Lewis Capaldi made his Glastonbury debut this summer, with a late afternoon set on Saturday (June 29). Playing the festival is a mark of achievement for any artist, but it’s one that Capaldi approached as he does the rest of his career: modestly. He kicked his set off with a looped video of Noel Gallagher during a Radio X interview saying “Who’s this Capaldi fella?” Such self-deprecating humor is a Capaldi staple — and what helped his career approach mainstream success.
The 22-year-old Scotland native is in the middle of a breakout year: his debut LP, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, dropped in May and nabbed the biggest week for an album in the United Kingdom so far in 2019. The project’s most prominent single, “Someone You Loved,” is seeing similar success, also hitting No. 1 in the U.K. earlier this year and currently climbing the ranks on the Billboard Hot 100, setting a new peak at No. 46 on charts dated July 13. “I just thought this is a song for people who have been there since the start,” Capaldi tells Billboard. “It’s been incredible to see how it has connected [on a larger level].”
He made his first onstage appearance nearly two decades ago. When he was a child, his family used to make 15-hour-plus road trips in a minivan from Glasgow to France, blasting Queen, Elvis Presley and Fleetwood Mac along the way. During one drive, while stopped at an RV park, they saw a cabaret band turn its set into an open mic night — and a then-four-year-old Capaldi jumped at the opportunity. Moments after finishing a performance of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” he returned to the stage to deliver “We Are the Champions” as an encore. “That was when I got the bug,” he says. “Ever since, I’ve been chasing that feeling. That euphoria.”
He started writing his own music at age nine; he began regularly performing at Scottish pubs at 11; he opened on tour for bona fide stars Sam Smith and Niall Horan in 2018. “I learned most from watching how they act,” he says. “[Sam’s] songs are not easy to sing — just watching how he performs every night has been inspiring.” Next, he’ll open for Ed Sheeran and The Killers on legs of their respective tours in 2019 before embarking on his own set of European dates in 2020.
Capaldi’s manager, Ryan Walter, first discovered the budding pop star on SoundCloud in 2015. “Within 10 seconds, I knew I had to get in touch,” Walter says. “It was an equal combination of two things: his vocal, which was absolutely flawless, and the level of depth to his songwriting. It’s such a rare thing to ever witness both.” By 2016, the two were officially in business — and Capaldi was eager to release an official single.
His team chose the longing piano track “Bruises,” which landed atop Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist in March 2017, ahead of “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar and “Heatstroke” by Calvin Harris. “To this day, I don’t know how the fuck it happened,” says Capaldi. The song barely cracked Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart, but it landed him a deal with Universal Music Group just a few months later. (He was signed to a worldwide deal by UMG in Germany, and his music comes out on Virgin in the United Kingdom and Capitol in the United States.)
After spending much of the following year growing his fan base primarily through touring and his social media presence — he’s amassed nearly three million followers on Instagram and has many of his most memorable rants pinned to his profile — Capaldi focused on completing his debut album and finished writing the project in mid-2018. He sat down at the piano for one final, four-hour session, just to see if anything was still knocking around in his head. An otherwise fruitless session yielded five very important minutes at the end, with Capaldi coming up with the melody for “Someone You Loved” just before calling it a day.
At first, he was worried it was too similar to his other songs. “I had written the breakup song so many times that I was like, ‘I can’t write about this again,’” he says. It wasn’t until the song’s producers, TMS, encouraged Capaldi to write about loss more generally that the song clicked, diffusing the writer’s block that kept it on the shelf for months. He completed the song roughly three weeks before the release of his November 2018 EP, Breach, managing to include it on the four-track project. The music video followed in February 2019. Now, with its re-release on his full-length debut, “Someone You Loved” is his biggest hit to date.
Capaldi has since made his U.S. television debut on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, performed back-to-back nights on The Late, Late Show with James Corden, and covered Billie Eilish’s “when the party’s over” — which Capaldi deems “deceptively hard to sing” — for Spotify Singles, raking in over 13 million streams on the platform and counting. “I’m not going to question it,” he says of his rapid ascent. “I’m just going to hold on for dear life.”