Stephen Puth Talks Taking the Spotlight With a Debut Single That Makes You Go 'What Did He Just Say?'

Stephen Puth
Blaise Castellano

Stephen Puth

Singer/songwriter chats with Billboard's Pop Shop Podcast about "Sexual Vibe" & how brother Charlie helped inspire latest song "Half Gone."

Stephen Puth wanted to make a big musical impression when he released his debut single late last year, and he had just the song to make that splash: "Sexual Vibe."

"It's definitely one of those songs that makes you perk up and go, 'What did he just say?'" Puth tells Billboard's Pop Shop Podcast (listen to the full episode below) about the suggestive single.

But when the song first came to be, he wasn't thinking about himself as the artist behind the come-on. "I was writing and producing for other artists before, and this song I had done somewhat during that era, and it was just by far the weirdest," he says with a laugh. "And I was like, 'Well, who would sing this?' And I was like, 'No one.' Because it's just weird, the way it sounds sonically. So I was like, 'I should put it out. It's kind of cool.'"

The song and video dropped in early December, and the steamy clip has already racked up 4.4 million on-demand streams in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music. Not bad for someone who didn't even intend to be a pop star in the first place. When he initially met David Massey, his now label boss, the Arista Records exec had to convince Puth that he should really think about transitioning from being a songwriter to a singer. "He was like, 'I really think you should be an artist,'" Puth recalls. "And I was like, 'No, I really don't. I just like being behind the scenes.'"

Of course, Massey won that battle, and Puth is grateful that he pushed him into the spotlight. "It's way more fun," Puth says. "It's a new outlet for music. The writing world's hard. It's like taking a thousand darts in one hand and closing your eyes and trying to hit the bull's-eye when it comes to getting music landed. So I'm really glad I have an outlet of my own identity to put [music] out and it can be whatever it is."

So if "Sexual Vibe" was the first date with Stephen, then the just-released midtempo single "Half Gone" is that all-important second impression, when listeners decide if they want to get a little more serious with him. In the podcast, Puth tells the story of how the heartbreaking song came to be back when he was in college, and it all started with some brotherly love from his fellow pop-singing bro Charlie Puth.

"It was my last semester, and I wasn't like, 'Oh no, college is over'; I was so happy to leave," Puth says of his final days at Pennsylvania's Gettysburg College. "I was sad because I had an up-and-down path with a girl and I was talking to another girl … and it seemed fine, but I was like, 'Why can't I open up to it?' … So I was kind of sad by it all. It's also, you're in Pennsylvania [in winter], it's a dark tundra, so that doesn't help either," he laughs. "It got to the point where my brother was actually in Baltimore, so he came and visited me and we got dinner. Typically, I'm not the most emotional person, so the fact that he could even see it kind of explains it. So we're driving around, and he's like, 'What's wrong?' And I'm just sitting there and this is what I said verbatim: 'Imagine you've got a pizza. That's your heart. Every single time you go to love somebody, you're giving a piece of it away. And eventually' -- and then I said to him, 'How am I supposed to love the next person when my heart's already half-gone?' … He was like, 'Say it again.' And I said it again, and he's like, 'Why are you studying history?' [Laughs] And I was like, 'I don't know! It's interesting?' And he was like, 'Why aren't you writing [songs]?'"

So he did -- and years later, "Half Gone" finally came to fruition in the studio and materialized as Puth's second single. In the rest of the interview, Puth talks about when we might hear a full-length project from him, doing some opening tour dates with Astrid S and much more.

Also on the podcast, we talk about Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's chart domination -- with "Shallow" topping the Billboard Hot 100 and the A Star Is Born soundtrack atop the Billboard 200 -- and what Hollywood and the music business can learn from the musical film's success.

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard's weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard's senior director of charts Keith Caulfield and deputy editor, digital Katie Atkinson every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)