It’s no question that Charlie Puth is a talented musician, but this isn’t what I’m talking about. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m a huge fan of Charlie Puth and I have been for a long time. His savantish nature yields gorgeous harmonies and a fullness in his music that I believe few others can reach. However, I think his new album is too much for me. I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s my goal to figure it out by the end of this blog post.
Charlie Puth spent a good amount of time in his Hollywood career as a songwriter before getting picked up by a record label. Once he did, some of his most successful songs included “See You Again” and “Attention” which took off on the pop charts, giving him a reputation as someone who was expected to make the next chart-topper. These songs were very technical in their composition, and Charlie even talks about his juxtaposition of classical strings and a hard baseline in “Attention,” but as Shane Gray (Joe Jonas) in Camp Rock would say, it was akin to the “cookie cutter pop star” stuff that seemed as if it was written to be popular.
In a recent interview with Jimmy Fallon, Charlie talked about how his old record label encouraged him to keep manufacturing these attempts of pop hits, but it was not the type of music that he wanted to make. (In this interview, he also showed how easily he could make an entire instrumental for a song using a coffee mug. He pitched down the tone and then proceeded to play it on a keyboard attached to a laptop. Obviously, his talent blows my mind, but we’ll come back to that later.) What he truly wanted to make was music that was a manifestation of the ways he felt and how he viewed himself. Some of the songs he had written and that had appeared on albums such as Nine Track Mind and Voicenotes were representative of this, but he had not been encouraged to make an entire album of the like due to his previous record label’s demanding expectations.
In his new album, CHARLIE, Puth notes that he had a team of people encouraging him to make the music he wanted under his new record label. As a result, the new album features a wide variety of song genres, ranging from “I Don’t Think That I Like Her” which is R&B/Soul/Pop (even though I think it recalls the vibe of 90s grunge) like many others on the album, to “When You’re Sad I’m Sad,” a somber ballad. It is very obvious all of the tracks showcase his technical abilities (with him mentioning he even layers his voice 30 times over, something I’ve never heard of being done before), but so many of them trigger emotions of melancholy, somehow pulling the listener back to tragic moments of their own life. Some even called this his “ugly cry” album. It’s something to acknowledge that he was able to imbue his listeners with the same pain he likely experienced, causing him to write many of the songs featured, but as someone who has associated him with mostly mindless pop, or meaningful songs backed by a welcoming pop beat, it’s an emotional overload.
Again, I will not deny all of the technical ability and natural talent going into his work, (Like I mentioned before, he made a song with A COFFEE MUG AND A SPOON IN LESS THAN THREE MINUTES.) but the way he posted the formation of every song within one minute TikTok videos simulated a hasty writing process. I know that he probably had each song written before he posted videos about them, but the writing still appears to have been done quickly (I understand some artists say that their best songs are the ones written in five minutes, but that is not what I think happened here). The lyricism in some of these songs is not as strong as it has been in past albums. “Smells Like Me” feels like it’s full of cliché sentences, which takes away from my enjoyment because I feel as though more time should have gone into the songwriting. I should be buying into music because it says what I’ve been feeling eloquently and in a novel way I could not. That’s not what I’m getting from that song, as well as others such as “There’s A First Time For Everything” and “Light Switch.”
One thing I do admire him for is his ability to use everyday objects to create sounds to turn into music. It makes the song production world seem accessible, but simultaneously, his jargon and expertise creates an elitist feeling which is out of reach when he applies so many technical methods to a song. But isn’t that what I was looking for: a manifestation of art? A transformation upon the accessible sounds to create media worth consuming over the sounds normal individuals make without association to music? So then am I even justified in my critique? I’m not sure. I know it seems like I praised Charlie at the beginning of this just to bash him, but that was not my intention. I promise you I will still be listening to this album all the way through for the next few months. I’ll be honest, I would even say that I really do like some songs on the album, but just not the whole thing. “That’s Hilarious,” “Loser,” and “I Don’t Think That I Like Her” are probably in my top 10 favorite songs of his (out of the 50 or more he has) and it’s probably from their abrasive instrumentals and strong backbeats, or the way I feel like I can personally relate to them.
You don’t have to judge your decisions off of what some random person on the internet says, and if Charlie sees this, neither does he. I’m not saying he should stop what he’s doing because self-expression and discovering your sound is really important, but I am saying that it’s just not for me and that’s ok. So in conclusion, I am proud of Charlie Puth for what he put out. I am impressed with the production techniques used in the album, but for me, some of the lyricism falls short. I look forward to his next album because I think this was a transitional one. I hope he keeps expressing himself and pursuing his personal sound, but am I a hardcore fan of the outcomes that occur when he does? I so badly want to say yes but I can’t. Not yet at least.
Charlie Puth. CHARLIE, Atlantic Records, 2022. Spotify,
Puth, Charlie. “Charlie Puth Blew Up Harry Styles’s Spot at a Sushi Bar & Talks Left & Right ft.
BTS’s Jung Kook.” Interview by Jimmy Fallon. The Tonight Show, 11 October 2022.