Meet Char­lie Puth, self-made mu­sic mogul

3.2 bil­lion views on Youtube. 21 mil­lion so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers. 2016’s big­gest-sell­ing in­ter­na­tional de­but al­bum in the UK. A num­ber 1 in the US sin­gles charts for 12 weeks. And he’s only 25…

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - NEWS - By Alice Vincent. Pho­to­graphs by Sa­man­tha Ca­so­lari

With 21m so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers, he’s the big­gest pop star you’ve never heard of. By Alice Vincent

Hours be­fore he walks on to the stage of the cav­ernous Bar­clays Cen­ter arena in New York, and per­forms to 18,000 peo­ple who all sing hi s lyrics back at him, Char­lie Puth turns to me and ad­mits, ‘I can’t be­lieve peo­ple ac­tu­ally like me. I still have that lit­tle thing at the back of my mind that says, “Oh, do peo­ple know me? I’m not that good. I’m not an amaz­ing singer live. I can do it, but I’m not in­cred­i­ble”.’ He is three months into his third tour – this one sup­port­ing Cana­dian singer Shawn Men­des on the North Amer­ica leg of his world tour – yet Puth con­tin­ues to teeter between glis­ten­ing con­fi­dence and dis­com­fort. ‘I was ask­ing, on the first night, “Are peo­ple go­ing to ac­tu­ally come out for me?” And they said, “Of course they will... ” I didn’t be­lieve them.’

Puth (rhymes with booth) is the most fa­mous pop star you’ve prob­a­bly never heard of un­less you’re the par­ent of a tweenager. In his first two years in the mu­sic busi­ness, he has amassed three Grammy nom­i­na­tions, 21 mil­lion so­cial-me­dia fol­low­ers and 3.2 bil­lion Youtube views for his sin­gle See You Again (the most-watched Youtube video in his­tory, end­ing Gang­nam Style’s five-year reign). But, even so, you’re more likely to recog­nise the catchy, tear-jerk­ing cho­rus of the song – which has been the sound­track to TV shows, films (in­clud­ing Fu­ri­ous 7), and even fu­ner­als and me­mo­rial ser­vices, and is such a roy­alty cash cow that one back­ing singer auc­tioned off a por­tion of hi s r i ght s t o f ut ure ro y a l ti e s f o r $ 3 4,0 0 0 (£28,000) – than you are to recog­nise Puth.

Sit­ting on a plas­tic sofa in a locker room of the arena, sur­rounded by his fam­ily and chew­ing rasp­berry liquorice, he could eas­ily pass for any other slightly gawky mil­len­nial –ad­mit­tedly a good-look­ing one – were it not for the glint of a rose-gold Rolex be­neath his cuff, a birth­day gift to him­self and some­thing he dis­cusses at length. (‘They made very few of them, no­body re­ally has it… They didn’t have it in New York, they didn’t have it in Swe­den, they didn’t have it in Lon­don, and they only had one left in Philadel­phia. I raced over there to get it… [ The weight of it] is just like some­one putting their hand on your hand. It makes me happy.’) He is 25, but looks younger, with the ghost of an ado­les­cent beard and a cir­cu­lar scar that cuts through his eye­brow, the re­minder of the 450 stitches he needed as a tod­dler af­ter a dog at­tack that al­most killed him. ‘I pulled the wrong dog’s tail – it ripped most of my face off,’ he says. ‘But now it kind of makes me look like a badass.’

Like Justin Bieber, Puth found fame through on­line videos, but he says that un­like Bieber he had to fight for it, as record la­bel bosses ini­tially planned to give See You Again to a big­ger singer. ‘They didn’t want me to be on [the song], be­cause I was this brand-new guy,’ he says. ‘They were lit­er­ally like, he’s not black, he can’t sing this song, he’s not ur­ban enough. I was like, “Are you f—ing se­ri­ous right now? I wrote the song!”’ says Puth, shak­ing his hands with ag­i­ta­tion. ‘I told them, “I pro­duced the record! You’re telling me I can’t be on it? I’m not giv­ing you the song any more.”’

Puth write s hi s s ongs fast . See You Again,

‘They were like, he’s not black, he can’t sing this song. I was like ‘‘I wrote the song!’’’

in­spired by a col­lege friend who was killed in a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent on a bridge in Mas­sachusetts where he had, months ear­lier, told Puth that Puth would one day write a num­ber one song, was writ­ten in just 10 min­utes. The cho­rus of One Call Away was fin­ished in five min­utes; his re­cent hit, At­ten­tion, took a week. The speed may partly be a re­sult of Puth hav­ing per­fect pitch – a tal­ent that was dis­cov­ered at 11 when he stepped in for an ab­sent church or­gan­ist and was able to play the entire mass by ear. ‘His se­cret weapon is melody,’ says Neil Mccormick, The Tele­graph’s mu­sic critic. ‘He has the golden gift, that every time he plays and sings the melodic line flows freely. It is much rarer in pop mu­sic than you might think: Paul Mccart­ney has it, Chris Martin, Noel Gal­lagher: they just couldn’t write a bad tune if they tried.’

The el­dest son of a builder, Charles, and a mu­sic teacher, De­bra, Puth be­gan learn­ing to play the pi­ano at the age of five, and wrote and recorded a Christ­mas al­bum at 11, which he then sold door-to-door around his home town of Rum­son in New Jersey, earn­ing $600 – and a lo­cal nick­name, ‘weirdo mu­si­cian Char­lie Puth’. Per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, he was bul­lied at school. ‘I’ve been sort of like a nerd. [Bul­ly­ing] forced me to be even more in­de­pen­dent.’ In­stead of go­ing to par­ties with his peers, Puth stayed at home, drank wine with his par­ents, taught him­self how to pro­duce mu­sic and fo­cused on his next ca­reer move ‘I’d just go home every day af­ter school and work on my Youtube chan­nel, get a crazy fol­low­ing there, you know.’ By the time he was 17, he had 80,000 sub­scribers tun­ing in to hear him sing cov­ers of Bey­oncé and 50 Cent songs.

He trained as a jazz and clas­si­cal pi­anist at the Man­hat­tan School of Mu­sic, and won a schol­ar­ship to Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic in Bos­ton, where he stud­ied mu­sic pro­duc­tion and en­gi­neer­ing, be­fore sign­ing with TV host Ellen De­generes’s new record la­bel .( Con­vinced it was a prank, Puth hung up on her the first time she rang.) But af­ter the com­pany folded, Puth found him­self ap­proach­ing mu­sic ex­ec­u­tives, and faced a stream of re­jec­tions, un­til he was signed to At­lantic Records, which rep­re­sents Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and Bruno Mars. ‘I was driv­ing on Sun­set Boule­vard and I got a call from [CEO of At­lantic Records] Craig Kall­man. He was like, “all right, let ’s do the deal now”. It all hap­pened in a month.’

Miles Beard, vice-pres­i­dent of A&R, who signed Char­lie, says, ‘What sets him apart is his work ethic – he doesn’t have off time. There is only a small group of artists who ac­tu­ally write their own songs, and a frac­tion of those peo­ple can also pro­duce their own mu­sic. Char­lie writes his mu­sic, pro­duces it, records it and mixes it. That’s in­cred­i­ble.’

These days, Puth lives in the Hol­ly­wood Hills with his twin sib­lings, Mikaela and Stephen, 23. His fa­ther man­ages his fi­nances, his mother keeps his ego in check and he likes ‘keep­ing it sim­ple’ by, for ex­am­ple, buy­ing his own gro­ceries. He has tried to cling on to his old friends, but he’s dis­tanced him­self from some. ‘I lost a lot of good friends, they just couldn’t han­dle [the fame],’ he says. ‘ The fact that in the restau­rants we use to go to, the maître’ dis now call­ing up these pa­parazzi and there would be 10 of them out­side. Some of them liked it too much.’ His new con­fi­dantes in­clude singer Niall Ho­ran, ‘He can tell me how he dealt with the crazy One Di­rec­tion days.’

He also stays in touch with De­generes and re­cently bumped into Adele at the gym. ‘Adele said, “You all right, Char­lie?”’ he says, in his best at­tempt at a Bri­tish ac­cent. ‘I was like, “You know me?” She was all, “Of course I do, you f—ing jack­ass!”’ And then there’s Phar­rell Williams who he calls on for fash­ion ad­vice. ‘[He] told me to wear the same jeans every day, so you can just con­cen­trate on the mu­sic’.

He says fame has made dat­ing dif­fi­cult, although he has re­cently been linked to Selena Gomez, with whom he dueted on the sin­gle We Don’t Talk Any­more. ‘I want to be in love,’ he ad­mits. ‘It would be so nice on this tour if I just had a cool girl who could do her own thing but also would be there for me.’ But girls must be throw­ing them­selves at him? ‘They don’t throw them­selves, they glide. They nuz­zle up to me.’ He adds, ‘I’ve dated fa­mous girls, I’ve dated not­fa­mous girls, and I just need to find some­one in the mid­dle who doesn’t care about Char­lie Puth, but cares about Char­lie Puth’s heart, I guess.’ He pauses, ‘Without sound­ing so sappy.’

Weeks af­ter the tour ends, I call Puth to catch up. In that time, he has gained over a mil­lion fol­low­ers on Youtube and to cel­e­brate the end of the tour and his free­dom, he has thrown a ‘rager’ of a party. He sounds more con­fi­dent, a lit­tle dis­tant and dif­fer­ent from the young man I met in that New York arena. ‘I’m feel­ing very good about the record. I think I’ve fi­nally found my niche. I re­ally do. The mu­sic is some­how more as­sured in a way, it’s given me a lot more con­fi­dence,’ he says. ‘I’m 25 and I’ve never felt more con­fi­dent.’ Char­lie Puth’s new sin­gle How Long, is out now. His sec­ond al­bum Voicenotes will be re­leased on 19 Jan­uary

‘Adele said ”All right Char­lie? “I was like, ”You know me?“

Char­lie Puth per­form­ing to fans in New York in Au­gust

Be­fore the con­cert in New York

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.