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Charli XCX Has Finally Found Her Home In Pop Music

Written by Jackson Langford on September 13, 2019

Charli XCX in 2019 is inescapable. Being an absolute force in pop music and all its dimensions, she has been grinding away at her craft relentlessly for the five years following her 2014 album Sucker.

With the release of her career-changing Vroom Vroom EP in 2016, she demonstrated just how fearless she was in regards to changing her sound. In 2017, she gave us two mixtapes – Number 1 Angel and Pop 2 – which saw her push the boundaries of what she was capable of, and delivered some absolutely monstrous collaborations while she was at it.

Now, she’s finally given us her third studio album. Aptly titled Charli, the record is a fully-formed realisation and celebration of Charli XCX herself. We sat down with the artist recently to discuss some of the many collaborations on the album, the special connection she has with the LGBTQ+ community and the idea of her being a “chart flop.”

Music Feeds: Charli sounds like a mixture of everything you’ve done over the past five years musically. Do you think it’s like a combination of those sounds?

Charli XCX: I mean, I wasn’t consciously trying to do that. But I guess working with A.G [producer A.G. Cook has worked with Charli closely since the Vroom Vroom EP] and the number of collaborators that are on there – there are just so many different angles and elements to the music, you know? A lot of the people who are on the album have known me throughout many different phases in my career and maybe that’s why it feels like a combination. But, really, whenever I write, I try and be in the moment and spontaneous and I don’t tend to think about what I want to say or how I want to say it. It just happens.

MF: You mention the number of features on Charli, and there are a lot, but they all seem so natural even though, on paper, seeing HAIM and CupcakKe on the same record is so ridiculous but it works well, and no-one seems out of their element. Does it always feel that natural in the writing and recording process?

C: Yeah, the features always happen organically. I don’t like being told to work with someone, even if they’re really good – I’ll just immediately be anti that idea because someone is pushing it. The features are all very real and formed from real relationships I have and genuine admirational love for the person and their work. The thing is, for me, about collaboration is that I’m not really interested in telling people what to do and I think that’s why they all work. I don’t give people a brief, I don’t want them to fit into my world. I want them to just do themselves and I don’t want to control it. I just want them to do what they want to do.

MF: On a side note, thank you for giving us new Sky Ferreira music since she refuses to do so herself.

C: (Laughs) Thank you! The thing is with Sky is that she’s a real perfectionist. We all are, but she really labours over her art. She seems to really take her time and digest every possible angle of what she’s doing. That’s the total opposite of me. I’m like “bang, bang, bang!”

MF: You’re quite prolific.

C: Not that she isn’t, though. I don’t think about things. She is somebody who, ever since I’ve known her, has always had this really beautiful depth and references that she really understands. She’s really smart, and I’m really happy that this song happened.

MF: It’s a beautiful song.

C: Thank you, I love it. 

MF: Let’s just talk about ‘Shake It’. It is completely unhinged and chaotic, but brilliant.

C: Thank you.

MF: But also it sees you working again with Brooke Candy and with CupcakKe. What is it about those two that keeps bringing you all back together? You’ve known Brooke for ages, right?

C: I’ve known Brooke for years. I just love working with my friends. I love working with people who I love, it just helps that they’re also really talented and amazing artists. I really enjoy the vibe. I think what both Brooke and CupcakKe are doing is really unique and important. The reason I gravitate towards the artists I do is that they’re irreplicable. No-one can do what CupcakKe does apart from CupcakKe. I feel that way about everyone on the album, I really respect their choices.

But also, for a collaboration to be successful for me I have to genuinely like the person too. All of them are extremely kind, and nice to be around.

MF: As a listener and a pop fan, that’s really comforting to hear.

C: Yeah. With Brooke, it’s so funny, I remember the first time I met her. I remember thinking “Oh my god, she’s gonna be so mean and intense” because her image is so ‘in your face’. She’s punk, she’s anarchic, she’s very forward. Meeting her, it’s the opposite. She’s so sweet and kind. She’s a really real person.

MF: That’s awesome to hear. Now, the other song I wanted to talk about is ‘Gone’. I was at Primavera when you debuted it with Christine & The Queens.

C: *gasps* Oh my god, fun! Did you see?

MF: I lost my mind. The energy on the stage was electric, and it transferred to both the studio version of the song and the music video. The connection was palpable, you know?

C: Yeah, it was so easy with her. Weirdly easy. We just clicked. We’ve known each other for a few years, but not super intensely. We hung out a couple of times, I interviewed her for a radio show I do and we’ve seen each other around. Then, she had mentioned Pop 2 in a couple of interviews. I reached out to say thanks and to say that I feel exactly the same about her record Chris, then we just started talking and began to discuss the idea of collaboration. But then we just kept talking about life and mundane, day-to-day things. It was like she was my pen pal, we were messaging every day. I sent her this idea for ‘Gone’ and I couldn’t think of a chorus. She sent me back a chorus in 20 minutes and it’s the one that made the final cut. She’s so open, as a collaborator and as a person. She’s very open, very honest. I’m sure she has her insecurities, but I feel her confidence when I’m around her. Not in an annoying way, she just understands who she is.

MF: Do you think that brings the same sense of confidence out of you?

C: Definitely. 100%. I hate music videos. But, doing this one with Chris was so easy because she was so calm and collected.

MF: It looks quite intense. It seemed very demanding, even emotionally.

C: It was. I was covered in bruises by the end of the shoot. But honestly, it was so fun. None of that video was choreographed, everything was completely freestyled. It was so much fun.

MF: Is that an approach you’d want to take with future videos and future collaborators?

C: Yeah, I think when the chemistry is there, it’s really easy to do it. It just sort of starts happening and you’re just on the ride, and you don’t stop. 

MF: So, I saw on Twitter today that you were talking about being a “chart flop”. There was some discussion when ‘Blame It On Your Love’ dropped that you were going too commercial because it’s a much more accessible version of ‘Track 10’.

C: Weirdly enough it’s the first version. ‘Track 10’ is like the remix, we just released it first.

MF: Well, ‘Track 10’ is also a song that not everyone’s going to ‘get’ completely. Do you care about appeasing these different sections of your audience, or is it just like “fuck it”?

C: It’s kind of like “fuck it” but I also want people to get tracks like ‘Shake It’ and ‘Track 10’. I want that, but I know not everybody will. That’s where my heart is.

MF: The album covers a spectrum of sounds as well, though.

C: It does. I love the album, I love every song on it. But I’m doing what I love. When I make my music, I’m not trying to cater to anything apart from myself.

MF: Especially because you’ve been in that Top 40 realm.

C: Yeah, exactly. It was really cool and the experience was great to have, but ultimately it isn’t what makes me happy.

MF: Speaking on the fans, your fanbase is ride or die. You buy into the memes shamelessly.

C: Oh, of course. I love it. Some people take themselves a bit seriously. That’s not shade, it’s just humanity. I did for a long time because I was worried that if I laugh at myself, then other people would too. 

MF: Do you think it’s helped strengthen that connection?

C: 100%. It’s like I am not a perfect person, and I don’t want to be portrayed in any way as perfection. I couldn’t do it if I tried, and it’s ultimately not real. It’s boring and fake. It’s fucking boring, and I have more of a personality. The shit that my fans make really makes me laugh. It’s good. Like, it’s so good. I’m like “why are they not working for me?” I should hire these kids, they are fucking genius.

MF: A large part of your fanbase is queer. At the Sydney Pop 2 show last year, you had this really emotional speech about the LGBTQ+ community. If you had to articulate how they’ve made you feel as an artist, how would you say that? Because if the gays love two things, it’s Carly Rae Jepsen and it’s Charli XCX.

C: (laughs) They do. I feel so thankful and I feel safe. I feel the love from that community has made me feel confident in myself, and I feel that they have shown me how they express themselves every day. How they’re so powerful and individual and unique and resilient and it’s made me feel confident to open up and be the artist I am now. Without that love from them, I wouldn’t be where I am. Charli wouldn’t exist. They’ve given me a home in pop music.

MF: Is that the first time you’ve felt like that?

C: Yeah, truly. It kind of began with ‘Vroom Vroom’, but when I started putting the mixtapes out that’s when I started to really feel it. It changed so much. It made me feel like I would always have a home. They get me, and I get them. We’ve got our own thing going on. Sometimes it feels like it is us against the world, it’s okay because we have each other.

MF: That’s really special. On a final note, you’ve titled the opening song ‘Next Level Charli’. Do you think you’ve hit next level Charli with this album?

C: 100%. This is ultimate power Charli.

Charli is out now. Stream here.

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