Charlie Puth was just 23 when he co-wrote and co-performed with rapper Wiz Khalifia the 2015 song “See You Again.” It became one of the biggest pop hits of the decade, spending 12 weeks at #1, and getting nearly six billion views on YouTube, launching Puth as a bona fide star. He followed it up with two big solo albums, full of huge hits, like “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” “Attention,” “How Long” and “The Way I Am.”
“See You Again,” performed by Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth:
But in early 2020, Puth announced that his much-anticipated third album would be scrapped because, as he put it, “none of the music felt real.”
“CBS Morning” co-host Tony Dokoupil asked Puth, “You were a bankable star, multi-Grammy-nominated, billion stream songs, you were touring, you were selling out stadiums. So, it’s a big deal to say, actually, ‘Stop.’ What was that moment like where you said, ‘No, we’re not doing this’?”
“I’ll never forget it,” said Puth. “I went to a restaurant in West Hollywood right when I had decided that I was going to start over. And the maître d’ came over to me and said, ‘Elton John would like to meet you.'”
Through a friend, the pop legend had heard an early version of the album. “He said, ‘That music you just put out was not very good.’ And I was, like, a little taken aback by that, because it’s not like I disagreed with him, but it’s not every day you get to run into Elton John at a restaurant and have him tell you exactly what you were just thinking 10 minutes prior.”
“Gotta imagine that hurt a little bit?” asked Dokoupil.
“It did, but it didn’t,” Puth replied. “It stung for about two minutes, and then I walked back over to the table and I just pointed upward and was like, ‘That confirms everything.'”
It was a moment that made Puth think back to falling in love with music, growing up in the New Jersey shore town of Rumson. His dad was a builder; his mom a music teacher.
In a 2018 interview Puth told Dokoupil, “I would wake up with her playing piano every day. That was the alarm clock, her playing. I think my brain would be musically awake before I even had breakfast.”
Pretty soon, Puth’s parents realized their son had a unique gift for recognizing songs: “I found it way easier to listen to The Beatles. … My ten-year-old brain thought, I could just listen to the record and play it back just by hearing it. And I thought that was a ‘normal’ thing!”
By 10, the musical prodigy was performing at school and in church, starting with the day the organist didn’t show up. “I had heard the mass, the music, so many times. I just played the entire mass.”
Dokoupil said, “It’s almost like that thing on a plane where it’s like, ‘Is there a doctor on the plane?’ But it was like, ‘Is there an organist in the church?'”
“I raised my little hand, and my feet didn’t even reach the pedals!”
“What gave you the courage to do that in a room full of adults, in God’s house?”
“I’ve always just wanted to save the day!” Puth replied.
And it wasn’t just adults who took note; his classmates did, too. “I was shy, but at the same time I wasn’t. When I was in my musical element, I wasn’t shy. When I was doing a science project, I was very shy.”
“But you can walk right on the stage at church and play the organ, or a school assembly?”
“Yeah, because I knew I got it. I knew that no one else was gonna be able to do that that day. In the most humble way possible, I could say that.”
“I don’t think you have to be that humble.”
“I just liked making people happy.”
That led Puth to major music schools in Boston and New York City. All the while, he was performing his songs, first on YouTube, then on an actual stage, starting at the Bitter End in Manhattan. He recalled, “I was so nervous. And I played an hour set, and I had 200 people.”
The crowds grew, and while on tour back in 2018 Puth seemed to love every second of it. But later that year, at his home in Los Angeles, the musician had begun a pretty serious self-review, even after the breakaway success of “See You Again.” He said then, “We had the biggest song in the world. I had to put an album out. It was rushed. And we had songwriters who didn’t know me or even talk to me half the time, put records together for me. It sounded fine, but the message on those songs meant nothing to me.”
Not long after, he decided to pause and rebuild, though the pandemic hit. Looking for a new outlet, he turned to TikTok. “I thought I was gonna teach people and just produce music for other artists,” he said.
He did, co-writing the #1 hit “Stay” with the Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber.
“I was like, ‘Okay, that’s what I’m gonna do from now on. I’m gonna make other people’s dreams come true,'” he said. “But I was kind of lying to myself.”
Instead, he started writing for Charlie Puth once again. Now, three years later, Puth the pop star is back, with a wildly popular collaboration with Jung Kook of BTS.
“Left And Right” performed by Charlie Puth, feat. Jung Kook of BTS:
And while “Charlie” is officially Puth’s third album, the now 31-year-old artist says it feels, in some ways, like his first. “I’ll be telling the truth from here on out,” he said. “You can’t lie and write a song. I’ll be telling the truth from here on out. Sometimes to my detriment, but at least it’ll be the truth.”
You can stream Charlie Puth’s new album “Charlie” by clicking on the embed below (Free Spotify registration required to hear the tracks in full):
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Story produced by Jon Carras. Editor: Carol Ross.