The Week In Pop: Meet Charlie Puth, 2015’s Most Egregious Rising Star
When Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” ended the 14-week reign of “Uptown Funk!” atop the Hot 100 last week, a natural first question was really? Once we all got past the initial shock of a tepid Paul Walker tribute from the Furious 7 soundtrack coming out of nowhere to unseat one of the great pop songs of this generation, a second query quickly emerged: Who the hell is Charlie Puth?
I’ll tell you who Charlie Puth is. He’s a scourge. Please allow me to shit all over him.
Puth is one of those YouTube-famous singers who looks and sounds like he stepped out of a Disney Channel series, which should tip you off to his cloying disposition before you witness a minute of his despicably saccharine music. He was studying at Berklee when his viral hijinks caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who welcomed Puth and Emily Luther on her show to perform their cover of Adele’s “Someone Like You” and signed the fresh-faced piano man to her label (yes, she has one). That business arrangement has since given way to a deal with Atlantic. Now he’s got a mammoth music industry promotional machine behind him, and we’re stuck with him.
Puth first came on my radar earlier this year with “Marvin Gaye,” a duet with Meghan Trainor that trades on the same modernized throwback soul sound that Trainor tapped for “All About That Bass.” Musically, it’s sharp enough, particularly the bass-booming breakdown when Trainor’s verse comes in, but building a song around the catchphrase “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on” instantly disqualifies you from praise. I liked “All About That Bass” because even though it was a little bit clueless in its attempt to deliver a body-positive message, it was catchy and clever enough to compensate. The rest of Trainor’s work has failed to recapture that spark, and “Marvin Gaye” follows suit. The gimmick is too egregious and in-your-face to appreciate any of the song’s smart composition, and anyhow, Walt from Lost already ran the “name-checking classic artists” angle into the ground last year. If any song could actually make me hope for more Gaye family lawsuits, Puth’s song is it.
A similar problem plagues “See You Again,” the song that really put Puth on the map: It’s a weapons-grade emotional tribute to Paul Walker by two guys who presumably were not close with Walker. People give Puff Daddy shit for posthumously exploiting his relationship with the Notorious B.I.G., but at least he had a relationship with Biggie. “I’ll Be Missing You” made some kind of sense; “See You Again” makes none. I am generally in favor of Wiz Khalifa making big, dumb pop songs, but this is where I draw the line. Puth’s sentimental fireworks are undeniably explosive, but how can they not ring hollow when you imagine him getting choked up about a not-particularly-distinguished movie star he never met? It’s the kind of bullshit that makes you long for Adam Levine.
Now Puth is pushing “I Won’t Tell A Soul,” another Trainor-style retro soul throwback, which makes sense given that he’s opening for her on tour this year. Following in the footsteps of Trainor’s post-“All About That Bass” singles, “I Won’t Tell A Soul” is less memorable than “Marvin Gaye” but just as deplorable. It rides the recent resurgence of secret infidelity singles — call it Jeremih-core, though he’d prefer you just don’t mention it. Hits like “Don’t Tell ‘Em” or Rico Love’s “They Don’t Know” glamorize infidelity, but whereas Jeremih and Love embrace the role of the bad guy, Puth tries to keep up his squeaky-clean facade with lines like “If no one knows then it ain’t really cheating.” Oh, but it is! And no amount of lyrical squirming will change that. At least those other guys aren’t kidding themselves.
So there you have it: Puth is already responsible for the three most disreputable pop songs of the year, and we’ve only made it to April. He’s irredeemably obnoxious even without opening up that timeless can of worms known as appropriation, and brace yourself for a whole lot more of him. Puth is sure to linger throughout 2015, ubiquitously cheesing, inspiring us all to romanticize those bygone days when we couldn’t escape Iggy Azalea. Get ready to see him again… and again… and again.
Big week for corny young white men who made their name on social media! Not only does “See You Again” remain on top of the singles chart, Vine star Shawn Mendes tops the albums chart. Let’s start with the full-lengths:
Mendes enters the Billboard 200 at #1 with debut LP Handwritten racking up 119,000 equivalent units (106,000 in pure sales). Per Billboard, that makes 16-year-old Mendes the youngest artist to hit #1 since Justin Bieber in May 2010. Mendes bumps last week’s #1, the Furious 7 soundtrack, down to #2 with 79,000. Reba McEntire debuts at #3 with 62,000 for Love Somebody. Tyler, The Creator follows with a #4 debut for Cherry Bomb on the strength of 58,000 equivalent units. Our final top-10 debut is Halestorm’s Into The Wild Life, beginning at #5 with 56,000. From there it’s a bunch of familiar names: Fifty Shades Of Grey’s soundtrack (#6, 43,000), Taylor Swift’s 1989 (#7, 38,000, departing the top 5 for the first time in its 25th week), Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour (#8, 37,000), Ed Sheeran’s x (#9, 36,000), and Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (#10, 35,000).
On to the singles: Wiz Khalifa and Puth’s “See You Again” remains at #1 for a second straight week, followed by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk!” at #2. The Weeknd’s “Earned It” climbs to a new peak at #3, followed by Maroon 5’s “Sugar” at #4 and Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” at #5. Next up at Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” (#6), Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” (#7), and Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up And Dance” (#8). (Those guys just announced a new album, undoubtedly timed to capitalize on all the publicity from last week’s column.) (UPDATE: My bad, Walk Off The Earth announced a new album this week, not Walk The Moon.) Flo Rida/Sage The Gemini/Lookas’ “G.D.F.R.” falls to #9, while Natalie La Rose and Jeremih’s “Somebody” rises back to #10. Billboard points out that hits from Hot 100 mainstays Jason Derulo, Ariana Grande, and Rihanna are lurking in the top 20 and could be impacting the top 10 soon.
Carly Rae Jepsen – “I Really Like You (Blasterjaxx Remix)” (Week In Pop Premiere)
We here at Stereogum really, really, really, etc. like Carly Rae Jepsen’s recent single, so I’m pleased to share this remix of “I Really Like You” for the first time. Blasterjaxx casts the cheery, PG pop track in darker, more grownup tones and gives it a thumping electronic exoskeleton. Step into the club and let’s do this.
Panic! At The Disco – “Hallelujah”
Panic! At The Disco were a lesser version of Fall Out Boy at the peak of MySpace/Warped Tour pop-punk hegemony, and they’re still a lesser version of Fall Out Boy during FOB’s rememeber-meeee-for-centuriiiiiies arena rock phase. Are we sure Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump didn’t pen this?
Adam Lambert – “Ghost Town”
Lambert has been touring as the lead singer of Queen, but the first single from his next album flings him boldly back into the world of pop. “Ghost Town” is highly promising, from the way it glides across styles to Lambert’s typically awesome vocal performance.
Tom DeLonge – “Circle-Jerk Pit”
Who says punk was just a phase for Tom DeLonge? Look at all those punk signifiers!
Vanessa Carlton – “Young Heart”
Maybe Carlton’s marriage to Deer Tick’s John McCauley is rubbing off because “Young Heart” sounds nothing like the Carlton of “A Thousand Miles.” I actually like “A Thousand Miles” a lot, but it’s cool to see her venturing into an artsy, folksy direction too.
Louis York – “Claire Huxtable”
Charlie Puth could learn a lot from these guys about how to gracefully incorporate old pop culture signifiers into your music.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Katy Perry was denied a trademark for the Left Shark. [Billboard]
- One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson is starting his own record label. [Teen Vogue]
- A year after their “conscious uncoupling,” Gwyneth Paltrow has officially filed for divorce from Chris Martin. [Reuters]
- Lady Gaga will voice Betty Boop in an upcoming movie.[Toronto Sun]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
— hayley rae † (@hayleyx3jb) April 21, 2015