Though many us dreamed of being a famous musician during our teens, only to have our plans derailed by the harshness of reality and perhaps the occasional bong, English pop singer Charli XCX actually set about realising her adolescent ambitions.
By 14 Charli XCX, real name Charlotte Aitchison, was already organising her own live performances and began recording an album – albeit shelved after Aitchison decided it was not up to scratch. Even still by 2008 Charli XCX had created her own label, Orgy Music, and recorded her first LP, 14.
Although 14 was not released commercially, Charli XCX posted tracks from the album online, which began to create a buzz across the internet. Next followed 2 EPs in 2012 and 2 mixtapes, which foreshadowed Charli XCX’s major label debut album, True Romance.
Although twice delayed Charli XCX still managed to finish the record before the age of 21, with True Romance officially released in April. Now a sensation both on the world wide web and worldwide ‘irl’ Charli XCX’s teenage dreams have become a reality.
Before embarking on a tour with fellow English pop performer Marina and the Diamonds, Charli XCX took the time to speak to Music Feeds about her brand new collaboration with Marina, sexism within music, bringing ‘Girl Power’ back to pop, being labelled a ‘weirdo’, and what is true romance.
Music Feeds: You just released a new collaboration with Marina and the Diamonds, titled Just Desserts. How did the song come about?
Charli XCX: We’ve known each other for a while now and [we’re about to] go on tour together. We just thought it would be cool to do something to celebrate the start of the tour and I feel like we have a lot of the same fans and a lot of people have been asking for it to happen for quite a while.
So we thought we’d just get in the studio together. We always wanted to work together, anyway. We went on tour together when we both supported Coldplay. So it kind of just happened, really. We’d always wanted to do it and we just then we just had the time and it happened, and it was really cool.
MF: How quickly did Just Desserts come together?
CXCX: Well we’d been thinking about it for a couple of months and Marina sent me the demo. I really liked it but I didn’t really get to do anything over it for quite a while. And then, I guess, once we started working on it, it only really took a week. We were both travelling and shit like that but once we were doing it, it was like a week, I guess.
MF: Just Desserts seems to be about an ex partner getting their comeuppance. Was that a theme both yourself and Marina could relate to?
CXCX: I can’t speak for her but I think so for myself. The record I’ve just written is all about romance and it’s all about my experiences with love. I know that Marina is also a secret romantic (chuckles).
And I think it is just about that. It’s about girls getting their payback. Girls giving it to someone and being like, ‘Well, fuck you!’ It’s kind of like my song You (Ha Ha Ha) [from True Romance], it comes from the same ballpark. Girls running shit once the relationship’s over.
MF: On True Romance the single Stay Away and the track So Far Away deal with similar issues of trust and betrayal in relationships but there’s also an underlining theme of claiming or reclaiming ones independence. Was this album a way of claiming your independence?
CXCX: For me this album was just a way of growing up. I’ve been writing this album I suppose for like 5 years now, really. I guess I’ve just grown up through the process as any 15, 16 year-old would do.
So I feel like for me it’s more a coming of age album [rather] than a claiming my independence album. I always feel like I’ve been quote independent anyway. Especially with record, I’ve really played it on my terms and it’s been my way or not at all.
I feel like that’s how it should be. I’ve definitely called the shots and I delayed it twice coz’ I wasn’t happy with it. That was my decision not anybody else’s. So I’ve done it all on my own terms and I fell like it’s just me discovering myself, I suppose, and who I was and the music I wanted to write.
MF: It’s interesting you mention that you called the shots on True Romance because there’s an article on your Facebook page about sexism in music and female artists not getting their dues for writing their own music. Do you find that you are more harshly treated for collaborating with various producers than you’re male counterparts?
CXCX: Yeah, I do. I share the same producer as Vampire Weekend, and as Theophilus London, and as Usher, and also with Justin Bieber, but it feels like I get more shit for than, say, Vampire Weekend or Theophilus London would because I’m a girl.
It makes it, like, worse for me to collaborate with someone because it means that I’m not good enough to do it on my own. When actually I just wrote a worldwide hit for some other fucking awesome girls [Icona Pop – I Love It] who are absolutely smashing it around the world at the moment.
And I think that proves me as being pretty capable, you know, and I’ve been writing my own demos since I was 15 and performing at warehouse parties since I was 15. I don’t see why that puts me at a lower level than guys.
Collaborating with musicians and producers is a choice. It’s something that I wanted to do. I’m not that incapable that I can’t pick who I want to work with. It’s a real shame that it’s like it makes me less credible because I’m a female, because I’m collaborating with people whereas when people look at a Vampire Weekend record, it’s totally fine because they’re guys. And I think that’s terrible, I really do.
MF: Did that double standard almost keep you from collaborating?
CXCX: No, because I know that I am a talented and worthy artist. And I know that I am a good songwriter. I really don’t see any shame in collaborating with artists or producers. I see that as a fucking amazing thing, and it’s so cool that it’s so possible now because of the internet and because of the way people interact these days.
I love collaborating with people and it’s not because I’m dependent on that but it’s because I enjoy working with other people and I always think two minds are better than one. And why not collaborate? I’ve been able to collaborate with some amazing artists. Brooke Candy to Icona Pop to Danny Brown to Blood Diamonds and I really admire those people. It’s an honour to be working with them.
So I don’t really think about that shit because I know it’s stupid anyway. I know that it’s not true and I know that, for me, collaboration is a really exciting thing.
MF: Are artists like you, Marina and the Diamonds, and Ellie Goulding are bringing back girl power to English music and showing that music doesn’t have to be morose or overtly earnest to have depth and longevity?
CXCX: I feel like in music right now it’s a real strong time for cult followings. I feel like audiences are really desperate for something interesting again. I feel like audiences want emotion and I feel like they’re tired of being treated like idiots because a lot of the stuff in the Top 40 sounds like, it’s so flat, it’s very unemotional.
I feel like the most interesting music at the moment, I personally feel like, is being made by females. Whether be that in the pop world or in the underground world. When you look at most of the interesting songs written in the Top 40, they’re all written by Sia, which I think is really interesting.
I think it is a really good time for girls right now, especially because so many people are now talking about this issue and bringing it to light more, especially around myself and my peers, I feel like it could be girl power round two.
MF: Do you think female artists are writing more interesting music at the moment because of the obstacles of gender bias they have to overcome?
CXCX: Maybe, I don’t know. When it comes to my own writing I’m not thinking about that consciously … When I’m writing my music I’m thinking about, especially with this record, I’m thinking all about love and I was thinking all about my history in love.
I wasn’t really thinking about anything political, that’s not how I write. I write very spontaneously and, for example, with the Icona Pop song that wasn’t a planned out thing it’s something that I wrote in my hotel room in half an hour.
If people want to interpret that, however, they want to then that’s great but I never plan out songs when I write. To me the best songs always come when it’s very spontaneous and it’s very much like whatever’s in my brain just spat out onto a page.
That’s just my writing process. That’s just the way I like to write. I don’t like to create scenarios and construct things. So I think it’s cool if people want to reflect on my music afterwards and think about what it means to them, then that’s great. But I don’t think about that, I just vomit it out.
MF: An album review by Spin noted that True Romance could, “very well create a new generation of pop stars, one in which being a weirdo is a necessity.” – Would you identify yourself as a weirdo?
CXCX: Ummm, I don’t know. I’ve always thought I’ve been, especially in school. I know this sounds like such a cliché but I feel like I was always a bit different. I went through this phase in school where I thought it was really cool to wear, like, 8 belts and then a skirt and trousers. And everyone used to laugh at me for that (chuckles).
My dad always encouraged me to just wear what I want and be as freaky as I want, and do what I want. One of the things he always said to me was that you should create your own style rather than follow a fashion. And I really respect that from my dad, being a straight married man (laughs).
So I’m always just being me and if that’s weird then I’m totally cool with that because I love freaks and I love weirdos. They’re always the most interesting and creative people. But I never think about it I’m just being who I am.
MF: Speaking of being in high school some of the songs on True Romance reportedly date back to when you were a teenager. Did keeping some of the content from your adolescence serve as a reminder of your original intent behind making music?
CXCX: One of the songs on the record was written when I was 15 and that’s as young as it goes back on this album. But I don’t know, like I said this record for me is a coming of age album. The song that I wrote when I was 15 that’s on the album, I don’t hear that as me when I was 15. I hear it as still very relevant to me, which I think means it’s a good pop song.
So I don’t know, that’s kind of difficult. I feel like I’ve always being trying to grow up through this album because I think I’m worried that some people will always see me as a 14 year-old… But I feel like people change and I’m a very different person now from when I was 14 as most people are. And I just wanted this album to demonstrate that.
MF: The record is called True Romance. For you what is true romance?
CXCX: Well, I think true romance is when you’re feeling amazingly happy and you’re surrounded by dreamy clouds floating away on your own passionate love state. But I also think it’s when you’re fucking depressed and crying and sad and alone.
To have true romance you have to have both sides of love. I feel love is very schizophrenic, you have to have a dark side and you have to have the light side. For me that’s what true romance is, you don’t get just the beautiful mess you have to have the horrible shit with it as well, for it to be true.