‘Songland’ Recap: Charlie Puth Decides Not to Record the Winning Song


Something is amiss this week on Songland. For one, the Charlie Puth episode had been teased since May, but was held back until tonight (September 4). And the only reason it took this long to get it on the airwaves was because of an unexpected month-long hiatus the series went on halfway through this inaugural season. More on this shortly.

Indeed, Charlie is the guest this week. He rolls up to have four songwriters pitch their tunes to him so that, ultimately, one can be chosen for him to record. Self-explanatory, right? We’ve seen it week after week now, and that’s the purpose of the work that’s put into this show.

It turns out the first hopeful is Sam DeRosa, 26, who just happened to be a former classmate of Charlie’s at Berklee College Of Music. She comes armed with her punchy pop number “Pill For This” which was written upon learning her ex and a former friend were getting married.

The Songland panel of Ryan Tedder, Ester Dean and Shane McAnally are ecstatic over what they hear. Ester makes everyone stand up and dance. Ryan says the song is 90 percent there, while Shane notes that females are just better at “cutting to the heart.”

Next up is Zach Sorgen, from California, who loves the 1980s and says he’s written a song a day for the past five years. The one he brings in for consideration is a George Michael-esque guitar-pop gem titled “Habit.” Ryan says it’s “a giant box of ear candy,” but Shane isn’t so hot on the lyrics. Ester suggests adding a drum beat with “swag.” 

Paris Alexa (or Parisalexa as she goes by professionally) from Seattle brings in what feels like not only the best song of the episode, but of the entire season. “Pity Party” is a fun, catchy breakup anthem with a killer pop chorus that the panel members go wild over. Ryan states, “That melody is a 10.”

Alas, the history of this show has cruelly taught us that often the best songs get cut. I’ll just stick the knife in now: For whatever idiotic reason, Paris’ “Pity Party” doesn’t break that curse. Charlie axes it because “the vibe doesn’t feel right” for him or something. Again, something feels out of whack with this whole episode.

The final songwriter we meet is 21-year-old Joel Adams from Brisbane, Australia. His offering is called “Hate Love,” which is about makeup sex, or grudge sex, or some unpleasant thing like that (it’s never quite clear). The panelists zero in on the use of the words “hate” and “love” together being confusing. Shane and Ryan at least dig the melody.

With Paris stupidly now chopped from the competition, Ryan is paired up with Zach to work on “Bad Habit,” as it’s retitled during their session. Ryan feels the song needs some edge, so he records a track of Zach playing the song on acoustic guitar then slaps a beat on it.

When Zach gives the new rendition a whirl for Charlie, the pop singer responds by saying “Bad Habit” is universal, and he can hear himself singing it.

Ester and Joel bump heads while working together on “Hate Love.” Ester wants to reword the lyrics and replace the original instrumentation with more of a dance-pop feel. Joel flashes a look like someone just keyed his car, but Ester reminds him that his chorus wasn’t really going anywhere. Sure enough, Charlie and the panel start bopping around in their seats when Joel presents the new version of the song.

That leaves Charlie’s onetime classmate Sam, who partners with Shane to strip “Pill For This” down into an otherworldly piano ballad. Charlie seems taken with the angsty, “suspended in space” ambiance of the track, then comments that Sam “could be a hit artist” herself.

When it comes down to making a decision, Charlie gets choked up and, through tears, tells the three budding wordsmiths that he knows what it’s like to struggle until you get your first big break. He decides to go with Zach’s “Bad Habit” — until he doesn’t.

A Charlie Puth recording of “Bad Habit” never materialized on iTunes or Spotify, as is habit once the end credits begin to roll. The pop star tweeted after the show, “As a singer-songwriter myself, it is important for me to recognize that sometimes a song deserves to be released by the person who wrote it. ‘Bad Habit’ is truly something special, and should be Zach’s song to put out into the world.”

And so Charlie Puth, the Great Bucker of Songland tradition, showed up to put wide-eyed songwriters through the wringer, only to pass on recording any of their material — which arguably defeats the purpose of the show in general, and his participation in it. (Billboard has reached out to Puth for additional comment.) 

It’s worth noting that before this particular tweet, Charlie threw out there that a completely different single of his, “Mother,” drops next week. Sorry, Zach.