Charlie Puth – my heartbreak, viral TikToks and love for the Middle East

American singer, set to play in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, opens up about his success and how he owes much of it to a bitter break-up

Charlie Puth says his songwriting is inspired by personal experiences. AP
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Things are looking up for Charlie Puth.

The American pop star is back in the studio recording a new album and recently announced his engagement to partner Brooke Sansone.

This all makes his upcoming Asian tour, launching at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena on Sunday, an intriguing prospect as it's full of songs written when the Attention singer was at his lowest.

Released last October, Charlie was Puth’s break-up album.

He even trailed the release with a tearful TikTok video describing the new songs were inspired by “the worst break-up of my life”.

Nearly a year later, Puth, 31, can reflect back on that tumultuous period with a sense of gratitude.

"I don't sing those songs in the same way I did when recording the album," he tells The National.

"But I am thankful because, without those songs and experiences, I wouldn't be here talking to you about this new phase in my life. I look at Charlie as a pivotal album for me.”

Despite the intense subject matter, Charlie still manages to sound like a Puth record.

With 12 songs, its well-crafted collection of tracks further underscores Puth’s place as one of the sharpest songwriters operating in the pop landscape today.

The opener That's Hilarious is a breezy slice of soul-pop that disguises some of the anguished lyricism about a toxic relationship, while Loser has Puth admitting to bad behaviour on his part.

For someone known for their exuberant live shows, Puth says the new tracks blend well amongst chirpy hits How Long and One Call Away.

"The goal with live shows has always been to make it intimate, whether it’s for 5,000 or 10,000 people," he says.

"It should feel like you are singing to each individual person who chose to take the time out of their day to see you perform.

“So the show always needs to feel warm and intimate and not intimidating.”

Born in New Jersey to a mother who was a music teacher, Puth began playing the piano at the age of four before studying jazz piano and music production at the Manhattan School of Music in New York and Berklee College of Music in Boston.

However, learning the craft of songwriting at some of the US’s most established music schools isn’t a recipe for sure-fire success.

The best-written pop songs, Puth notes, are often determined by what elements are added to the mix.

"I am very grateful for every bit of education I received and what I found out is really a question of how to use what you learned," he says.

"As a jazz and classical pianist, I'm not going to use 100 per cent of what I learned in school to put it in a pop song. I would probably use about 2 per cent of that and sprinkle it in there.”

But if that knowledge is not at hand then that’s fine, too. Puth says that not even the best music education can overcome the curiosity and passion that are key to a long-lasting career as an artist.

That has been the underlying goal behind his viral TikTok videos and TV appearances where he seemingly creates impromptu songs through the use of innocuous objects such as a mug and spoon.

"What I always appreciated about some of my teachers in high school, particularly those teaching a topic that I had no real passion for and that I had to do, was they made it as entertaining as possible," he says.

"So even if people get discouraged and think they can't make music, I hope they don't ultimately lose their passion.

“If I make these videos online of me making a song out of a cup and people are inspired to make a song too, then I feel that I have done my job."

Puth, who appeared virtually as part of the 2021 Culture Summit Abu Dhabi, will be looking for similar inspiration during his visit to the capital.

His gig at Etihad Arena comes on the back of his Middle East debut in Jeddah in March, where he performed as part of the Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix.

"The most prominent thing that I reacted to in Saudi Arabia was the crowd's love of pop culture," he recalls. "There are a lot of good changes that are happening over there which just makes me excited to return to this part of the world.

“I have never been to Abu Dhabi before, for example. I think just based on the excitement of being in a new place for the first time I think I'll be able to make a lot of great music after the show is done."

Charlie Puth performs at Etihad Arena on Sunday; doors open at 6pm; from Dh270;

Updated: September 27, 2023, 7:59 AM