Rising star Francis Karel is a lifelong lover of music. Following a cross-continental move to pursue songwriting, countless viral videos on TikTok, a string of singles in 2021 and millions of streams, he drops his latest single, “Like All My Friends,” today.
A budding lyricist since the age of 12, he found inspiration in the pop radio hits of the early 2010s and later solidified his style, referencing some of the decade’s defining artists as a way of finding his sound. He achieved virality at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic after sharing videos of himself singing to strangers on chat website Omegle and has since amassed over 2.3 million followers on TikTok. His undeniable vocal talent and knack for writing exactly what we’re feeling leaves Karel one of the most promising and exciting artists on the rise.
“Like All My Friends” is a confessional, soaring ballad detailing his desire to fall in love. It tip-toes between longing and self-assurance making for an almost painful, yet beautiful and hopeful track.
Pop Crave caught up with Karel to discuss his musical journey and “Like All My Friends.”
You found inspiration for music from pop radio hits in the early 2010s and discovered artists that inspired your songwriting style. Were you into songwriting before you became obsessed with these artists, or did you discover your love for it as you discovered the songwriters?
“I had a love for music and singing as a kid, but I don’t think songwriting popped up around 12 years old for me. That did come, majority wise, from listening to pop radio and pop hits on the radio. I think I loved how songwriting can bring individuality into just writing a song about the same topic but from a single person’s perspective. That’s kind of how it came together for me, just having interest in how these artists are having songs written about their own personal lives.”
Was there a specific song, or lyric, that stuck with you or was the catalyst for you finding your own as a songwriter?
“One of the songs that sticks with me to this day, and this is probably not when I was 12 years old but I revisited the song around that age, was ‘Breakeven’ by The Script. That song, every time I listen to it just gets to me. I don’t think I’ve had a song up to that point where I’d been so emotionally moved. Until that point, I didn’t realise how much of a crier I am.”
How long did it take you to grasp the kind of music you wanted to make?
“It for sure took a while. I think writing songs was one thing but when I had the opportunity to play around with my own artistry, that’s when I realised, like, “What do I wanna write about?” To be honest, it didn’t really come together until summer to fall of last year. I think I’ve had stuff I was writing about for my personal life but nothing that was really gravitating towards me it was just there. It took a while of really sitting down with how I feel and what it is I wanna say with my artistry.”
When it came to choosing college, you moved from Jakarta to Los Angeles to pursue music and songwriting. Was that a sure-fire decision, or did you have doubts?
“I was very anxious about it. I think the idea in my head was the music scene in LA in pretty sick and is something I’ve always been intrigued by. But, actually moving and figuring out what the details of that plan would be, none of it really made sense aside from ‘I’m gonna go to college and maybe get to know the place!’ Conceptually, it made sense to me, but when it came to ‘How am I gonna do this?’ – it was very much winging it. I really just came with the intentions of: if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t – but at least I tried.”
Did you find yourself growing as a songwriter during college?
“Oh for sure! I did go to music college as well for a bit and that was very new to me. Aside from having written songs since I was 12, I never actually had any proper knowledge about songwriting. Not to say that you have to go to school for it, but I didn’t know who to learn from growing up. Music college, just being surrounded by a bunch of musicians, is such a different scene from where I grew up in Indonesia. Being surrounded by other creatives and taking notes from their stylistic choices or their approach to writing a song was really helpful for me to find a format, or at least being able to explain how I write songs.”
You began sharing videos on TikTok of you singing to strangers on Omegle during lockdown. How did you come up with that idea? Did you have any intentions with it?
“The Omegle thing really took a turn cause I had no expectations from doing that… I saw a video, someone made a comedic Omegle video skipping through people and making jokes. When I was in middle school that was a website that me and my friends were like, ‘Oh this is fun. We meet strangers.’ Some of my best friends today are actually from Omegle. That’s kind of why it resurfaced for me and I was like, ‘I kinda just wanna hop on and sing on it maybe?’ I didn’t realize the caliber it was gonna be at when I started posting it. The fact that it’s kind of part of the brand of what I do is really funny to me. There was no expectations, it was really just out of ‘New content! Something new to try!'”
“It’s funny ’cause I think some people would use me as an example of using Omegle as a platform to promote your music or to do music content. I’m pretty sure I’m not the first to do it. I’m sure there’s other people that have done it before me. The timing of when I did it was really good I guess.”
Is there one reaction from when you were singing that really sticks with you?
“It was this one girl who was randomly on Omegle as well. I sang ‘Lego House’ by Ed Sheeran and she just started crying. I didn’t notice at first – I try not to look at people when I sing to them on Omegle ’cause it makes me even more nervous. It took me a second, from the pre-chorus to the middle of the chorus I was so clueless, then I realized she was sobbing. I was like, ‘Oh my God wait!’ I wanna be like ‘Are you okay?’ but at the same time I’m shooting this video so I’m trying to get to the end of the song. I was really surprised she was crying. I’ve never met her – she’s someone I randomly just connected with on Omegle. It’s surprising how moved someone can be by music.”
“That, to me, is why I love music. I connect to music in that way as well. To think that a song that I’m covering, just singing to someone on my webcam, would do that to somebody was really surprising. We talked after and she was like, ‘I’ve just had a bad day and it was nice to finally meet someone nice on Omegle’ – which I get cause some people can be horrible on that website! That sticks with me ’cause you can connect with people so quickly through music just by the context of a song.”
Have you found that your confidence as a performer has grown through singing to random people on Omegle?
“I thought I did, ’cause to me it’s like, ‘You know, I can sing to strangers one on one,’ I have more of a fear with intimate performances, or just intimate meet-ups with people. So I was like ‘I can do shows.’ My first show I did in LA around November I just froze. I was like, ‘Oh my God! That’s a lot of people!’ But, a couple shows in I get why people do shows now. It was scary thinking about it ’cause I’m like, ‘I’m opening up for somebody, some of them wanna just get to the main artist of the show.'”
“There was a lot of internal thoughts and since I’m so used to recording in a studio and not performing, I’m so nitpick-y with the way I sing. Sometimes I’ll be like, ‘I should’ve sang that note this way but I can’t redo it ’cause we’re doing a 40-minute show!’ Audiences are way scarier in my head than it was in reality. That alone has helped a lot with me being able to perform a little bit better.”
“Like All My Friends” perfectly encapsulates that feeling when you’re surrounded by couples and all of your friends are in love. You said that you’ve always prioritised things over a romantic relationship and this song came when you started wondering what one would be like. Was there a specific moment that you made you realize this or was it a gradual desire?
“It, for sure, has not been something that came up beforehand. I think growing up I always knew my career is what I wanted to pursue. That being said, with coming to LA and trying to figure that out, I’ve always prioritized figuring it out. Along the way it made me notice that if I don’t have my music career I’ve been pursuing, what do I have going on outside of that? […] Anything in the romantic sense or relationships, I’ve never really prioritized. I don’t think that I have to, but I don’t think that I’ve been as open to it as I have been more recently.”
“So that’s where that song came from ’cause I would see my friends. Most of my friends, I’ve known them since I came here in 2018, and they’re like ‘We’re moving in together!’ and I’m like, ‘Wow! That’s crazy to think about.’ Most of them have been dating for 3-4 years now and they’re taking it to the next step. I’m just like, ‘That’s so nice to have! Outside of you guys pursuing your careers as well, you have your own personal lives that you’re figuring out.’ I think my personal life is between me and my pets, [there’s] not really much in a romantic sense. When we wrote that song I was just really in that headspace and brought it up, and it seemed to resonate with a good amount of people so far. I’m really glad it’s something people can relate to.”
The vocal harmonies in the song – I would describe them as transcendent. Do you know where you’re going to add them when you’re writing it, or do you work it out when listening back?
“I grew up in a choir as a kid so when I’m writing or I’m singing the melody that the lead singer would take, I hear it in the back of my head and have to lay it down quickly before I lose it. It really came together as soon as we finished recording my lead vocals. I was like, ‘OK, can we punch in a bunch of harmonies? It needs to stack!’ Some notes I wanna rub because I like the way that it does that and makes it feel so much more, like, aggressive. In the second pre-chorus where the first stack of harmonies really show up, I wanted to build there and feel so emotional. To me, that’s what harmonies do. It helps evoke more emotions out of a certain sentence.”
How long does it take to do the harmonies?
“When I wrote that song, the people I worked with – Steph Jones and Leroy Clampitt – they’d never worked with me before and that was our first session together. I don’t think there were aware of how I was able to do harmonies. As soon as I was like, ‘Hey! Can we add harmonies?’ I was like, ‘We’re gonna do this and then this and then this!’ And that happened like 40 to 50 times so there’s a bunch of layers there. They’re like, ‘How do you hear all of this?’ and I’m like, ‘To be honest, I thought it was way less than how much we’ve put in!’
You’ve been teasing the song on TikTok a lot, which is a good to build hype for a song. Does it put more pressure on you knowing there are a lot of people anticipating its release?
“Yeah, it for sure does! I don’t necessarily time when to tease the song. Sometimes, I’ll tease them really early on and then be like, ‘Hey, here’s the date!’ a month after. I understand people’s impatience with the duration between when it’s teased and when it comes out – I feel the same way with certain artists. I’m realizing there’s so many other things that come with it. Getting a master of the song, getting a photoshoot done for it and having artwork. All the other side stuff prepared for when the song comes out. I think in the future I might tease it a bit closer to when the song is about to drop!”
Francis Karel‘s new single, “Like All My Friends,” and its music video is out now.