Francis Karel is no ordinary star. Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, the 23-year-old singer dreamed of becoming an artist his whole life. Writing his first song at age 12 and eventually moving across the world to the US to study music at college, there is no doubt that music means everything to Karel. His newest single “I Don’t Like How Much I Like You” is now available to stream and is already capturing the hearts of listeners worldwide.
Now based in Los Angeles, Karel decided to start posting Omegle reactions on TikTok during quarantine last year. In these clips, he’d put on impromptu performances to strangers online and record their reactions — which were often full of wide smiles, gasps, and applause. He also shared clips of his own music on his TikTok page, which got just as much love. Soon, Karel gained over 2.2 million followers on the platform and earned praise from artists like Bebe Rexha, Zedd, and Tori Kelly, who even dueted his song “You’re Too Close” with him.
Karel’s latest release “I Don’t Like How Much I Like You” is an epic pop song about the feelings that accompany falling for someone for the first time. Waiting on their call, overthinking everything, and wanting to make a move, Karel candidly narrates these emotions and more across the anthemic track. The rising talent certainly has a way with words, and this single is a strong example of just that.
We recently caught up with Karel to talk about “I Don’t Like How Much I Like You,” his viral success, songwriting, and more.
Hi Francis! You just had your debut show, congratulations! How was that experience?
Thank you so much! It was amazing. It was really scary building up to it, but I think practicing with the band helped me get more used to what I’ll be doing on stage and then seeing the audience reaction over time helped me enjoy it way more. I felt like the second show, I was way more comfortable than the first, but I get it now. I get why people love performing and just enjoying that aspect of music as well.
Your new song “I Don’t Like How Much I Like You” really captures those mixed emotions you get in the early phases of liking someone. What was the writing process like for this song?
It was very collaborative. I think at the moment when we wrote this song, my co-writers and I were all experiencing a very similar journey. We were talking for the first two to three hours because we were all in the early stages of getting to know each other, but for the most of it we were all like, “You know what, let’s all talk about how toxic we are right now.” The idea that circulated around the song was we don’t like how much we like this person because we know that we should not and it sucks because we can’t help it. So yes, that’s really what the song is about. And the process was so fun because it started off from scratch, it was just the guitar. The way it came out … shout-out to Grant and Dallas for making it the way it sounds today, because I love it.
You’ve gained a lot of momentum (and fans of course!) from TikTok. What made you decide to post videos of yourself singing on TikTok, and do you remember your reaction when you first went viral?
Yes I do. What made me decide to post on TikTok was the start of the pandemic. In the beginning of 2020, my co-writer and I had a resolution that we were going to network and get to know other songwriters. To preface, in the beginning of 2020 and building up to the pandemic, I really wanted to be a songwriter, so the fact that it led to artistry really caught me by surprise. I remember I went to one show and the pandemic hit and I was like, “Great, we don’t know how long this will last so I am going to be sad in my room, post on TikTok, and I’m not going to share it anywhere.” I had zero followers on there; I really was just posting a lot for the sake of having something to do.
I was posting for a good month and around April or May, one of my videos went viral, which was a duet video. And that’s when I realized TikTok’s algorithm is different from any of these other applications because I didn’t know that I could reach millions of people without having any followers. The next morning, I woke up and had over a thousand followers and then six hours in, I had 10,000 and I was like, “Whoa, this is growing really fast.” That is when I first realized that TikTok is a platform that seems to become something more than a hobby for friends or a place for fun things (which I still see [as] a fun thing), but I realized it could be an outlet for me, for my music, and the songs that I write. So that’s really why I decided to continuously build my TikTok, continue to explore content and as a creator, see what creativity I can bring to the table. That’s what made me decide I wanted to post singing videos; it was really out of boredom and making sure I am sane.
What or who inspired you to become a singer? Is music something you’ve always wanted to do?
Growing up, I remember sitting in the car a lot listening to Top 50 radio in Indonesia and there were so many songs [where] I remember thinking, “These are sick.” Hearing all of them was so inspiring. And that was when I was between 9 to 12 years old. As I grew older, the more I saw that there were songwriters behind these songs, that opened my eyes even more to seeing songwriter credits, the songs they write, and actually looking up the songwriters by listening to a podcast where they’d talk about the writing process or about what writing is to them. There were just so many things that I was like, “This is so inspiring.” Simply, inspiration got me to be invested in wanting to pursue a music career.
Sometimes moving can change the way we view things. Has your songwriting changed since leaving Jakarta? How do you normally approach songwriting?
Oh, it for sure has! I think as a person, and jumping into my 20s in a different country opened my eyes in a different way. I think being in Indonesia, I was much more reserved as a person. I love Indonesia, I would not trade anything for it; I actually really want to go back at some point, but I think that just personality-wise and culture-wise, it is so different between Jakarta and Los Angeles. [Being] in LA has allowed me to approach songs from a different aspect because I have different experiences here, I have different interactions, I’ve grown my values, and grown from the stuff that I see. I think that it for sure has shifted my perspectives.
Usually how I approach songwriting, I try to pick stuff up from the moment, so I take a lot of voice notes and I take a lot of notes as well. I’ll be out having a walk and then suddenly hum a melody into my phone, or a word, or “I Don’t Like How Much I Like You” for example and then it’s like, “Okay there’s a concept. Let’s circle back on it at some point when I get into a session.”
Lastly, what’s next for you music-wise?
I’ve been working on so many songs with so many amazing people. I think I’ve just recently been in that pocket of knowing what I want to write for me and knowing what I want to express in a way people will comprehend, so I’m really excited for that. I am also still writing with other artists and continuously wanting to expand and grow there as well, so hopefully more collaborations whether that be as a writer or as an artist collab. And then yes, more performances hopefully. Now that I have done them and actually enjoyed them, I want to do more.
We will see how this all goes down, but for now, I’m just going to stick to continuously expanding and growing what I do and also appreciating the people that have followed me along the way. So that’s what I’m going to stick to for now through these holidays before jumping into next year and finding a momentum.