Charlie Puth Talks the Wonder of TikTok: ‘People Can Burp and Fart, Auto-Tune That and Put It to a Beat’

Charlie Puth
Courtesy Atlantic Records

It’s been seven years since Charlie Puth’s single “See You Again” thrust him into the pop spotlight. While the pandemic cratered the touring business, Puth, like almost all musicians and performers, turned to social media to stay in the public eye. He used TikTok to reach out to fans, replacing some of the energy that came from live shows. Not only did his more than 19 million followers get some of his thirst traps, but they also learned a handful of lessons about music theory. Now, the New Jersey-born singer is ready to bare all with his third album, “Charlie.”

How did Tik Tok transform your music career?

It made me very open-minded to showing the process. I used to have this mentality of “I need to go away for an extended period of time and work on my music alone and not show anybody and give away the secrets.” But now I can give every secret away. It actually makes the songs more vibrant.

Was your pivot to TikTok accidental or on purpose?

It started a little bit out of boredom, but it was a couple of things. Obviously, we didn’t have that as a result of the pandemic, so I had to perform for people digitally, and [that] meant making songs in front of them. When millions of people get excited hearing you make a song, it makes you want to finish that song and make it even better. It took the place of me being backstage.

Why did your knowledge of music theory become such a hallmark of your TikTok platform?

I’ve always been fascinated with making things that are perceived as mundane and wildly entertaining. I realized that people always have a yearning to learn, and I just want to be in front of that. I want to be the “cool teacher.” Maybe if I weren’t doing this for a living, I’d be a teacher.

Is there anything you’ve regretted sharing on TikTok?

No. My main goal on TikTok is to prove that everything is musical, and the way to convey that message is through comedy. I think I’ve proven that you can drop a bunch of spoons on the floor, and they make notes. People can burp and fart, and you can autotune that, and put it to a beat.

With your other records, did you feel like you had to play the industry game?

Definitely. When I wrote “See You Again,” I wasn’t planning on being the artist. I had to figure out what it was like to be an artist while making an album simultaneously in front of millions of people. Now, I know exactly what kind of artist I am: the dorky, music-making, behind-the-scenes yet viciously in front-of-the-scenes singer-songwriter that loves music and lives and breathes it.

What is the overarching theme of “Charlie”?

I wouldn’t define it just as a breakup album. I define it as a self-reflective album of “how did I ever let myself get this low because of somebody” album.

Tell us about the process of making “Light Switch.” 

I just wanted to be theatrical in my music-making process and show that off because that’s who I am behind the scenes and nobody ever gets to see that. So, I just kept the camera rolling.

Do you feel more like a TikTok star or a pop star at this point?

I feel like the soundtrack writer to people’s lives. If I can make the song that plays in the background of someone who’s going through something very significant at that point in time, then I’ve done my job. So if people want to refer to me as a TikToker, great; if they want to refer to me as a musician, that’s also great. I just want music to be in the conversation, always.

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From Variety US