That's what happened when the 23-year-old Scottish crooner crafted songs for his passionate pop debut, "Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent," which focuses a good amount on the end of his relationship.
"During the course of this album I used to send (my ex) all of the songs like, 'What do you think of this? What do you think of this?' She was the only person who'd be like, 'This is (expletive) shady,'" said Capaldi, who is friends with his former girlfriend.
When asked about his album being compared to Adele's "21" — the colossal release that sent the Brit to superstardom but also brought attention to her ex — Capaldi said: "I think that's why I maybe subconsciously sent (my ex) those songs."
"Not that I was writing bad. She never did anything bad. It wasn't like my relationship ending was a grand thing of like, 'You cheated on me. I can't believe it,'" he added. "It was just one of those things that fizzled out. It was a shame. That's it."
But as Capaldi worked on his debut effort — which since its May release has combined global streams exceeding 2.3 billion — he found himself wanting to write about topics outside of his relationship. He said while recording the album, he was having the best years of his life, but sad moments like his breakup and the death of family members stood out. So, he wrote about the topics.
His grandmother's death fueled the lyrics behind his breakthrough anthem, the pop ballad "Someone You Loved," which is currently No. 3 on Billboard's all-genre Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on Top 40 radio. The song also topped the U.K. charts for seven weeks.
"I didn't cry when she died, which was very bizarre, and I remember being like, always upset," he said. "When you're younger, your grandparents ... you know them just as, 'Well this is my grandmother, she makes a great bowl of soup.' ...You don't really know them personally. You don't start that until you are older, and you start to learn about their life. You learn beyond the old lady."
"I was just getting to properly know you and you're taken away. But I didn't want to write a song like, 'My gran's dead. That's very morbid,'" he said. The multi-platinum-selling ballad has topped the charts in several territories, from Canada to Scotland to Malaysia, and it has helped raise Capaldi's profile in the U.S., where his album steadily climbs the Billboard 200 chart. This week, it has jumped to No. 25.
Capaldi said the track is finding success because his fans have been able to relate to the song in different ways, whether it's the death of a family member or the demise of a romantic relationship. "I think when people come up to me after the shows and say (the song reminds me of), '...My brother who passed away' or 'a girl that I don't see any longer'" — just all of that (stuff), that's amazing," he said.
SiriusXM believed in Capaldi early, first playing "Someone You Loved" in December 2018: "When we heard it we thought, 'This is Ed Sheeran meets Adele with a very fresh, unique voice,'" said Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer at SiriusXM.
It was around the time SiriusXM acquired Pandora and Greenstein "was looking for something to sort of test both platforms working simultaneously and hand-to-hand and see what would happen if we accelerated and believed in something."
"SiriusXM, that's a pretty regular occurrence, but Pandora is used to being more of a laidback service where things would surface up. This was sort of one of the first times a new song was aggressively played to see if it could perform like a hit would after its been on the platform for many months," he said. "The song and the timing seemed to fit a unique place."
The music video for "Someone You Loved" — keep the tissues near — is focused on raising awareness about organ donation and stars the singer's cousin, "Doctor Who" actor Peter Capaldi. And the rest of Capaldi's album has similar emotion, hitting you in the gut with piercing lyrics anchored by his gravelly voice, which he honed by imitating Joe Cocker for years and years.
"I just love voices that felt like they punched you in the face, in the best way possible," he said. Capaldi said he started singing around age 9, just belting around the house. That led him to start posting videos on YouTube — "Justin Bieber was getting found on YouTube ... it was the beginning of all that" — and then he started performing at pubs. He did that for nine years and it's how he — sort of — met his current manager.
"There is some confusion. My manager said that he sent someone to the bar I was playing at to come see me. He said he found my stuff on (SoundCloud)," Capaldi said. "He still does it now to be honest, sits on SoundCloud for (expletive) hours at a time, just tries to find someone with a voice."
Shortly after, Capaldi got an email. "I thought, 'Strange man on the internet emailing me.' I ignored it a couple of times," he said, laughing. Capaldi later invited him to a show, but he made sure his parents were there.
"I would say to any children out there, 'Anyone that's 17 or whatever that gets an email, just make sure your mom's out there. If a strange man on the internet promises you stardom, it's probably not good,'" he said.
While Capaldi's music is packed with emotion and passion, his Instagram page? It's playful, silly and mirthful. He posts various selfies — taken like a parent still trying to learn about angles — and in photos he's wearing bright pink flamingo sunglasses or cheetah-framed ones. He could give a master class on how to wrap your head in a towel — fans have even sported the look at some of his shows. He'll also crop himself into group photos. This sums it all up: his profile name is Lewis Calamari.
Capaldi said because social media is filled with so much negativity, he just wants to use it to have some fun: "I just do it to amuse myself." "It's kind of cool to be able to do both things. I've been to see so many bands and singers over the last 20 years of my life and they play all the sad music. In between songs I'm like, 'Oh this next song is about people in my family that died, or my girlfriend.' (And they reply), 'Who (expletive) cares. Sing the song ... We're all drunk. No one wants to be somber here,'" he said. "I think that's what I love about it even though the songs are sad, the shows are not sad."
"That last New York show, the crowd was like rowdy, which I've been so surprised by," he Capaldi said. "Because you listen to the music and it's like, you don't go see Adele and people are on people's shoulders. ...I think it may have something to do with Instagram or whatever or who I am as a person."