Charlie Puth has been making music since he was a little kid. Now, at 31, he's an established pop star and prolific songwriter with a vast catalogue of catchy hits, made catchier by his angelic vocals.
Part of Puth's appeal is his dedication to the craft of songwriting; another is that he is in no way stuffy or self-serious. His third studio album, Charlie, released last year, is a largely upbeat take on heartbreak.
"I like to think that a song is a roller coaster ride," he says, "and a good roller coaster ride feels different every time, even if you ride it five times. The goal is to make it feel like a layered cake."
Puth uses an array of nontraditional effects, like deliberate pauses, to create interesting sonic textures that propel the listener forward, almost jauntily, through refreshing pop landscapes. What's also undeniably engaging is how he intentionally uses humor, lyrically and stylistically.
"Even in 'Light Switch,'" a synthy, dance-floor-ready song featuring the sound of, appropriately, a light switch, "having the sound effects play right after I sing the lyric, it's, in a way, theatrical," he says. That goofy theatricality sometimes shapes his videos, as with "Loser," a silly satire of old Western movies and Hollywood stardom.
"I think people need to take themselves a little less seriously," he says. "Of course, there are times where you have to take things seriously. I just look at it that we're not here for a very long time, and we might as well enjoy every minute of it."
A New Jersey native, he says growing up near the Broadway lights of New York City fostered his flair for theatrics and a fascination with how musicals are put together. His upcoming tour, the "Charlie" Live Experience, will reflect that energy.
"That's kind of how I'm treating this show, this tour. It's not just 'get on stage and play 15 songs and be done,'" Puth says. "There's acts, like in a Broadway play, and there are theatrical moments and breakdowns that you wouldn't expect." His live shows will include songs improvised on the spot, surprising even his backing band, to give the audience a peek at how his mind works when he's coming up with songs.
Puth is known for his transparency about his songwriting process and isn't fussy about it. "I made 'We Don't Talk Anymore' at the 1 Hotel in South Beach. And I recorded vocals in the hotel room on my phone. It's not the most technically savvy thing, but it made the song what it is — it captured the essence of it," he explains.
Some of the newest album was written during the miserable days of the lockdown. "The song I have out now with Dan + Shay, 'That's Not How This Works,' was written three years ago — I didn't even know what Zoom was at the time — in my parents' house on Zoom, April 2020." He still hasn't been in the same room as his collaborators for two years.
Of that time, he says, "It felt like I was driving with an icy windshield, and I could see what was in front of me." But Puth feels fortified by the experience as a producer.
Part of what fueled his creativity in those dark days was a memory of performing for a huge crowd of screaming Miami fans a few years prior. "You don't forget that feeling, even during a pandemic when you're by yourself. You remember what it was like to perform in front of that many thousands of people in Miami and then going out after and it being 86 degrees the entire night," Puth says. "So you want to make music for that memory."
He'll perform the "Charlie" Live Experience in Miami on May 31 at the FPL Solar Amphitheater. He admires South Florida as having the best weather, people, and food. And, as is prone to happen in the 305, Puth tries to put himself in uniquely Miami situations when he visits.
"Last time I was there, I landed and went to this drum circle that someone was hosting in their backyard and heard music I'd never heard before. And that in itself was very inspiring. And yes, I did record some of those drums. And, yes, I will make a song out of it at a later date," Puth says.
As far as where he'll be finding inspiration on this trip to Miami, "Any place that has the strongest Cuban coffee." Puth is open to suggestions.
Puth is staying mum about any upcoming collaborators. In the past, he's worked with BTS's Jung Kook, Wiz Khalifa, and Lil Wayne. "I will work with anybody because I feel like anyone's artistry can directly affect mine. You never stop learning in anything you do." Though he won't name names, Puth divulges that he loves "collaborating with people who aren't necessarily pop musicians."
You'll hear what Puth has in store for his fans soon enough. Until then, everyone can keep enjoying the Charlie experience.
Charlie Puth. With Blu DeTiger. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 31, FPL Solar Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; bayfrontparkmiami.com. Tickets cost $29.50 to $99.50 via livenation.com.