With “Before You Go” entering the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart, the Scottish singer-songwriter has embraced his fate as “the ballad guy.”
“I’m still here, with no signs of leaving.” That’s how Lewis Capaldi confirms to Billboard that he remains under quarantine at his parents’ house in Bathgate, Scotland, as he’s been throughout the coronavirus pandemic. “And they are extremely sick of me.”
The singer-songwriter’s father works in food distribution and his mother is a nurse; while Capaldi has been stuck at home with his 2020 touring plans scrapped, his parents have been out and about as essential workers. “They both spend long days at work and come home to their 23-year-old son, who’s essentially unemployed at this point, to see him in his underwear, cheesy Doritos all over his stomach,” he explains. “It’s not a pretty sight to come home to after a long day of working hard.”
At least Capaldi can show his parents one way he’s been productive: on last week’s Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Before You Go,” the heart-wrenching breakup track, rises one spot to No. 10, becoming Capaldi’s second career top 10 hit in its 28th week on the tally. It’s a validating second stateside hit for the singer-songwriter. Last October, his breakthrough smash “Someone You Loved” completed a 24-week climb to the top of the Hot 100, the second-longest trip to No. 1 for an artist’s debut chart entry; the track eventually spent three total weeks atop the chart and received a song of the year Grammy nod.
Describing the stateside success of “Someone You Loved” last year as “unlikely” is an understatement: sparse piano ballads made by artists not named Adele rarely top the Hot 100, especially those from previously unknown artists. When the international hit made its way to the U.S. — “Someone You Loved” topped the Official UK Singles chart seven months before crowning the Hot 100 — Capaldi was the first one to write off its success as a fluke, tweeting last September, “I’M MY OWN FAVOURITE ONE HIT WONDER.”
With “Before You Go” becoming a full-fledged follow-up hit, however, Capaldi must accept the fact that he is now a two-hit wonder. “To be honest with you, I’m extremely angry,” he jokes, “because I just approved a whole line of merch that was all, ‘Lewis Capaldi: Your Favorite One-Hit Wonder.’ So we’re gonna lose out on a lot of money from this.”
“Before You Go” was not included on Capaldi’s debut album, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, upon its release in May 2019; the song was added onto a deluxe edition of the track list last November, after “Someone You Loved” had already topped the Hot 100. Capaldi’s breakthrough hit partly resulted from the singer-songwriter’s tireless promotion, with radio shows across continents and tours in support of artists like Bastille and Sam Smith. With the pandemic, Capaldi has not been able to support “Before You Go” in similar fashion — a planned arena tour with Niall Horan was scrapped — which is why he’s even more surprised that it’s become a slow-growing hit.
“‘Someone You Loved’ had that long climb up to No. 1, which was incredible, and I was like, ‘Okay, we’re never gonna get that again,’” he says. “And then when ‘Before You Go’ came out, obviously it didn’t explode… but to me that makes it even more special, because people are really discovering this as the months go on, and just finding some sort of connection to it.”
The single is currently at No. 48 on the Streaming Songs chart (8.7 million, down 2%, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data), and No. 18 on Digital Song Sales (5,000, down 1%). Part of its chart success, however, can be chalked up to its radio performance, where “Someone You Loved” also thrived. This week, “Before You Go” holds at No. 7 on the Radio Songs chart, with 62.6 million audience impressions, a 6% increase.
“I think what works about Lewis’ songs in general is the authenticity,” says Jayn, music director at KLLC in San Francisco, in an email. “His voice and the emotion he brings to it has such a real-life and real pain grittiness, there’s a feeling that can’t be faked. He felt those songs, he feels those songs – and he brings the audience right along with him.”
The rest of the top 10 of the Radio Songs chart is relatively uptempo, with tracks like The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart” and DaBaby’s “Rockstar” featuring Roddy Ricch surrounding Capaldi’s sorrowful hit. He’s not quite sure how, in an era of mainstream music dominated by hip-hop and disco-pop — even more now than last fall when “Someone You Loved” hit No. 1 — he’s been able to carve out a lane as “the ballad guy,” as he describes himself.
“Yeah I don’t know! It’s kind of bizarre!” says Capaldi. “Over in the U.K., we do get some more of the ballads, but it’s very strange to me. … All credit to the programmers at the [U.S.] radio stations for sticking their necks out and playing these songs.”
In between bouts of lying around at his parents’ house, Capaldi says that he has been working on new songs for the follow-up to Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, which he expects to be released sometime in 2021. “Maybe four or five of [the new songs] are good?” he says. “I know it will come out next year, but I feel like, in terms of the writing progress I’m really chuffed with how it’s going, and I really don’t think I’m going to drastically change my sound. I just want to write better songs, and that so far seems to be happening, so I feel very lucky in that regard.”
Until then, he’ll keep checking in on the chart progress of “Before You Go,” if only to prove to his parents that he’s not wasting away. “I know it appears like I’m doing absolutely nothing,” he says with a laugh, “but trust me, something is going on.”