Bladee and Charli XCX Bring the “Drama”
For Bladee, the 27-year-old Swedish pop wunderkind, working with Charli XCX has been a project nearly a decade in the making. Charli and Bladee have been running in the same musical and digital circles for years now, their sound often lumped under the hyperpop microgenre that has emerged from the trenches of the internet and soared to mainstream popularity. But both artists reject the categorization; as they discussed over a recent Zoom call, musical genre is inherently limiting. Now, the world gets to witness their union on Charli’s remix of Bladee’s single “Drama,” from the upcoming deluxe version of the album Good Luck. A week before the release of the remix, the musicians discussed process, Ariana Grande, and their shared love for autotune. —ERNESTO MACIAS
BLADEE: Nice to meet you—I guess it’s the first time we’re meeting.
CHARLI XCX: It’s weird though because I feel like I’ve kind of known you for a really long time. I feel like you’re kind of in my extended friend group, but we’ve never met.
BLADEE: I actually saw you briefly when I was in Stockholm, a really long time ago at this club.
CHARLI XCX: Was that when Robyn was playing or something? I feel like that was maybe eight years ago. Are you in Stockholm right now?
BLADEE: I’m just at home in Stockholm. So I’ve been here for one year now.
CHARLI XCX: You made three records in 2020, which is so many.
BLADEE: I guess so.
CHARLI XCX: Did you make them all in Stockholm?
BLADEE: The most recent one, Good Luck, me and Mechatok made that in Berlin right before I moved. But we finished everything up, the whole album concept and the video, over a couple months.
CHARLI XCX: I wondered, because that whole album is just you and him. What’s your process like with him? In some ways we have a similarity, like with me and A. G. Cook when he works with me on stuff, even though I haven’t done a project exclusively with him. It feels very much like it’s just him and I having this intense constant dialogue. What’s it like with you and Mechatok when you did this record?
BLADEE: It’s not something that I seek out, but I usually make a project with one producer because I feel the project is like a whole consistent song and it’s a nice blend of our two minds. It was the first time I worked with him like that. I lived in Berlin for one year and he was pretty much the only guy I knew in Berlin that made music as well. So I would go to his house a lot and we would just hang out and record.
CHARLI XCX: This might be a really annoying question that you get asked all the time, but I wanted to ask you about location in terms of whether it affects your music, specifically Stockholm. Has working in Sweden affected your sound? When I think of music coming out of Sweden, I think of you and a lot of your peers and collaborators, but I also think of pop exports like Cheiron Studios, Denniz Pop, Max Martin.
BLADEE: I think when I started making music, I wanted to do something that wasn’t Swedish. I was just more interested in everything else. Now I’ve been doing this for quite a long time, I’m starting to realize that it’s very inspiring. We have a Swedish sound.
CHARLI XCX: There’s something about making music in Stockholm. I feel productive there.
BLADEE: Do you go to different places to record when you have a new project?
CHARLI XCX: I used to just kind of go wherever the producer was, that was more in the past. I would often be coming to Stockholm. But then A.G. Cook moved to L.A., so I would just go over to his place and then we were making music there. In the quarantine, when I made my last record, I was just recording myself and we were sending stuff back and forth. So now I feel there’s a lot more flexibility in the way that I record. I feel like I got really bougie for a while and I was only going to the best studio. Now I’m more into just working from home. You made three full-length projects in 2020. Was that always the plan, or did inspiration just strike and you were kind of in the zone?
BLADEE: It was pretty much like that. We’re just constantly recording and I guess, I was just inspired. There was a lot of music. Also, we went to my friend’s summer house. In Sweden everyone has a summer house. We were there for a week or something, and that was one album. Then one album was here in Stockholm. And one in Berlin.
CHARLI XCX: I love recording like that and just shutting everything else out and being so focused on that. It’s kind of hard to do that in L.A. sometimes because, I don’t know, there’s so much shit going on and everybody’s living 15 lives. When you’re writing lyrics, is that something that you have to really sit and think about? Or is it just a natural instinct in your head that flows naturally?
BLADEE: When I started making songs more seriously, I was writing a lot and working just in notes all the time, and tweaking it. Now for the last few years, I hear the song and I just record straight away. I don’t really write anymore. I just record and then pause and record the next.
CHARLI XCX: So it’s kind of almost like a freestyle. That’s really interesting because I do that too, but I record mainly just melodies. There will be some words that sound kind of like words, and then I just put the words to that. So, with “Drama,” when I heard that song, I just immediately went to it and I really loved the lyrics. It kind of reminded me a little bit, tonally, of your song “Mean Girls.” When I heard both of those songs, but particularly “Drama,” I had this vision of this person that you’re talking about. I could just see this person in a club being kind of bitchy. I feel like I’m not really like that in a relationship, but I really like relationships that are like that because it just seems really psycho.
BLADEE: I think I do like that energy a lot. I feel like your music is very much like this energy too. It’s like an attitude.
CHARLI XCX: I feel like there’s a cross-pollination between our fans, but they are actually also different. It feels like they’ve been waiting on a collaboration for a while. What do you think links us?
BLADEE: I would say, I think you are also very much yourself and I think you have a very true expression. We both like to make catchy melodies.
CHARLI XCX: How was filming the “Drama” video in the hot air balloon? Because my dad, when he was younger, used to run a hot air balloon company for a second. But I’ve never been in one.
BLADEE: It was fun. It was not as crazy as I thought. It’s very calm once you’re up there, and you’re just kind of up there. It’s quiet, and it’s like standing on the top of a hill looking out.
CHARLI XCX: I wondered whether there was somebody hiding in the basket.
BLADEE: There was. There was a man in the basket. I don’t know if maybe you know, but you can’t really control where the balloon lands. So we had to keep flying for a while because we didn’t go over any big fields where we could land. And then at the end, we had to land right next to a big road. That was the craziest part.
CHARLI XCX: Do you have a dream collaboration for the future?
BLADEE: I want to make a song with Ariana Grande.
CHARLI XCX: That would be sick. What is it about her music that you like? I feel the same way. especially in the past couple of years. I feel like she came into her own around “thank u next.” The way that she drops music is actually kind of similar to how you and I drop music. It’s quite fast.
BLADEE: She sings very timelessly. Her voice is so classic. But there are certain lyrics to me I just like. And also just the aesthetic of kind of gray and baby pink. It’s kind of cute and future-y at the same time.
CHARLI XCX: I wanted to ask you about autotune because obviously, we both use it quite a lot. For me, it gives me so much freedom and confidence.
BLADEE: Really? You can sing.
CHARLI XCX: No. I used to be able to sing a lot more when I was younger. But then using autotune all the time, it kind of makes you lazy because it affects everything that you do. So now I definitely lost some of my pitch. When I’m not singing in autotune, it is a bit like, “oh my god.”
BLADEE: I always have it live. I think I never consciously decided it has to be with autotune, it’s just that it made sense to keep using the autotune. It sounds better. It just works.
CHARLI XCX: I’m signed to a major label and I think they’re still really afraid of autotune. It’s such a common tool. Why is it deemed to be really acceptable and cool in rap, but in pop it almost is still seen as a negative tool? I love how your voice sounds with autotune, not just because I like the notes that you’re singing, but it adds to the atmosphere of the song.
BLADEE: Because there are some people that use it where it doesn’t sound good as well. It doesn’t make sense. Well, I’m using it a little bit less. I’m trying to experiment and change up the formula as well.
CHARLI XCX: Do you ever feel like a celebrity? Because I really feel like, to a lot of kids who are really hardcore, you kind of are an underground celebrity.
BALDEE: I don’t really feel like a celebrity. It still is kind of a weird thing to me.
CHARLI XCX: To me, in my world and what I see going on around me online, you’re definitely an internet star. Actually, I thought of another question. This is my least favorite question ever to get asked, but I wanted to ask it to you because you’re always brought up in this question, along with a couple of other people. What do you think about hyperpop?
BLADEE: Good question.
CHARLI XCX: And how do you feel about being associated with being a part of its creation?
BLADEE: I’m not super into genres. Especially when it’s a small genre like that, it’s limiting people to only having one sound and not experimenting more. I think it’s cool that there are new types of music coming. I think that’s super important and valuable. But personally, I’m not super into the hyperpop. I don’t really know exactly what it is. I think if they would just call it pop, it would be much better.