By Hannah Sly
Where did Lewis Capaldi come from?
A year ago, he was relatively unknown. Fast forward to the present, the Scottish singer-songwriter possesses the glowing fame that is equal to a multitude of established artists who, unlike Capaldi, have spent years building and later maintaining as they attempt to stay relevant in a rather volatile industry.
Capaldi’s meteoric rise into the public consciousness is surely one of the most extraordinary in recent times.
An abundance of artists behind nostalgic one-hit wonders have defined a year musically, but subsequently failed to sustain that momentum. After their brief encounter of fame, they disappear completely from the popular culture radar – never to be seen again.
There’s been plenty of comparable male singer-songwriters who have failed to replicate Capaldi’s prolonged level of eminence. For example, take Jake Bugg and Tom Odell – both achieved number one albums in the UK but gradually faded from the public eye soon after.
This could prove somewhat controversial, but let’s face it, Capaldi’s music is rather monotonous and repetitive. Don’t take my pessimistic word for it, his debut album, conveniently named Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, received mediocre reviews following its release in May. NME gave it a disheartening two stars, the Guardian three. Despite admiration for Capaldi’s powerful voice, lead singles and impressive song-writing skills, all reviews echoed similar sentiments – why is there such a huge disparity between his music and online persona? NME’s review expressed bewilderment that “such a charismatic star could make a record so lacking in personality”. After listening to all 12 songs chronologically, you can see why they came to this conclusion. A steady stream of heartbreak ballads with similar sounding backing tracks…
Having said that, the critics are the minority here. Capaldi’s album reached number one in the UK and stayed there for six whole weeks. If that’s not enough, his debut became the fastest-selling album of 2019, opening on 89,506 sales in week one, surpassing established artist Ariana Grande who previously held the title. His UK and Ireland tour sold out in 10 minutes – making Capaldi the first artist in history to sell-out an arena tour before the release of a debut album. Impressive.
How was this swift success possible? How has he managed to swerve the one-hit wonder territory and make history so early in his career? Two things spring to mind – his humour and social media.
In an age dominated by oversharing, memes and ‘stan’ culture, Capaldi, a millennial, clearly capitalises on this contemporary trend. Almost everything he does professionally is intertwined with his social media platforms.
For instance, when Noel Gallagher made unpleasant remarks about Capaldi in an interview, he retaliated not by condemning his words, but by exploiting the dispute. For context, Gallagher branded Capaldi “Chewbacca”, advised him to enjoy his 15 minutes of fame, and called Scotland a “third world country”. In true Capaldi style, he walked on stage at the TRNSMT festival holding the Scottish flag, wearing a Chewbacca mask
He then changed his Twitter name to ‘Chewis Capaldi’ and picture to Chewbacca. At Glastonbury, he walked on stage wearing a shirt with Gallagher’s face inside a love heart, before singing his hit song ‘Someone You Loved’ to an army of fans.
Naturally, the photographs posted online afterwards received substantial engagement.
Instead of customary ‘please buy my album!’ posts, Capaldi uses witty images and self-deprecating humour to promote his work, thus attracting a wider audience via the power of online sharing. He’s not afraid to be himself – amusing not only his fanbase, but those who happen to stumble upon his online platforms unintentionally. In an era of unattainable perfectionism, it’s refreshing to see a celebrity embracing authenticity over falsity.
Even when he teams up with branded sponsorships, Capaldi’s still genuine.
After formulating a continuing narrative on social media that he’s finding it difficult to ‘find love’, he joined with Tinder to produce billboards using various comical images taken directly from his social media pages – posing unconventionally, wearing his famous novelty sunglasses. Capaldi also tapped into the bizarre popularity of Greggs on Twitter and used his popular humour in the real world to promote his new album on a London Underground billboard – embracing Capaldi-esque terms like “Scottish Beyoncé” and “finally famous”. He knows he’s equally notable for his both music and online persona.
Capaldi refuses to engage in any contentious political chit-chat. His lyrics are free from edgy statements and his social media is crammed with unflattering selfies rather than his views on Brexit.
Capaldi joins the long list of contemporary British, casual, guitar-holding male singer-songwriters who have “exceptional voices and wilfully unexceptional images that entrench an impression of authenticity”. Ed Sheeran… George Ezra… artists who could easily walk into a university lecture and blend in effortlessly. Two decades ago, appearance was everything – for both men and women.
This has faded somewhat. Well, for men…
The ‘authentic’ singer-songwriter trend has failed to prosper among female artists. How can women embrace authenticity when the industry expects them to look perfect? Capaldi himself said that female artists would “come up against more media scrutiny” if they were to dress casually, share unfiltered selfies and post slapstick humour.
Nonetheless, we emphasise social media as the sole source for Capaldi’s rapid rise to fame. How true is this really? He still had to sing in deserted pubs and support other successful music artists beforehand. Not all is what it seems.
Essentially, to be a celebrity, people need to like you – no matter the superiority of your voice. The extraordinary thing about Capaldi is that his entire brand has been built, and continues to exist, online. He’s a part singer-songwriter, part social media star; #relatable in an era whereby #relatability is a hugely saleable commodity.
With a new decade on the horizon, expect to see an array of new artists imitating Lewis Capaldi. It’s certainly worked for him.