,” I said.
“I just liked making people happy.”
Because of this, Puth went to top music schools in Boston and New York City.
He was always singing his songs on YouTube and starting at the Bitter End in Manhattan on an actual stage. He thought back, “I was so scared. I played for an hour, and there were 200 people there.”
The crowds got bigger, and when Puth went on tour in 2018, he seemed to enjoy every minute of it. But later that year, at his home in Los Angeles, the musician started to think a lot about himself, even though “See You Again” had been a huge hit. He then said, “We had the most popular song ever. I had to make a record. It was done quickly. And we had songwriters make records for me who didn’t know me or even talk to me half the time. It sounded good, but I didn’t understand what those songs were trying to say.”
The pandemic hit shortly after, and he decided to stop and start over. He turned to TikTok when he wanted to try something new. He said, “I thought I was going to teach people and just make music for others.”
He worked with Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber to write the #1 hit “Stay.” “I thought, “All right, that’s what I’ll do from now on. I’m going to make other people’s dreams come true,’ “he said. “But I kind of told myself a lie.”
Instead, he began writing again for Charlie Puth. Now, three years later, Puth, the pop star, is back with a song with Jung Kook of BTS that is a huge hit.
“Left and Right,” by Charlie Puth and BTS’s Jung Kook:
Even though “Charlie” is Puth’s third album, the 31-year-old singer says it feels like his first in some ways. “From now on, I’ll tell the truth,” he said. “You can’t write a song about a lie. From now on, I’ll only tell the truth. Even if it hurts me, I’ll know it’s the truth.”
Charlie Puth on Redirecting His Career
The musical prodigy became more well-known after his 2015 song “See You Again” with rapper Wiz Khalifa became a huge hit. But at the beginning of 2020, Charlie Puth stopped. He talks with “CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil about how he fell in love with music, how a chance meeting with Elton John made him rethink his career, and how “Charlie,” his third album, feels like his first.
You can listen to Charlie Puth’s new album. You must sign up for Spotify for free to hear the full songs.
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Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.