Charli XCX—Innovative, Introspective, and Iconic

When the now 27-year-old Charlotte Aitchison, better known as Charli XCX, decided to take a break and not jump straight into a third album, that didn’t mean that she was going to stop making music altogether. She simply used that period of time as one for reflection, growth, and experimentation. Therefore, between the release of her sophomore LP, Sucker, in 2014 and the release of her latest full length album, Charli, the UK-born electro-pop star worked harder than ever—both on herself and her craft.

An artist through and through, XCX took her break-between-top-charting-albums seriously, going on to write many hit songs for other artists, releasing a multitude of singles, as well as creating an EP and two mixtapes—all of which gave the pop star an outlet for even more pop music exploration—were adored and praised by both fans and critics, and featured the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, Cupcakke, and MØ. (She’s always making sure to cross paths both musically and sonically with her friends and other artists.) 

It’s clear that the always passionate, hilarious, and authentic Charli XCX does not really take breaks. She simply goes out into the world to work, discover, and push herself to be the creative force to be reckoned with that she has been, ever since she hit the music scene when she was just a teenager.

Throughout that period of creativity and innovation, the “Boys” singer found herself; Not in a way that would change her unique, future-forward, dance-pop-meets-alt-pop sound, but in a way that would allow her to showcase her vulnerability as an artist and a human being. She might be the bright and colorful, bop-producing Charli XCX, but she is also the introspective, soul-bearing Charlotte Aitchison… whom the world was ready to welcome back with open arms with the release of Charli.

The personal aspect found in just about all of your music is truly something to marvel over. When it comes to showcasing those feelings, and those occasionally soul-bearing aspects of your life, do you find sharing that in your lyrics is something you need to do for yourself? “Thoughts” talks about anxiety and questioning the relationships in your life.

The way I write is very impulsive. Sometimes I don’t even realize what songs are about until I sit down and listen to them alone after they’re written. Other times it’s a more conscious experience. I don’t know if it’s something I “need to do” but it just happens because of the spontaneity of how I write. I capture whatever mood I’m in without a filter or worrying what the listener might think.

On the topic of being honest and real in your music, you’ve done just that throughout your career, whether it was through social media, in your fashion choices, your interactions with other artists and friends of yours…. How important is being transparent in this industry, for yourself and for your fans? 

I’m not good at playing games and I’m not good at pretending to be someone I’m not—it’s just exhausting. So, I just do and say what comes naturally, you know? It’s more fun that way, to be yourself and make people feel relaxed and like they can have fun. I hate working with artists who are on a power trip, like the people who need to let you know ‘I’m an artist and I’m really important.’ It’s like ‘yeah whatever, just chill out.’ 

Each track on Charli takes on a different story, a different sound, and a different persona, from the opening banger, “Next Level Charli,” to the astounding conclusion “2099,” which features your in-real-life BFF, Troye Sivan. Because each song’s sound is distinctly its own, how did you choose what order to set the track list to tell the story that is Charli? 

It’s all about the flow. Just like a live show, I guess you want there to be high and low moments. Lyrically, to me, it fits together in any format, so it’s more about the sonic journey. I wanted there to be a smoothness, but also at the same time it’s nice to place songs that shouldn’t go together next to one another. 

You have said that “I Don’t Wanna Know” is the oldest song on this record, having been written about two or three years ago. Did it come about during the Number 1 Angel/Pop 2 mixtape sessions, and did you want to specifically save it for this third LP?  

No! It actually came about when A.G. Cook and I challenged ourselves to make an entire album in a day. It was a very hectic, stupid but fun idea. “I Don’t Wanna Know” was the last song we wrote—probably at around 6 a.m. It’s funny because we had just written “I Got It” right before that. There was never any intention for these songs, it was just to see if we could make an album in 24 hours. Those two songs did feel particularly special though, so I held on to them. 

Speaking of your mixtapes, that was a really dynamic time for you, musically. Why did you choose to go that route rather than jump into something more along the lines of Charli

I mean, honestly, I don’t really see a huge sonic difference between the mixtapes and Charli. All three projects are progressive and diverse. I suppose there are more down-tempo moments on Charli, but all the projects are filled with a lot of the same collaborators. I don’t really think about why I do things—I just do them. 

You and Christine and the Queens just covered The 1975 in the BBC Live Lounge. They, like you, seem to always be doing what they want to and are still one step ahead of the musical curve. What influences you creatively in terms of new styles and storytelling?

Yeah, The 1975 are great! I really love what they do. For me, my main influences are my life, my friends, [and] the people I’m around the most. Real things that actually happen to me often inspire my writing. 

Absolutely, so how did you approach going into Charli as compared to going into True Romance and Sucker? Take us into that head space of yours and that moment in your life where you were ready to embark on this new XCX era.

I felt more confident than ever before when it came to making this album. I just felt like people really wanted it for the first time. Like really, really, really were hungry for an album. That’s a nice feeling to have.

Let’s talk a little bit about your music videos and how absolutely stellar they all are. From “Nuclear Seasons” and “Superlove” to “1999” and “Gone,” there has been such a futuristic, color-coordinated, aesthetic eye within all of them. Where do these ideas stem from and how much input do you have when it comes to the creative direction?

They are sometimes inspired by the song, other times I have the idea for the video first, [such as] “1999,” and other times, it’s about a conversation and a back and forth with another artist or director, like “Gone,” for example. No matter what, I’m always involved. Sometimes I direct the video myself and other times I give my opinion and thoughts, but someone else is behind the camera. I went through a phase of hating being featured in videos, which was when I wanted to be behind the camera more.

Are there any songs that you wish you would have done music videos for in the past, or songs off this new record that you have ideas for?

[Laughs] Every song deserves a music video in my opinion! Just no one wants to pay for them! 

Charli dropped on the five-year anniversary of “Boom Clap”—arguably the song that introduced you to many people, specifically in the U.S.—hit number one on the charts. That’s such an exciting and absolutely stellar coincidence. These milestones of yours are absolutely well-deserved, so I was wondering how you find out about them, and how someone as exuberant, hardworking, and fun as yourself celebrates a new release, or a hit song, or anything such as that? 

[Laughs] I always find out about the milestones through my fan accounts online. I’m not very sentimental about that kind of stuff—if it wasn’t for [the fans], I’d have no idea when anything was happening!

Not only are you a creator of your own work, you’re a songwriter for various other artists, and the songs you have either written or been a part of range from this summer’s hit “Señorita,” to and Pia Mia’s “Boys & Girls,” and Selena Gomez’s brutally relatable single, “Same Old Love.”  How do these collaborations come together and what do you take away from the sessions as compared to writing songs for yourself and your own albums?

These sort of songs always come about differently. Sometimes it’s with the artist in the room and you know that no matter what happens they get to decide what happens with the song once it’s finished. Sometimes it all sort of happens by accident—this is the way, most of the time, in my experience. Like “Señorita,” for example—we wrote that the day after writing “White Mercedes,” and we were supposed to be writing songs for my album, but as “Señorita” progressed I realized this is a great song, but it’s not for me. And then the universe worked it’s magic; Shawn and Camila heard it, liked it and reworked it, and the rest is history. But you never know what will happen or how it will happen really. Whenever I’m writing a song I always just try and write the best song possible no matter what I’m doing it for. 

While on the topic of the various artists you have had the opportunity and pleasure of working with, can you tell us what it was like to work alongside the fantastic sister trio HAIM? Also, Sky Ferreira? The Aquarian is just as much fans of their artistry as we are of yours, and can only imagine what the intricate creative process was like when working with each, respectively. 

They’re all brilliant. HAIM and I wrote together right after I’d just had a load of dental work done—so my face was totally numb during our session. It was pretty funny. I’ve known them forever, they’re all great women. Sky and I were sending ideas back and forth over text and email. “Cross You Out” came out of it and, honestly, I think it’s such a perfect song for us—it kind of sounds like a hybrid of both our first albums. Sky is a brilliant artist. I’m so happy I got to work with her.

That is so, so special. Now, if you could describe Charli in one word, what would it be? Personally, I would say “growth,” because as a longtime fan, I have seen just how far you have come creatively and professionally, but how would you describe it?

Iconic! Because it is!