Charlie Puth wants people to hear 'the real me' on new album 'Voicenotes'

Patrick Ryan
Charlie Puth performs onstage at American Airlines Center in Dallas in November. His new album, "Voicenotes," is out Friday.

Now that Charlie Puth has your attention, he's ready to show you what else he's got. 

Last spring, the piano-playing crooner surprised fans and critics with his funk-infused Attention, a bass-heavy middle finger to a two-faced ex that climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. It's a far cry from the blue-eyed soul that characterized early hits One Call Away and Marvin Gaye featuring Meghan Trainor, taken off his 2016 debut, Nine Track Mind

"I'm glad people are finally hearing the real me," says Puth, 26. "This isn't the story of how I got hooked up with some cooler producer — I always had this music in me, it was just a matter of executing it."

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Attention is the first single from Puth's long-delayed sophomore effort, Voicenotes, out now, named quite literally for the phone app he uses to make demos. The album was written and recorded over the past year and a half during his solo headlining tour and North American trek with buddy Shawn Mendes, with Puth handling much of the 13 songs' production himself. 

The experience of making it couldn't be more different than that of Nine Track Mind, which he says he was forced by label execs to rush-release to capitalize on the success of See You Again, his Furious 7 smash with Wiz Khalifa. That song spent 12 non-consecutive weeks atop the Hot 100 in summer 2015, tying Eminem's Lose Yourself for the longest-running No. 1 rap single in history. Critics weren't kind to the album, writing that Puth "feels stage-managed" and his "anonymity is infuriating." 

"I agree with all of those critiques, because it's true. It was such bland music," Puth admits. When See You Again was released, he was still better known as a songwriter: "I wasn't planning on being an artist. I had to figure out my artist career in front of millions of people while we had the biggest song in the past decade. Everyone was like, 'Oh, he's going to be a piano-player artist' and I was like, 'I don't even know who I'm going to be, so I'm just going to try a lot of different-sounding music.' Was it a good album? No, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Now, Voicenotes feels like my debut album." 

Voicenotes takes sonic cues from late '80s R&B artists such as Babyface and Teddy Riley, and even includes a feature from Boyz II Men on a cappella ballad If You Leave Me Now. His matter-of-fact lyrics frankly recount heartbreak and the perils of being in the spotlight. LA Girls, for instance, is about "how fame almost changed me and kind of made me jaded," Puth says. "I spent a couple years thinking that I had to have a certain personality to be the 'perfect male pop singer.' " 

Boy is inspired by "an experience I had when I fell for someone older than me for the first time," he continues. "I'm an old soul, so when you (get) romantically involved with somebody who is more experienced and even more mature than you, it was kind of frustrating when they would talk down to me, like, 'Oh, what do you know?' " 

The lovelorn Somebody Told Me feels like a prequel to We Don't Talk Anymore, his 2016 hit with Selena Gomez, whom he admitted to dating in an interview with Billboard earlier this year. He won't confirm whether she inspired any songs on the album, after having made headlines in the past for speaking about relationships with actresses Bella Thorne and Lea Michele

Bella Thorne and Charlie Puth in 2016.

"I'm not here to talk about my dating life," Puth says. "I've made mistakes in the past and that's all I'll say. I've been with some amazing women, and they've inspired me and made me a better man. This album is just about my life and how it relates to other people. I'm not here to bash anybody or make people like, 'Ooh, who'd he write that about?' "

When he's not in the studio, Puth says he hangs out with his best friend, Adam Levine, at home in Los Angeles and enjoys old-school hip-hop including MC Lyte and Naughty by Nature (who hail from his native New Jersey). Asked if he would ever rap on a song like his pop peers Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, he jokingly declines. 

"I've found out in my career that no one wants to see me dance, because I can't dance for (expletive)," Puth says, "and no one wants to see me rap."