Charlie Puth on ‘Marvin Gaye’ Music Video + How He Began Beatboxing
Chances are that Charlie Puth made you a little weak in the knees with his new song, "Marvin Gaye." The track — which Charlie describes as a "musical icebreaker" — is his debut single and features a singer you may have heard of named Meghan Trainor.
As you can imagine, there was a lot we wanted to discuss with him. From the "Marvin Gaye" music video ("You can expect a lot of making out") to what it's really like to work with Meghan and Wiz Khalifa to the reason Charlie started beatboxing, we got all of the details. And trust us, you're going to want to know everything about this rising star.
I love your single “Marvin Gaye.” There’s so many great writers of love songs out there — how did you land on referencing him?
I just wanted to make a record with Marvin Gaye titles that I liked. See how many I could fit in the lyrics. Marvin Gaye is an inspiration to me. He was one of the first Motown musicians that my mom and dad introduced me to, and I always thought it would be a good idea, if I was ever an artist and now I am, to make a record called “Marvin Gaye.”
Do you have a favorite Marvin Gaye song?
Probably it’s the stuff he did with Tammi Terrell, like, [sings] “Heaven must have sent you from above.” I want to make a record like that when I get back to L.A., actually. “Heaven Must Have Sent You from Above” and the stuff everybody knows, like “What’s Going On,” “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Sexual Healing.” Every song is amazing and it’s very hard to pick your favorite one.
Looking at your Instagram, you’ve got a lot of black-and-white photos. Your Twitter bio mentions Motown. You're drawn to a bygone era.
Kind of. I want to make records that have that old classic— like how Marvin Gaye would evoke that sexual energy throughout his music in the early '80s. I wanted to do that with my records too. Just how he made music too.
I made “Marvin Gaye” because I’m a pretty awkward person. I can’t just go up to a girl in a bar and go “Hey, babe, what’s up? How you doing?” Even that is so corny. So I was always like, “What would it be like if I made the musical icebreaker?” You go into a bar and you hear the record playing, [sings] “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on.” And just happen to be talking to a girl and you hear that song on the radio or whatever. It’s just like a talking piece already: the musical assist to help you break the ice with a lady friend.
You can totally see someone punching in the jukebox numbers and the record sliding into place ...
Exactly what you just said is what I envisioned.
“Marvin Gaye” is the smoothest pickup line ever. Have you used it to pick up anybody?
I’ve definitely sent it to a couple of girls who I got turned down by in junior year of high school. When the song came out on Spotify, I sent them the Spotify link and I was like, “Oh, here’s a Spotify link.” I’m happy they loved it, but everything lyrically, musically [in that record] is what I wanted to convey to them at the time when I was a junior, but I was so shy. Now music has kind of helped me to become less shy.
Did you ever write songs for girls in high school?
I did, but I was too afraid to show them.
So they never heard them?
They never heard them, but I had them and they kind of evolved into what’s being sung in front of everyone at Atlantic and on Jimmy Fallon. So it’s really, really cool.
Can you give fans a sneak peek about what they can expect from the “Marvin Gaye” music video?
They can expect a lot of making out. It was really cool because all of the extras — we got there at some ridiculous hour in the morning, like 7AM. We got to the video set and there was this amazing prom setup [with] all these streamers and banners and all these great actors and actresses and nobody knew each other. When the director said, “Everyone start making out with each other,” everyone literally started making out with each other and nobody knew each other. By the end of the video, everyone was best friends.
So you can expect a lot of making out. The moment I get up onstage there’s this wave of “Marvin Gaye” that hits everybody and everyone just falls in love with each other. It’s pretty hilarious to see how people react to it when the song plays. The chaperones and the teachers start making out. And then Meghan comes in and does her verse and she has that soulful voice, so everyone starts getting into the groove a little bit. At the end, there’s a little special thing that you’re going to have to see.
Were there any awkward moments while you were filming?
Not at all. You’d think that making out in front of all these people that you don’t know would be strange, but there was such a good vibe. We were at this really cool old school. It just clicked. Again, these people were … random and it just worked together so well.
You’ve already worked with two major artists. What’s the biggest difference between collaborating with Meghan Trainor and collaborating with Wiz Khalifa?
That’s a good question. Meghan asked to sing on “Marvin Gaye” and immediately when she asked to do that, I was like “Of course!” One of the biggest stars in the world right now, of course I’m going to let you sing on the song. The moment she did, it made the song 10 times better. It’s the same thing with Wiz too. It’s just amazing what a really well-known artist can do to a good-sounding record.
On the inverse, [with] Wiz we had blank verses — meaning me on the chorus and it was just instrumental — and we needed a rapper to fill in those spaces, and he just put so much soul into that record. Both of them put so much soul into my records and I think they just brought them to the next level. They both did essentially the same thing, just in different ways.
Did you work with Wiz or did he send in his tracks?
He’s so busy, but now I’ve gotten to know him really, really well and he’s a great guy. Really, really talented and has a good ear for melodic stuff, as does Meghan. So Wiz would send in bits and pieces of it, [and] we would piece it together. He made it really easy, honestly. He just sent it and we dropped it in and it sounded great. That’s how I knew that he was the right person for the record.
Can you talk a little about your upcoming EP?
It’s going to be five songs. “Marvin Gaye” will be on there, but there will be other records that are like “Marvin Gaye,” but kind of fall into that refreshed-retro thing. “Motown soul 2015.” I almost feel like I should call it that! They can expect that none of the records are going to sound the same, but they all mold into each other … Everything will be really cohesive.
I have to ask you about the beatboxing.
What’s cool about the beatboxing is I was so afraid to sing in front of my peers, my parents, anybody. I just wouldn’t do it. So in sixth grade, I would turn to beatboxing because it made me feel better. Like, I can beatbox “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” … Doing that a bunch of times eventually gave me the confidence to sing in front of people.
What’s cool about the bea-boxing is I was so afraid to sing in front of my peers, my parents, anybody. I just wouldn’t do it ... I would turn to beatboxing because it made me feel better.
Which came first: singing, piano or beatboxing?
Piano came first. I started piano when I was four. My mom taught me. And then I went to Manhattan School of Music during high school, like every Saturday. And then I went to Berklee for college, in Boston. I’ve always made weird sounds with my mouth. I’ve always been fascinated by the sound design, what you can do with your mouth. I was the kid dancing around in third grade on the basketball court. While everyone would be playing sports, I would be jumping around.
You remember Hit Clips? Little 10-second previews of songs? Way before iPods. It was really bad quality and the first one I ever got was ‘N SYNC “Pop.” [Sings] “Do you ever wonder why / the music gets you high.” I had that and it was so low-fi that you couldn’t really hear the drums, so I would make the drums with my mouth. So I would have my Hit Clips, dancing around in my own little world. That’s how beatboxing came about.