Charlie Puth has been turning out pop hits like “See You Again,” “One Call Away,” and “We Don’t Talk Anymore” since he broke into the Top 40 world two years ago. His latest single, “Attention,” has been a slow-burner (being released on April 21st and only now peaking on the Billboard Hot 100 at the 45 position), but it DEFINITELY has the potential to rise to the top of the charts and — dare I say it — be a “Song of the Summer” contender, as much as this narrative now annoys me (more on that later). The isolation of various instruments help shape the story Puth is trying to tell, and it becomes clear upon multiple close listens that there are fascinating intricacies contributing to the complex emotions behind this song.
The song begins with Puth crooning in an achingly sweet falsetto over a very straight and staccato guitar riff, which instantly sucks the listener in — it’s just too pleasantly saccharine yet stark to turn away from. Moving into the pre-chorus, anticipation builds as synths and recordings of Puth harmonizing with himself are layered on top of each, working their way up a scale. However, surprisingly, all of those sounds are instantly cut and we are left with a frustrated Puth on the chorus, along with a bass line that is to die for. Personally, the bass line was the first thing that really stuck out to me when I first listened to this song, and it’s still my favorite part; this is no coincidence — this bass line grabs our attention like Puth’s ex-lover always grabbed his, and sounds slightly sinister. He cries, “You just want attention,” when the bass line is first introduced, as if this line is the girl, walking into a room and hoping all eyes turn towards her, and it continues on throughout the song as if he can never get her out of the back of his mind. However, as the rest of the instruments make their entrances, our singer’s conflicting feelings reveal themselves.
The instruments build on each other and draw our attention away from the bass line (although it is still definitely present). This demonstrates how Puth is grasping the reality of the situation he is in, and pulling his focus away from the girl herself and more towards how she is backstabbing him. This, along with the bridge, reveals that this song is not just a twenty-five-year-old man bitterly recalling to us listeners how a woman took advantage of him: he is trying to convince himself, not us, that this lady is bad news. His vocals are very breathy in the bridge, sounding pained and desperate, and this culminates when the music stops and he literally sighs before jumping back into the chorus; he is not just exasperated with his ex-lover, but with himself, because he knows that she is just trying to control him but he still cannot let her go. Nevertheless, every time he cries, “You’re just making sure I’m never getting over you,” it gains more and more meaning — it is important to note that he never does say that he is over her.
Aside from the music reflecting the lyrical content, my favorite music podcast Switched On Pop revealed in their most recent episode how various details in this song further add to its meaning, and also to how irresistible it is (much like this girl is to our conflicted singer). Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding demonstrate how Puth harmonizes with himself in the pre-chorus, and that the two harmonies can be heard separately in the left and right ears when wearing headphones; when the chorus comes in, those harmonies drop out and Puth’s vocals zoom to the center, directing our attention towards him in the middle of the room, making it so easy to actually visualize him and his angst as the girl bursts in. (So pull out your ear buds — this track takes on a whole new life with them.)
This track demonstrates that pop music can be instantly likable without being totally mindless — “pop” does not equate to robotic emotionless nonsense. This guy graduated from the Berklee College of Music, and this song was clearly crafted with great care, yet it is widely appealing for the masses. You can be mindless in listening to this and love it, but it was not mindlessly made; it has a great amount of detail and intricacy to it, and though you may not be initially conscious of these parts, they contribute to why you love the song so much.
I must also admit that this song could very well be a potential candidate for the “Song of the Summer.” It deeply annoys me how everyone in the media tries picking the Song of the Summer beginning in February, because to me, the beauty is in the surprise of discovering a ridiculously catchy song that shapes how you remember a certain period in your life. For example, when Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” took over summer 2012, it was a delightful gem that completely came out of left field — the element of surprise to it personally made it much more memorable and exciting, and it brings back specific memories of that summer. Despite this irritating me, I would LOVE to see “Attention” take over my radio, and I think it is very possible. It’s groovy enough to play with all your windows rolled down on a hot summer night, but the tone feels more appropriate than something like “Call Me Maybe” with regards to the tumultuous times 2017 has brought. The dark and sinister side to it provides people with something to resonate with, yet it still provides an escape from the current chaos in the world. It is multi-faceted in a number of ways, but it is also just a serious jam — pay attention to Mr. Puth.