In the Emil Nava-directed video, released on Thursday (October 19), Puth grooves down the sidewalk, jigs in a lobby, struts up the side of a building, and shows off his fancy footwork in mid-air, La La Land-style. It’s a slick, smiley, frivolous side of Puth we haven’t seen before in his music videos, and according to him, it’s something he decided to do so he could be vulnerable and, well, “dance like an idiot.”
Speaking to MTV News over the phone, Puth explained what it was like getting out of his comfort zone and into his dancing shoes (and a very tight harness).
MTV News: Congrats on the release! How does it feel to have the video out there in the world?
Charlie Puth: It feels good. It’s definitely a different video. I’m trying to finish up my album, so I haven’t been able to see reactions yet, but I did check the YouTube comments, which is something I’ve been doing since, like, 2008. I saw pretty positive stuff, so that’s good.
MTV: What was your favorite comment?
Puth: I think someone sarcastically asking me if I could teach them my very, very complicated dance moves. Because clearly I’m not a dancer, as everyone figured out very quickly. But I thought it was pretty cheeky.
MTV: As you said, this is something pretty different for you. We haven’t really seen you dance before. What made you want to do that for this video?
Puth: Because I can’t dance! I’m very self-deprecating; I’ve been making fun of myself since the day I was born. If I did one more video where I was making out with a girl, I was going to throw up. I was so sick of that, so I decided to do something completely different. The song, the lyrics — it’s kind of part two of “Attention,” where there’s a somber tone to it but a happy beat. And I don’t really know why I’m dancing to this song. I don’t know why I’m flying in the air. I just wanted to do something random. There’s really no reason. Everyone’s going to come up with all these theories, like, “Oh, he’s dancing to celebrate that he’s free.” No. I just wanted to dance like an idiot.
MTV: Yeah, I love that the whole time, you’re smiling and you look so happy and amused. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, because the song is all about apologizing for cheating on this girl.
Puth: We filmed the video from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., so I think I was just smiling because I was going a little crazy. I had this harness on and I was flying in the air in downtown L.A., and I was smiling because I was thinking to myself, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.”
MTV: Were your moves choreographed at all?
Puth: Nope! Made them up on the spot, which is honestly not that impressive.
MTV: How did it feel to get out of your comfort zone and dance on camera? Were you nervous or insecure at all?
Puth: A little bit at first, because I always forget how many people are watching me when I’m filming. When I was thinking of this video concept in my head, I was like, “I’m going to be in my own little world, it’s going to be morning, there’s going to be no one around.” Then I forgot about the crew of 80 people that was on the video set.
MTV: If you had to rate your moves on a scale from one to ten, where do you think you fall?
Puth: Probably a two. The hilarious answer would be a one or a zero, but I give myself the two because I made the college try. I call them wedding dance moves. Maybe I will make a tutorial on the Charlie Puth wedding dance moves, but all it is is a video full of moves that white people would do at weddings.
MTV: When you’re dancing solo around the lobby of that building, I got major Fatboy Slim vibes. You know that “Weapon of Choice” video where Christopher Walken’s dancing around the hotel?
Puth: Yeah, that was definitely a reference. That’s one of my all-time favorite videos.
MTV: So you were aiming for that?
Puth: I think so, but less intense. Not as many backflips.
MTV: It’s a really surprising moment when the first chorus kicks in and you start walking up the wall of this building. How did you make that happen?
Puth: We had a stunt team there who works with Tom Cruise and all these actors when they’re in the movies. I had this tight harness — it was so tight, I couldn’t breathe sometimes. They just said I had to get used to it. I pulled my pants down in front of everybody and put this harness on. It was so painful, and I literally had to walk up the wall vertically at 4:00 in the morning having not slept at all. It was a really tough day, but it looks natural, so that’s good.
MTV: Yeah, it looked great. What about the scene where you’re flying — were there any special effects there?
Puth: No effects. It was literally just a harness and me clenching onto my private area. That was at 6:00 in the morning, and the police were yelling at us because we were throwing haze in the middle of the street, and cars were going by when they weren’t supposed to. It was kind of intense, and I’m in the air and you see me smiling because I’m like, “Why did I do this?”
MTV: When did the concept for the video come to you? Is that the type of thing that you’re ever thinking about while you’re making a song?
Puth: I think it was when I started laying down the vocals, I thought to myself what the video would be like. I just wanted to be a little vulnerable for this video, and I said that word over and over again in my head. What’s vulnerable? Well, doing something that people feel, which is dance, and dancing very poorly... but on purpose. And it’s literally how it all came together: “For this video, I will dance in downtown L.A. like an idiot. In a suit. And that’s going to be the video. There’s going to be no explanation as to why I’m doing it.”
MTV: You said that “How Long” is the second part of “Attention.” Was it supposed to pick up that same night as the “Attention” video, after you get into a fight?
Puth: Actually, yes. Correct. You’re very observational. I guess it being part two, I would’ve left that house in “Attention” and threw a suit on. Took off my casual party clothes and put on a sweaty old suit and then danced in downtown L.A. So there is truth to that.
MTV: Will there be a part three of that saga?
Puth: No, I think I’m ready to share a new story.
MTV: There’s one scene where you’re looking at this painting of a woman whose eyes are covered, and she’s engulfed in flames. What is that scene all about to you?
Puth: That’s the girl! The real girl. The girl that I didn’t want in the video or portrayed in the video, but I just wanted a little bit of symbolism there.
MTV: Are you ready for fans to start theorizing about who it is?
Puth: Well, I guess I asked for it. It would be weird if I left that part out of the story. That said, “Attention” and this song go hand in hand. And, you know, I guess you can see it. You can see the painting.