Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Lewis Capaldi’s Hot 100 Climb With ‘Someone You Loved’
Where did Lewis Capaldi (metaphorically) come from? And how much bigger can he get from here? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
With all the turnover the past few months at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 — Lil Nas X‘s once-seemingly endless reign being succeeded in rapid-fire fashion by Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, and finally Lizzo — you might’ve missed a name creeping up the chart from underneath all of them: Lewis Capaldi.
The Scottish singer-songwriter has already emerged as a conquering hero in his home country, where breakout ballad “Someone You Loved” reigned for seven weeks on the Official UK Singles Chart, and where debut LP Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent has become the year’s fastest-selling album. But now his dominance has extended across the Atlantic, as “Loved” climbs to a new peak of No. 3 on the Hot 100 this week.
Where did Capaldi (metaphorically) come from? And how much bigger can he get from here? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. So, it took 20 weeks, but Lewis Capaldi has himself a top three single. How did this song take so long to creep up on us, and why is it still growing?
Jason Lipshutz: “Someone You Loved” follows in the grand tradition of James Bay’s “Let It Go,” James Arthur’s “Say You Won’t Let Go” and George Ezra’s “Budapest” as a bleeding-heart sing-along from a male songwriter outside of the U.S. that slowly creeps onto a staggering number of American top 40 radio stations. They all possess exquisitely memorable choruses that burn themselves into your brain. None of those aforementioned songs climbed as high as the top 3 on the Hot 100, though; the next time this club of troubadours meets up for brunch, Capaldi is buying.
Kevin Rutherford: It feels like this is something that happens with most songs that first break overseas. “Someone You Loved” has been topping charts in Europe since the first quarter of 2019, but since no one Stateside knew who the hell Lewis Capaldi was before this spring or so, the song wasn’t going to cross over to America and be an inescapable hit right off the bat. Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team,” his first U.S. hit, had been popular in the United Kingdom for about a year before it made waves here. See also: “Say You Won’t Let Go.”
As for it still growing? It only just hit No. 1 on adult pop radio and still has mainstream pop radio to conquer, and radio’s still a definite player on the Hot 100. The fact that the official video only recently came out helps matters.
Andrew Unterberger: Overseas travel always takes longer than it seems like it should, doesn’t it? But yeah, this was never going to be an immediate streaming hit — think of it more in the vein of John Legend’s “All of Me,” another drumless piano ballad that took nearly a year to cross over in full, despite coming from an American artist who was already a fairly established hitmaker. Songs this slow (and slow-burning) rarely detonate on impact but they take a whole long while to fizzle out; don’t be surprised if this song is still in or around the top 10 when the calendar turns over.
Taylor Weatherby: In most cases, a breakout song for a rising artist doesn’t just shoot straight to the top of the chart — unless, of course, you’re Lil Nas X. But since this isn’t a viral sensation like “Old Town Road,” it’s naturally going to be a slower progression. Capaldi’s No. 3 position after 20 weeks goes to show that more and more people are discovering “Someone You Loved” and falling in love with it — despite the fact that it’s a breakup song.
But that’s exactly it: There’s not really another heartbreaking ballad out there right now, and Capaldi’s raspy voice is so captivating that that combo makes for a Hot 100 win. I think it’s still growing because of the radio play it’s getting (“Someone You Loved” is at No. 3 on the Pop Songs chart), and the fact that Capaldi is getting Stateside celebrity endorsements from the likes of P!nk, the Jonas Brothers and Fletcher. Everyone loves a little heartbreak!
Xander Zellner: I truly wasn’t expecting it to climb this high, but here we are. To start with how it sounds, it’s a perfect Hot AC single (that will likely continue receiving airplay on those stations for months and months to come). But similar to “Old Town Road,” its success goes beyond how it sounds. Capaldi is a master of social media — winning over younger audiences with goofy videos, viral tweets and feuds with legendary English musicians, all while simultaneously marketing the song. It’s clearly working.
2. Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent: Cleverly cheeky title, brutally apt descriptor, both or neither?
Jason Lipshutz: That album title and accompanying artwork — Capaldi sitting on the floor, hellishly glum — makes me want to give the young Scot an encouraging pat on the back. Cheer up, Lewis! You’ve got a hit single, a fine warble and more than one beguiling ballad to flaunt (previous single “Bruises” makes for another compelling heartache tune on the album).
Kevin Rutherford: Lord, is this a tough one. You wanna say the latter, but in the press release for the album, Capaldi himself calls it a “stupid” title, which lends credence to the former. Given his personality outside of his music, my final instinct is to not read too much into it at all (and, if anything, to call it self-deprecating at best).
Andrew Unterberger: Both. It’s a cute little to wink to your critics to try to steal their thunder by slapping the sort of critique they’re likely to use against your album on it as its title. But it’d be even better if the music — which in this one writer’s opinion is a tad monochromatic and overbearing — avoided any sort of need for it in the first place.
Taylor Weatherby: Cleverly cheeky, fitting to the personality Capaldi reflects on Twitter. What’s ironic, though, is that the album is not cleverly cheeky. Like “Someone You Loved,” most of the LP hears Capaldi delivering lovelorn tales with impassioned vocals. Maybe that has something to do with the title in a not-so-cheeky way? Whatever the reason behind it, I appreciate that there was clearly some thought put into the title of his debut album and he didn’t just go for the cliché self-titled move.
Xander Zellner: Definitely file this under “cheeky U.K. humour.”
3. Capaldi has already proven himself fairly adept at social media (and just kinda playing the media game in general). What do you think his finest or most telling moment as a celebrity is thus far?
Jason Lipshutz: When young Lewis licked a bunch of Oreos, encased them, auctioned them off to charity and seemed perplexed by the entire ordeal… I was right there with him.
Kevin Rutherford: My first encounter with Capaldi outside of “Bruises” or “Someone You Loved” was when he clogged his Los Angeles hotel room’s toilet and found that there was no plunger in the bathroom, which sent him on a journey to the store to find one and unclog it himself. The zoom-in on his face as he plunges the toilet and says, “I’ve had a No. 1 song for five weeks in the U.K. Come to America and it all changes”? *chef’s kiss*
Honorable mention to his 2019 Glastonbury entrance, in which he came out to a loop of Noel Gallagher asking, “Who’s this Capaldi fella?” while wearing an Oasis-esque parka, later removing it to reveal a T-shirt containing Gallagher’s face within a large heart.
Andrew Unterberger: I love that the Noel feud has gone so far that Lewis has gotten the next generation involved. That’s usually a Gallagher family move.
Taylor Weatherby: I love that he purchased his own fake merch from someone on the street. (Frankly, I hope every artist has done that at some point.) Capaldi is constantly joking about how he knows he’s made it, but you can also tell how genuinely excited he is for all of the success he’s having. Yet, he’s not taking anything too seriously, which makes it even more fun to watch a guy like him succeed — especially thanks to his hilariously ridiculous sunglasses collection.
Honorary mention to one of his more recent posts about the bangers Camila Cabello and Post Malone are putting out and how they’re going to stunt “Someone You Loved” from moving up the charts — which show that he’s playing the game, but also loving the competition.
Xander Zellner: Gotta be his “feud” with Noel Gallagher, which ultimately resulted in him being labeled as “Chewbacca” and then changing his Twitter name to “Chewis Capaldi” and profile picture to… well, just look.
4. Let’s take a second to give a shoutout to another special “Someone” — any other favorite song you have with “someone” in the title.
Jason Lipshutz: My special Someone cannot be contained within one song — it’s Yourself Or Someone Like You, the mega-selling Matchbox Twenty debut album from 1996 that includes “3AM,” “Real World,” “Push” and, of course, the eternally underrated “Back 2 Good.” Did I just engineer a new way to champion Rob Thomas? I think I might have.
Kevin Rutherford: Any version of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone,” though Rosanne Cash’s performance of the song at her dad’s CMT memorial tribute shortly after his death is a definite standout. No, I didn’t just watch Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary, what are you talking about?
Andrew Unterberger: Shouts to The Beatles’ secret Rubber Soul highlight “If I Needed Someone”: Gorgeous harmonies and chiming guitars, and one of George Harrison’s most inscrutable and indelible lyrics: “Carve your number on my wall and maybe you will get a call from me/ If I needed someone.”
Taylor Weatherby: Luke Bryan’s “Someone Else Calling You Baby.” It’s also a heartbreak song, but disguised by a country melody that’s way more fun than painful to sing along to. It’s pretty funny, actually — in revisiting songs with “Someone” in the title, I realized a majority of the ones I’m familiar with, at least, are some form of a breakup song. At least it’s possible to belt out “Someone Else Calling You Baby” without bursting into tears.
Xander Zellner: The Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” is punk royalty and should be regarded as such.
5. Hard to ignore the precedent that the last time a largely unassuming-looking U.K. singer/songwriter had a breakout hit this big in the U.S., he ended up going on to be one of the biggest pop stars of the decade. On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely would you say it is that Capaldi ends up living up to his destiny as the next Ed Sheeran?
Jason Lipshutz: I’d say a solid 4. He’s got a terrific voice and at least one song with a chart-busting chorus, but even more difficult than pulling off the breakthrough singer-songwriter hit is transitioning into full-blown, uptempo pop stardom the way Sheeran did with his second album. Could Capaldi call up Pharrell Williams and Benny Blanco for his own “Sing” or “Don’t”? Absolutely. Only time will tell if he wants to, though.
Kevin Rutherford: See, there’s the Sheeran route, but there’s also the fate of James Arthur, whose “Say You Won’t Let Go” follow-ups haven’t made a dent in the U.S. One thing going for Lewis: Comparing Sheeran, Arthur and Capaldi, the latter is the only one whose first U.S.-charting single even hit the top 10 of the Hot 100, let alone the top five. But a good song, of course, is gonna find its way to the top of the charts – you gotta keep the momentum rolling.
What works in Capaldi’s favor is that he’s an easily likable, extremely funny (especially if you enjoy self-deprecation) person who seems to have the right attitude about fame and his career. I don’t know that I see him as Sheeran’s successor, partially from a musical perspective, but he’s gaining genuine fans in a way that looks to bode well for his career prospects. So let’s say 4 in terms of following in Sheeran’s footsteps, 7 in terms of having a career in the U.S. going forward.
Andrew Unterberger: I’m gonna go pretty high on this and say a 7. I’m not quite sure he has the songwriting aptitude and versatility of Sheeran, and I guess I’d be a little surprised if he was ever quite as world-conqueringly huge as Ed. But when it comes to being the next sustainably gigantic international pop star singer-songwriter, he has the pipes, he has the likability, and most importantly, he has the breakthrough hit as the buy-in. Sometimes that’s really all you need.
Taylor Weatherby: For now I say like a 3. I’d like to see what else he can do with his voice other than intense songs about losing love before I can really judge whether he’ll reach superstardom. At this point, I don’t think Capaldi has the versatility that Sheeran does, but maybe he’ll surprise us with his next release. On that note, if he does stick to the heartbroken stuff, I could see him becoming, like, the male Adele. But I don’t know, man, the guy clearly enjoys being funny — how about we see that quirky personality in some of his music?!
Xander Zellner: About a 6 (despite what Noel thinks). Ed Sheeran is so unbelievably massive that it’s tough to imagine anyone reaching that level, but, hey, why not Lewis Capaldi? He’s only 22 years old, he has a goofy sense of humor that’s resonated with a wide demographic (like a Scottish Mac DeMarco) and he’s clearly cultivated a large international following. It’s too soon to tell if he’ll become the next Ed Sheeran, but he’s certainly making all the right moves.