ABOVE: CHARLI XCX. PHOTO COURTESY OF BELLA HOWARD.
In many ways, it has been the Year of Charli XCX–from chart-topping collaborations with Iggy Azalea to her catchy track “Boom, Clap,” which was featured on The Fault In Our Stars soundtrack. Hardly a year after her debut, the 22-year-old pop star–née Charlotte Emma Aitchison–feels as though she has truly come into her own and is ready to release her sophomore record, SUCKER.
Born in Cambridge, England, Charli XCX began writing songs at the age of 14. The singer studied at Bishop’s Stortford College until 2010, when she dropped out and decided to pursue music full-time. Since then, Charli XCX has been moving around the world and performing for the masses, first making waves in 2012 alongside Icona Pop in the song “I Love It.” Following the release of her debut album True Romance last year, she has made a point to maintain her individuality and stand out in the music industry–something she speaks loudly and proudly about in SUCKER.
In her forthcoming album, which is out December 15 via Neon Gold/Atlantic Records, the songstress swaps electronic beats for guitar elements and puts a thematic focus on girl power. Aside from her own personal strength, this evolved sound is also due in part to working with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Robyn’s producer Patrik Berger, Stargate, Benny Blanco, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Cashmere Cat.
We caught up with Charli XCX at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn about ’90s style icons, her favorite Clueless character, and not caring what anyone thinks.
ILANA KAPLAN: Over the past two years or so, what has changed the most for you in your music career?
CHARLI XCX: I’ve definitely become more commercially successful. I think everything has changed over the past two years. People seem to take me seriously now as a songwriter for other artists and as an artist, which is funny to me because I always thought I was good. I guess that’s the main change, which is pretty interesting. [laughs]
KAPLAN: How do you think SUCKER is sonically different than True Romance?CHARLI XCX: It’s actually really different from True Romance. I didn’t want to make the same record twice. I don’t like that as an idea. I’m someone who admires artists like Madonna and David Bowie, who really change their sound drastically between each record. It’s still a pop record, but it’s definitely less electronic and more guitar-led and punk-inspired. There’s more “roar.” The subject matter is definitely not just about relationships, whereas True Romance was a record about love.
KAPLAN: So on that note, what is SUCKER about?
CHARLI XCX: A lot of the songs are about the music industry. The title track “SUCKER” is definitely about my cynical view of the music industry and basically a big “fuck you” to all of the people who weren’t on my team before and now are. I think it’s a bit of an aggressive song. There’s also a song about owning your body as a woman, which is something that is being talked a lot about in the music industry, which is great. A lot of females are openly discussing their experiences as women in the music industry. There’s a song called “Body Of My Own,” which is my version of all of that. There are a couple of relationship songs–there’s actually one that I did with my friend Rostam [Batmanglij], which is called “Need Ur Luv.” It’s kind of a tragic song; it’s the saddest on the album. It’s about romance, but I suppose it’s also about the position of a woman in a relationship. We were really inspired by a lot of ’60s girl-groups and a lot of that subject matter, but we also twist it around to be empowering.
KAPLAN: You’ve done a lot of collaborations so far. Which of them has been your favorite?
CHARLI XCX: There are probably two. I really enjoyed working with Marina & The Diamonds. We did a song called “Just Desserts.” We never got in the studio and worked together, but we worked on it over email. Then we went on tour for a month, and I opened for her. That was very cool because it’s a collaboration a lot of fans wanted to happen. When it did, I felt like they were super into it. She’s just a cool girl who has a very visual take on lyrics. I really admire that and it’s something I do, but differently from her, in my own way. Also, Iggy [Azalea] for sure. Working with her has definitely opened my eyes up. We’re very different artists, 100 percent. We’re actually kind of polar opposites, as people and artists, but we gel together really well. It was really cool dressing up as a cheerleader at the Billboard Awards and living out my Bring It On dream. To do it with Iggy was really cool.
KAPLAN: I have to ask, from the “Fancy” video, who is your favorite Clueless character?
CHARLI XCX: It was actually Tai. I feel like I was kind of like her in school. I have always been a tomboy. She’s just funny. I do really like her, and she’s probably my favorite character.
KAPLAN: Your style has changed over the past few years. Who are your style icons now, as opposed to before?
CHARLI XCX: Right now, my style hero is definitely Rose McGowan–both in movies like Jawbreaker, but also red carpet Rose McGowan. She always gets it right. Also, ’90s Mariah Carey. I wear a lot of slip dresses and I know that’s a thing right now. To be honest, I really enjoy wearing full pajamas–nightwear as daywear is definitely something that I really like. I also love a lot of fake diamonds. I don’t know if that’s a trend or not, but I really enjoy this trashy Claire’s Accessories princess thing.
KAPLAN: I feel like the ’90s are a very big part of everything you do. Is that because of the style elements and you’re nostalgic for it or the fact you were born in the decade?
CHARLI XCX: I think it’s a mixture of all of those things. I really have an attraction to the ’90s because in terms of fashion, it was one of those fun eras without being ridiculous. Obviously there’s ’80s fashion, which is incredibly fun, but for me it’s too costume-y. I feel like the worst fashion moments of the ’90s were kind of the best. The ’90s to me are cartoonish in a really great way. I want fashion to be fancy and fun. Like, runway in the ’90s was fun, but it was incredible, like Versace ’90s runways and Chanel as well. It kind of blows my mind. I feel like I definitely am into the side of the fashion world that doesn’t take itself too seriously, like Moschino, House of Holland, and Ashish. I definitely belong to that kind of crowd, so that’s why I feel like I have an affiliation with the ’90s. I feel like a lot of things going on in fashion and pop culture were loud and outlandish.
KAPLAN: What’s your favorite song on SUCKER?
CHARLI XCX: It might be “SUCKER,” the title track. It’s a song I wrote with my friend Justin Raisen. I think both of us have been pushed into a corner on certain things and maybe haven’t gotten the credit we deserved on previous projects we’ve been in. It was just cool to get together and make this aggressive and angry song that opens the album. He’s like my brother, and it’s a really statement song for both of us. I can’t wait for the people who pushed us to the side to hear it and be like, “Fuck, that’s about me.” I’m glad to share that experience with him. It’s gonna be really funny.
KAPLAN: Do you feel like you had way more creative control over SUCKER?
CHARLI XCX: I definitely had creative control over True Romance, and made a lot of big decisions that people advised me against on that album–the biggest one being, “Put ‘I Love It’ on your album.” I was just like, “No.” I feel like I definitely had creative control over both records. With this album, because I’m older and have grown up as a person and figured out who I am and had had this realization that I don’t really care what people think of me–which happened in December–I do feel very excited. I feel like it’s 100 percent everything that’s in my brain. I feel like with True Romance I was being a very conscious songwriter. I was crafting songs rather than letting them flow out naturally. With this album, I’ve really said what’s been on my mind, in my brain, and what I’ve been afraid to say because it wouldn’t make a ‘cool’ song.
KAPLAN: Obviously SUCKER has a lot to say about the music industry as it stands today. What’s been the one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since you were signed and started making music?
CHARLI XCX: When I was younger, definitely getting people to listen to me and believe in me. I think it’s hard when you’re a young girl in a record label full of male urban artists, which is definitely what Atlantic Records was and still is. Also, getting people to trust a young, female pop star that doesn’t just want to be puppeteered was definitely a challenge for me. After I wrote “I Love It,” people started to pay attention to me and take me seriously. It was satisfying, but also frustrating to me because, like I said, I felt like I had always been good. Sometimes I needed to suck that up and check my pride.
CHARLI XCX’S SOPHOMORE RECORD SUCKER IS OUT DECEMBER 15 AND YOU CAN PRE-ORDER THE ALBUM HERE.