Charli XCX’s drawn out trajectory to reach the point she’s at now has been a skew-whiff paper aeroplane flight. Along the way there’s been some sneaking off to gigs at illegal rave parties, a few single releases, an EP, and a pair of albums; all of which largely crept under the mainstream pop world’s radar. Two infamous pop songs that took over charts worldwide followed. Thanks to the latter, Charli XCX’s name has become almost synonymous with the word ‘feat’. Now she’s ready to hack through the associations and stand alone.
“Oh my god, dude!” enthuses Charli. “It’s so exciting. It feels like it’s such a long time coming. Being a featured artist is great, but it is nice to finally have a song of my own that people really care about. I’m an artist as well as a writer, so it’s good to be appreciated.” The song she’s referring to is ‘Boom Clap’, the first cut from her forthcoming album of brash, bratty anthems that storm precociously into the room, spitting out bubblegum onto the beery floor. “I need to find a way to describe it,” says Charli, “it’s not pop punk but it’s pop with a punk edge. Oh I don’t know,” she laughs.
“I’m not the classic pop star, I’m very scruffy and late and messy.”
Prior to recording this studio album, Charli explains, she was working on a punk album in Sweden. Following the unprecedented and massive success Icona Pop enjoyed with her song, ‘I Love It’, punk was the most obvious middle finger she could jab in the direction of the “bullshit that really doesn’t matter,” the “other side of the music industry that I didn’t really like.” The pressure, at one point, Charli admits, almost got to her. “I went a bit crazy,” she admits. “I was still writing basically every day, but I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I don’t know how ‘I Love It’ happened, I was just in a hotel room, and I just started yelling into my laptop, literally that was the song. It was done in half an hour and I never thought about it again. I could never do it again. So, I thought, fuck it, I’m going to make an album of two minute songs.”
“I think the problem was that I started caring too much, really,” continues Charli. “I just started over thinking things and I needed to not give a fuck. Making punk music is the perfect recipe for that. I needed to not give a shit about what was going on. I wanted to just make music and lie on the floor in the studio screaming for hours on end, getting out all of this shit that was inside of me. It worked; I think it led me to a more creative place. When I sit there and try and craft things – which is what it was becoming after ‘I Love It’ – I feel worried. I’m still young, but after [second studio album] ‘True Romance’ I was worried about being cool. I think it’s a classic young person insecurity I suppose, especially being a young woman in this industry. I was getting a bit caught up in all the bullshit that really doesn’t matter. I removed myself from it and went the opposite way. Now I genuinely don’t give a fuck, which is awesome, very liberating.
“That [punk] album wasn’t scrapped or anything,” she adds. “It morphed into a new thing, there are elements of punk on this pop record that I’m making. A couple of songs that were originally on that punk record are on the album. I want to release an EP of the super punk shit that I did. It hasn’t gone away completely or anything, and I transferred a lot of it over to the main record.”
“I would love to see a punk revolution, and loads of 14-year-old girls with shaved heads.”
Charli XCX is a chaotic presence. She’s slightly scatty, very sweary, and not afraid to speak her mind. Charli XCX, in fact, is everything that a media-trained, perfectly preened pop star is not. “I’m not the classic pop star,” she agrees. “I’m very scruffy and late and messy.” A little like Tai Fraiser – the role she took on in the Clueless inspired video for Iggy Azalea collaboration ‘Fancy’ – then? “Yes!” she snorts. “Tai is cool, Tai’s the shit! I’m literally on a photo shoot right now wearing someone’s old boxers, no bra and a San Francisco t-shirt. Yeah, I feel like I am the Tai Fraiser of the pop world, and I think girls need that. I wrote this record for girls, and for everyone on the planet with a pussy.
“I want them to feel a sense of empowerment,” she adds. “I feel like this record is very feminine, and I remember when I first began writing it I wanted to write an album that I would’ve been obsessed with when I was 14. I would love to see a punk revolution, and loads of 14-year-old girls with shaved heads. I would love for girls to be able to celebrate this record.” Charli expands on exactly what kind of empowerment she’s talking about, and given all the questions she’s had in the past about whether she feels angry or bitter that Icona Pop ‘stole’ her song, it seems an especially personal gripe. With pop music in particular, “it feels like there has to be one top female,” she sighs. “There’s this idea of women beating each other down, which I don’t think is very progressive. I don’t think it’s something that female pop stars really give a shit about, but feels like there’s this weird myth that’s being spun around us, that we all fucking hate each other, just,” she laughs, “because we all have vaginas. It’s something that I feel is being spoken about a lot more, but it’s not vanishing quickly. There is a wave of highly intelligent female artists coming through that run their own careers, rocking the boat. I think it’s cool that people like myself and Lorde are shaking shit up and changing the landscape.”
“Rivers Cuomo was like, ‘What’s your favourite Weezer song?’ I said ‘Beverly Hills’. He was like, ‘Ok, I have an idea…’”
Shaking shit up comes in many forms for Charli XCX. Whether it’s ensconcing to Sweden to scream out rowdy covers of Snuffed By The Yazuka’s ‘Allergic To Love’, or then deciding to start her record again from bare foundations, she now has the freedom now to write anything and collaborate with whomever she likes. Having previously turned down another of those notorious ‘feat’ spots with Christina Aguilera in the past, Charli has been able to work with somebody who is a far better fit for what she’s about; Rivers Cuomo of Weezer.
“He is such an interesting guy,” she gushes, “‘cause obviously he comes from a completely different world to me, but he’s just so interested in pop music. It was pretty cool to sit in a room with him and write a song, I never thought that it would be possible but when I found out he was really in for that idea I was so excited by it.” One song from the forthcoming record takes more than a cue from Weezer’s ‘Beverly Hills’, she adds. “It doesn’t [sample it], but [Rivers] was just like, ‘What’s your favourite Weezer song?’ I said ‘Beverly Hills’. He was like, ‘Ok, I have an idea…’ It led to how we wrote that song.”
This new record is Charli XCX’s most confident and self-assured yet; the signs certainly point that way. The time and space she has had to develop as an artist, although frustrating initially, might just be her secret weapon. “I feel like this record, of anything I’ve ever done, is most me,” Charli explains. “This feels right, everything about it feels perfect. I’ve grown in confidence. I know now that I can write a hit song, and I feel like I’ve come into my own. I just wanted to make a consistent but next-level pop record, and I didn’t want to just make something that would be, like, a cool, safe record.” She’s officially moved on from being just Feat. Charli XCX, and in a sly nod to her breakthrough song, she adds, laughing, “I wanted to do something where people might not love it, you know?”
Taken from the August issue of DIY, out now. Charli XCX’s new album will be released later this year via Atlantic.