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HomeMusicFive Burning Questions: Charlie Puth’s ‘Light Switch’ Brightens Up the Top 40

Five Burning Questions: Charlie Puth’s ‘Light Switch’ Brightens Up the Top 40

From 2015 to 2018, there were few artists who were as regular a presence on pop radio than Charlie Puth, whether in hit collaborations (with Wiz Khalifa on “See You Again,” Meghan Trainor on “Marvin Gaye” and Selena Gomez on “We Don’t Talk Anymore”) or on his own (“One Call Away,” “Attention,” “How Long”). But in the years since, we hadn’t heard much of Puth on radio or seen him on the Hot 100 — outside of his arrival on the remix to Gabby Barrett’s country crossover smash “I Hope” — until this year’s “Light Switch.”

After debuting just outside the chart’s top 40 in February, “Light Switch” has hung around the Hot 100, and this week makes a big jump from 48 to 29. Radio is unsurprisingly a major driving force behind Charlie Puth’s comeback, with the song motoring from 28-22 on Billboard‘s Radio Songs chart.

Why is this song connecting the way it has been? And how far might it still climb from here? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. Charlie Puth’s “Light Switch” is off to a dynamite start at radio, helping to propel its early chart success. Are you surprised that the song has found its way to heavy rotation so quickly for an artist who hasn’t been a fixture there (at least as a lead artist) in a few years, or did you see this coming for it?

Katie Atkinson: A little of both! I can’t name a Charlie song that I haven’t liked in the past five years, so I always hope his stuff ends up in heavy rotation. But I was especially surprised when “Girlfriend” didn’t click in 2020, so he’s not always a sure thing. I’m so glad this one has popped because it’s an undeniably fun song.

Starr Bowenbank: Though Puth has not been a solid fixture on the charts in a few years, it was (at the very least) a little predictable that “Light Switch” would see success. I think a large part of the song’s charting is directly correlated to the social media following that it’s managed to have – Puth first teased the song via TikTok as early as September 2021, and often shared updates on his progress while working towards the finished product, making his fans and followers both invested and excited for the track to come out. (Gayle’s “abcdefu” also had a similar marketing strategy, which panned out incredibly well for her chart success too.) In the time since, “Light Switch” has become a dance challenge on TikTok – a gift that always ends up giving.

Stephen Daw: I really like “Light Switch,” and I could see that Charlie Puth was certainly vying for radio attention — that being said, I really didn’t think that the song was going to make that much of an impact. I really felt like Charlie was heading much more into the “acclaimed producer of other peoples’ music” phase of his career. But “Light Switch” is quickly proving me wrong!

Joe Lynch: I’m not surprised. Unlike an Ed Sheeran, whose every album is expected to produce a few massive radio hits, Puth seems like the kind of artist who connects with the radio zeitgeist every few years; he’s not so famous or Stan-beloved that people are expecting him to knock each single out of the park, so when he notches a No. 1 Radio Songs hit in 2017 (“Attention”), returns to the top slot in 2020 (thanks to his smart team-up with Gabby Barrett on her inescapable “I Hope”) and then starts gaining steam again in 2022, the timing feels right.

Andrew Unterberger: I’m not surprised, mostly because the song has such clear echoes of the most dead-center pop radio hit of the past year — The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” — which, it just so happens, Charlie Puth also co-wrote. It’s not such a redux of that song that it feels like a weaker photocopy, but it clearly rides the wave of pulse-racing pop-rock from that chart-topping smash; given that Puth was one of the folks responsible for that rising tide in the first place, it’s only fair.

2. Obviously, “Light Switch” is connecting so far in a way that Puth’s previous post-Voicenotes songs – “I Warned Myself,” “Mother,“ “Girlfriend” – did not really manage to. What do you see as the biggest difference between this single and those that allowed for its greater immediate success?

Katie Atkinson: Listening back to those three, they suffer from a bit of a dragging beat (“Girlfriend”), a bizarre concept (“Mother”), or both (“I Warned Myself”). After Puth co-wrote the Hot 100 No. 1 “Stay” for The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber, I’m so glad that he has his very own frantically paced pop hit. The speed is such a good fit for his voice and his style, and the concept is simple and suggestive — a perfect combination for radio.

Starr Bowenbank: Oddly enough, I think Puth interacting with his fans more due to the pandemic and through the No. 1 social platform (TikTok) definitely played a huge part. Cataloguing his progress in making the track certainly didn’t hurt either – I’m sure the move made his fans feel more connected to him than ever, and it allowed him to build anticipation for the track in a more organic way. It’s also worth mentioning that his recent proximity to BTS and their ARMY (though negative) has added more eyes on him.

Stephen Daw: Honestly, I think the simplest answer is probably the truest; time. “Light Switch” is Puth’s first solo single since 2020, and he’s only grown more popular over that timeframe thanks to his TikTok presence. So, when he did finally return with a new song, his fans were primed and ready to listen and get into it. That’s my theory, at least!

Joe Lynch: Couple things. The first is stupid simple: It’s just catchier, with more immediate hooks and a more fun attitude than those three singles, not unlike “Attention.” The other one is that 2019 saw some stiff competition for pop singles on radio, with smashes from Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X, Halsey, Jonas Brothers and Post Malone dominating the airwaves and refusing to give ground. By my reckoning, the biggest pop singles of 2022 so far (with the exception of Adele) aren’t quite the juggernauts we saw in 2019 (there’s a reason a Disney song has topped the Hot 100 for five weeks now!) — so there’s more room for Puth to make his mark.

Andrew Unterberger: I think those other songs, while just as good and arguably even better than “Light Switch,” were a little deep into Puth’s own pop fascinations, and maybe a little too far out of bounds for a top 40 landscape still dominated by Post Malone and Ariana Grande. This one feels almost custom-designed for 2022 radio supremacy, and it’s already on its way to achieving that goal pretty resoundingly.

3. Puth has of course been just as visible for his social media presence on Twitter and TikTok – including a recent maybe-feud with superproducer Benny Blanco – as for his music over the last couple years. Do you think it helps him stay vital as a pop presence, or does it end up distracting from his abilities and achievements as a pop artist?

Katie Atkinson: I like it best when his social presence and his musical skills overlap, like when he walks his followers through piecing a beat together or stacking up his own vocals. Aside from that, I much prefer Charlie the Voice on My Radio to his silly non-feuds with Benny Blanco and Justin Bieber.

Starr Bowenbank: For an artist like Puth, I think having a heightened social media presence works. He’s not a type of artist like Frank Ocean or Beyoncé where moving in secrecy causes people to wonder about what he’s up to music wise, and considering he hasn’t had a solo top five hit on the Hot 100 since 2017’s “Attention,” I believe its beneficial for him to do what he can to keep eyes (and ears) on him – even if it means engaging in certain social media antics from time to time.

Stephen Daw: I think that “Light Switch” would not be having the moment it is having right now were it not for his social media presence. He has gained a really interesting following since blowing up on TikTok, and his fans are now very invested in the way he puts his music together because of how he talks about it online — so naturally when the song finally comes out, they get to see the culmination of all his work (and his self-advertising). It’s engaging people in a way he hasn’t before, and if I were him, I would keep doing what he’s doing.

Joe Lynch: Nah. I think anyone arguing that visibility on TikTok or social media is somehow a career L at this point is just desperately trying to turn back the clock. If you’re in the celebrity game in 2022, you should probably have some sort of social media presence, precisely because it helps keep you visible when your singles don’t quite connect with listeners – it buys you some time (years even) to stay relevant until you find another single that does land.

Andrew Unterberger: It’s a good thing for him — to a point. Obviously being TikTok-relevant is a major factor in just about any pop star being relevant, period in 2022, but it can be a little double-edged: Become too well known as a presence there and you might start to be thought of as a social media star first and a pop artist second. Not that that’s such a bad fate either, but for a pop savant and devotee like Puth — one who recently decried artists who don’t “let the music speak for itself” — you have to imagine being taken seriously as a performing artist is still fairly paramount.

4. Throughout his career, Puth has been heavily involved with myriad other major artists as a collaborator, as a singer, writer, producer, or some combination thereof. Who’s a major player in today’s pop world that you’d still love to see him get together with, and in what capacity?  

Katie Atkinson: For the amount of times that Charlie and John Mayer have interacted online, I’m stunned that they haven’t collaborated on anything official yet. Maybe because they’re both solo songwriters, there hasn’t been an obvious song for one or the other to jump on. But an honest-to-god co-write between them could be fun. I can hear the guitar solo now…

Starr Bowenbank: A Puth and Coldplay collaboration feels particularly fitting. Puth has more of a leg to stand on to potentially work with Coldplay since featuring on Elton John’s ‘The Lockdown Sessions’ and the band has been following a poppier direction with their recent album release, Music of the Spheres. Coldplay and Puth also share collaborators – Selena Gomez and BTS – so they already have those tastes in common as well.

Stephen Daw: I’m surprised that we haven’t gotten a collaboration between him and Shawn Mendes, because for an embarrassingly long time I thought they were the same person. But their sounds easily fit together, they could really make a meal out of some delicious vocal hooks, and it would make for a pretty seamless duet. Plus, they’ll at least be able to get the fans of their bromance to stop asking them to do a song together.

Joe Lynch: I could see a Charlie Puth/Jonas Brothers joint lighting a well-contained, medium-heat fire on the charts. I’m imagining him co-writing and co-producing a single or two, and then maybe popping up on the remix a few months down the road to give it another boost.

Andrew Unterberger: We’re about coming up on the part of the lunar schedule where Maroon 5 releases their latest — and rather than have it be their usual awkward artist-of-the-moment collab, how about just doing some behind-the-scenes work with Puth as a writer/producer? You get the feeling the latter is a huge Songs About Jane fan, and could maybe help them rediscover some of the juice from that classic blue-eyed soul set on the verge of its 20th anniversary.

5. Now that “Light Switch” has officially been flipped on, how far do you see it climbing on the Hot 100?

Katie Atkinson: I hope top 10, but I could also see it falling just shy — so I’ll opt for a painful No. 11.

Starr Bowenbank: I think “Light Switch” has a small chance of cracking the top 10 on the Hot 100, propelled by there not being any single releases from major pop power players currently. From here, I think the song will have more of a steady climb than a meteoric ascent up the charts, especially if it continues to trend with the help of TikTok.

Stephen Daw: I am notoriously bad at this, so I’ll swing big — I think “Light Switch” will make it to the top 10. I doubt it’ll clear into top 5 spot, especially as spring releases start coming in hot, but I certainly think he’s got a shot at taking his place at No. 8 or 9.

Joe Lynch: How far will it climb? You’re asking me to be a soothsayer – or Puthsayer, if you will. I’m gonna say it will climb to the top 10 on the Hot 100 until someone hits the dimmer on this one.

Andrew Unterberger: I’ll say just outside the top 10 — which, for a solo Charlie Puth single in 2022, would be an excellent performance.

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