The Week In Pop

Look Out America, Here Comes Lewis Capaldi

“I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved.” The sentence is simple; the sentiment is deep. Lewis Capaldi howls these words at the peak of his breakthrough hit, his coarse, hearty vocals lending gravitas to the maudlin piano figure at the song’s spine. “Someone You Loved” is a ballad about the pain of a romance falling apart just when you were starting to envision a future together. Countless songs have attempted to conjure those feelings, but Capaldi sells it like few singers in recent memory. For three minutes, you believe he’s devastated, and you wonder whether you might be too. And when it’s over, the opposite sentiment takes hold, and you find yourself getting used to the idea of loving Lewis Capaldi.

Or at least that’s been the experience of many Americans this year. Britons too, though they had a head start. In the two years since Capaldi’s self-released single “Bruises” made him the fastest unsigned artist to reach 25 million plays on Spotify, he’s become a radio mainstay and a media sensation over there. That rise climaxed in March, when “Someone You Loved” became the 22-year-old Scotsman’s first UK #1, remaining atop the singles chart for seven weeks. This week the song climbed to a new peak of #17 in the US, where it’s gaining momentum at both Top 40 radio and streaming platforms. Capaldi’s debut album Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent also spent six weeks at #1 in his native country, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it worm its way up the US album charts now that Capaldi is establishing himself as a Stateside force.

Capaldi’s an interesting case. His voice is an undeniably powerful instrument, a rich and textured soulful roar that sometimes quivers with fragility. He wields those vocal cords like a velvet sledgehammer. The man was born to breathe life into power ballads. Yet Capaldi’s personal demeanor could not be further from the high drama of his records. He’s goofy and self-effacing, casually cracking wise in interviews and navigating social media with intuitive expertise. If I had to sum up his public presence in one word, it would be delightful.

Given his music’s basic, adult contemporary aesthetic, his scrubby personal grooming, and his not-conventionally-handsome looks, Capaldi has attracted comparisons to Ed Sheeran, which is fair in some ways. He’s toured with his fellow burly belter Rag’N’Bone Man and with Sam Smith, another titan of melancholy British soft rock, all of which also makes sense. Yet as someone who winces at each of those artists to different extents, I find Capaldi more instantly likable than the lot of them.

Some of it has to do with the traces of troubadour in his music, the parallels to Irish catharsis king Damien Rice and the late, great Scottish indie legend Scott Hutchison among others. Capaldi sings with a similar emotive grit. I’d love to hear his version of “The Blower’s Daughter” or “The Modern Leper.” If he wanted to rock, he could blow you down without trying. I’d even consider getting into the blues if Capaldi wanted to rip into “The Thrill Is Gone” or whatever. Still, the music he actually does make it undeniably sanitized and goopy. Sung by almost anyone else, “Someone You Loved” or “Grace” or “Hold Me While You Wait” would be hokey garbage.

They might still strike you that way if you’re not persuaded by Capaldi’s persona, or if you have no room in your heart for well-executed shlock. His music is certainly not hip or forward-thinking. It’s the inverse of experimental. I don’t blame anyone who recoils upon noticing echoes of Marcus Mumford or Alex Clare (the guy who sang that “pubstep” song in a Microsoft ad) or even Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger and the full post-Vedder butt-rock diaspora.

The comparison that rings truest to me, though, is Adele. You may be thinking, “Wait. We already have a male Adele. His name is Sam Smith.” If so, you’re not exactly wrong. Back when Smith was first catching on in America following his star turn on Disclosure’s “Latch,” reframing himself as a weepy adult contemporary king with hits like “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not The Only One,” he attracted the “male Adele” designation frequently. It fit pretty well, and it continued to fit on Smith’s sophomore effort The Thrill Of It All.

But Smith seems a bit uptight and self-serious in real life, and his music has lately (blessedly) edged back toward somewhere just outside the club. It’s hard to imagine him cutting loose with late-night hosts like Adele does. It’s easy to see people cutting loose to “How Do You Sleep?” Sheeran, meanwhile, shares Adele’s friendly approachability and humble sense of humor, but his music has branched out in so many directions that he could hardly be her true parallel. Adele’s interested in the monolithic, not the monogenre.

Capaldi’s right there with her. He has an album as dour as Adele’s 25 and a disposition just as relentlessly charming. In his music, he shares her supernatural ability to infuse sentimental treacle with authentic emotional stakes. Outside of his music, he’s like James Corden if James Corden wasn’t winking so hard at you. Whereas Sheeran’s ambition knows no bounds, Capaldi told radio host Elvis Duran he was content to remain a regional act and would have if not for his manager’s big thinking. Whereas Smith has maintained a passive-aggressive feud with Thom Yorke, Capaldi celebrated the sacred rite of being slagged off by Noel Gallagher. His self-clowning album title savvily anticipated the critiques his album has faced.

Those critiques are reasonable. Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent is front-loaded. It’s unadventurous. Individual moments are astounding, but its full tracklist feels much longer than 42 minutes. Trekking to the end is a slog. I don’t care, though. I’m happy Capaldi’s out there, flashing wry smiles in silly video segments and sending shivers down millions of spines whenever he switches into performance mode. If he and his collaborators have to churn out a dozen bland heartbreak chronicles to end up with one as powerful as “Someone You Loved” — Capaldi says it was indeed the final song written for the album — I’m glad the other 11 exist too. His music’s Hallmark conservatism may be polarizing, but the man himself is magnetic.

CREDIT: George Pimentel/Getty Images

CHART WATCH

A fascinating phenomenon has befallen the Billboard charts lately — no, not Lil Nas X’s 19-week Hot 100 domination, though we’ll get to that shortly. Rather, I’m referring to the way old music keeps shooting to the top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart when it becomes widely available to stream. Beyoncé finally let 2016’s Lemonade live outside Tidal in April, and it climbed back to #9. Chance The Rapper put 2013’s Acid Rap on DSPs besides SoundCloud, and it entered at #5, temporarily becoming his highest-charting release. And now two more artists have made a splash on the Billboard 200 with material released years ago.

First up is Drake, who scores his ninth #1 album this week with Care Package. It’s an odds-and-ends collection compiling loosies that mostly existed on SoundCloud but never were officially released before. To some listeners, this was a bunch of interesting new Drake songs. To others, it was a bunch of beloved old Drake songs. The two parties conspired to rack up 109,000 equivalent album units, 90,000 of them converted from 115.5 million on-demand audio streams, per Billboard.

At the other end of the top 10, Tool’s 1996 prog-metal blockbuster Ænima surged back to #10 with 33,000 units after the band finally made its catalog available to stream legally. However, 18,000 of those units were album sales. It seems Ænima’s arrival at DSPs inspired a lot of people to buy it — that and, perhaps, the impending release of Tool’s first album in 13 years, Fear Inoculum, which will surely show up in this chart rundown a few weeks from now.

In between Drake and Tool are Ed Sheeran at #2 and Billie Eilish at #3. Lil Durk scores his highest chart placement with a #4 debut for Love Songs 4 The Streets 2, which tallied 44,000 units and 4,000 in sales. After Chris Brown at #5 and NF at #6 comes a #7 debut for the Descendants 3 soundtrack via 36,000 units/23,000 sales. Lizzo and Chance The Rapper are at #8 and #9, respectively.

Back to the Hot 100: Yes, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road” is #1 for a record 19th week. Yes, Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” is #2 for the ninth time, one week short of the record held by Missy Elliott’s “Work It” and Foreigner’s “Waiting For A Girl Like You.” As my colleague Tom Breihan put it earlier this week, “Bad Guy” would be “Old Town Road” if “Old Town Road” didn’t exist. To be so dominant, yet so far from dominant! She should write a song about it.

Everything is static from #3 to #7: Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s “Señorita,” Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” Khalid’s “Talk,” Chris Brown and Drake’s “No Guidance,” and Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s “I Don’t Care.” Debuting at #8 is Ariana Grande and Social House’s fun “Boyfriend.” Per Billboard, it’s Grande’s 14th top 10 hit and Social House’s first. It’s also the second “Boyfriend” to chart in the top 10 following Bieber’s 2012 hit. Rounding out the top 10 are Post Malone and Young Thug’s “Goodbyes” and Lil Tecca’s “Ran$om.”

POP FIVE

Katy Perry – “Small Talk”
The more I listen to “Small Talk,” the more I love it. It’s a great little telling of a sad story almost anyone could relate to. The lyric “I just can’t believe we went from strangers to lovers to strangers in a lifetime” is especially good. As at least one Stereogum commenter pointed out, it’s reminiscent of the Purple Mountains album, though several degrees of difficulty lower than the lyrical gymnastics David Berman pulled off on “That’s Just The Way That I Feel.” Still: Good song. Are we actually seeing the beginning of the Katy Perry renaissance? Or maybe, with her former “Teenage Dream” video costar alleging she exposed his penis to a room full of people, her comeback is about to short-circuit.

Rosalía & Ozuna – “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi”
Rosalía continues to do no wrong.

V – “Winter Bear”
Here we have a whispery, string-laden ballad from one of the members of BTS. I don’t know what to make of it. BTS: What a complex phenomenon!

Yebba – “Where Do You Go”
Up until now I’ve only heard Yebba singing gospel-inflected soul-pop. This misty computerized ballad is an intriguing change of pace.

Macklemore – “Shadow” (Feat. Iro)
Macklemore went on Songland and came away with… a Macklemore song.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth have separated just months after marrying. [People]
  • John Legend played a Dayton shooting benefit at the Oregon District bar Blind Bob’s, and the venue livestreamed the show. [Facebook]
  • The 1975’s Matty Healy wrote a song with Charli XCX. [Twitter]
  • Healy also kissed a male fan at the 1975’s Dubai show in protest of UAE’s anti-LGBT laws. [NME]
  • Taylor Swift is no longer friends with Karlie Kloss because Kloss once invited friends over to Swift’s home “without first getting approval,” according to the NY Post. [Page Six]
  • In happier Swift news, she sent a Canadian fan $4K for tuition. [Independent]
  • Lil Nas X, Lizzo, Shawn Mendes, Bad Bunny, Camila Cabello, J Balvin, and Rosalia have been announced as performers at the MTV VMAs. [People]
  • “Old Town Road” faces an uphill challenge to get a CMA nomination. [AP]
  • Maren Morris released a video for “The Bones,” my favorite song from her truly excellent new album. [YouTube]
  • Heinz introduced another bottle of Ed Sheeran ketchup and this one is designed like his arm tattoos. [The Drum]
  • Sheeran also released a video for “Nothing On You” featuring Paulo Londra and Dave. [YouTube]
  • Cardi B interviewed Bernie Sanders. [YouTube]
  • Cardi also stars in a new Reebok commercial. [YouTube]
  • Migos pull off a bank heist in the new “Frosted Flakes” video. [YouTube]
  • In other Migos news, Quavo is working on an animated series for children. [Music Business Worldwide]
  • Harry Styles is no longer in talks to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action Little Mermaid. [THR]
  • Jonas Brothers released a video for “Stay Human.” [YouTube]
  • Kaskade and Meghan Trainor released a video for “With You.” [YouTube]
  • Here’s Brie Larson covering Ariana Grande’s “God Is A Woman.” [Instagram]

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