Charli XCX Does What She Wants, And That’s Why She’s The Future Of Pop
"It takes a lot for me to actually listen to music. I have to be really convinced."
If we’ve learned one thing about Charli XCX over the last year, it’s that she does what she wants.
In the past 18 months the woman born Charlotte Aitchison has eschewed any semblance of a traditional pop release style, instead opting for one that’s thoroughly her own creation — and more importantly, actually in line with how the streaming public actually consumes music.
There’s no album to be seen, and instead all this year XCX has been steadily releasing single after single after single — at an average rate of one a month.
That was after she delivered us two mixtapes last year: Number 1 Angel (offered up to the public for free) and the warped, future pop sounds of Pop 2. Both releases were moulded with the help of London collective PC Music, which includes production wizards A.G. Cook and SOPHIE.
The drip-feeding of releases has at least ensured that XCX is never far from the pop spotlight these days — and a support slot on Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour hasn’t hurt.
Today, she drops her newest single ‘1999’, which features our very own Troye Sivan on vocals. We caught up with XCX to find out exactly how ‘1999’ came about, how PC Music has helped shape her music, and why she doesn’t feel an emotional connection to music anymore — except her own.
How did you meet Troye and what struck you about him? Why did you want to work with him?
Troye and I first met at a house party at my house. It was when I just moved to L.A. and just got my place here and I was throwing a lot of house parties and a lot of people were coming, like people I didn’t know, people I vaguely knew. It was a lot of musicians and producers and artists and such, and Troye came along and that was the first time I met him — he was super sweet and really nice.
“I really do think Troye’s one of the best pop stars around at the moment.”
From then we vaguely stayed in contact and I began to notice that we had a lot of mutual friends. He was into my mixtape Pop 2 and I had heard him say some really nice things about that in interviews, and I was becoming more and more obsessed with him as an artist. I really do think he’s one of the best pop stars around at the moment and I remember when my ‘My My My!‘ came out, my Twitter account just became a Troye Sivan stan account.
I’m just totally obsessed with that song, totally obsessed with that video, totally obsessed with the all the photo shoots that he’s doing. I really think his record is very incredible and beautiful. He probably thought I was a bit weird, honestly.
I’m a big fan, as you can tell, and I had this song ‘1999’ and I got it played for him and he liked it which was really cool. It was funny because I always liked the song but I wasn’t sure whether it was totally for me. I was wondering whether I should pitch it [to other artists].
When Troye was like ‘No, I really like it, I would love to do something on it’, I was like ‘Okay, great. I have to keep it, Troye thinks it’s cool, it’s probably cool, ’cause Troye’s really cool, so great’.
You guys are obviously quite good friends, but being friends with someone and working with them are two very different things. How do you know if someone is going to be good to work with, or whether they’re just a friend?
I manage to basically turn every friendship I have into some kind of collaboration. Two of my managers are people I went to school with, I make all of my records with my best friends. I have best friend songwriters who I have known for like eight years, and producers. I just love working with my friends.
Generally I just feel like if someone is a good friend, or if you’re good friends with someone, it’s probably going to be a good collaboration. It’s less about whether they’re a good collaborator, whatever that means. You have to have the friendship there first for it to become a genuine collaboration that you’re going to really enjoy.
That’s why I am always very open with my collaborators and if I don’t know them that well, I really try to get to know them because it’s always more fun to collaborate with your friends, you know?
I feel like you can almost splice your music at least for the last couple of years into before PC music and then after PC music. What drew you to A.G. Cook and SOPHIE and the other artists in that collective? Why have you clicked so well with them?
I clicked well with them because, first of all, I was a fan of what they were doing. I don’t have a very emotional connection to music but I do when I hear their music.
It kind of reminded me of when I was younger and I was very into Ed Banger Records. It kind of gave me that same excitement. That same excitement of, it’s this kind of clique, or theme, that seems very friendly and fun and they’re really doing their own thing.
“I literally only listen to my own music which is super narcissistic but I just do it because I really love it.”
It’s also music I wanna party to. I’ve made music before in my life that I liked but I probably wouldn’t listen to it at a party. Now I literally only listen to my own music which is super narcissistic but I just do it because I really love it. I wanna party to it. I wanna make that music, I wanna hear that music when I go out and that’s why I love working so much with SOPHIE and A.G. because they make the music that I wanna hear when I go out and wanna get fucked up and whatever.
So working with them is really fun. It started off like that and we built separate working relationships together. SOPHIE and I were working together a lot. We started out working together in Sweden where we made the Vroom Vroom EP. Then SOPHIE moved over to L.A. and I moved here too so we were working together out here doing a lot of stuff together and we built up a really fun relationship.
A.G. and I had a slower start, but then it got really intense the way we would collaborate — one night we made a whole album in a day. I went to the studio at 1 p.m. and I left at 6 a.m. and we made a nine-track album.
Some of it was really terrible, but we are into doing crazy shit like that. Pop 2 became an exercise like that where we really made the whole thing over like a three week period. The writing process was like a week in New York, a week in London, and then a week of me sending stuff back and forth and then A.G. really went in on the production separately, but the writing was done like that.
They’re fun, they’re up for doing things differently and that’s what I like. They’re also up for pissing people off a little bit too, which is always fun.
You’ve only been playing one song from Pop 2 on the Taylor Swift shows, because you’ve said you want the Pop 2 shows to be very specifically club-driven. What are you trying to achieve with those shows?
I just want it to feel not like a gig and like a party. I want it to feel like you’re at the sickest, most crazy party ever, rather than going to watch a band or whatever. That’s sort of what I try and do with the shows and it’s difficult. Sometimes people aren’t in the same place, sometimes they are.
Sometimes we get different people to come and do other people’s verses so it’s just fun. The reason why I like this show so much is because they are so collaborative, just in their nature.
Being a support act on a massive, massive tour can be pretty difficult because a lot of people there sometimes aren’t there to see you, they’re there to see the main act. How have you found being a support on the Taylor tour?
I’ve actually found it pretty good because I like a challenge and also I know a lot of people know my songs. When I start playing ‘I Love It’ or ‘Break the Rules’ or ‘Fancy’ or ‘Boom Clap’, I know I’m good.
It’s not like a drag through of half-an-hour of people being like ‘What the fuck is going on?’ Which it might be if I was playing Pop 2 songs. I definitely tailor my set — no pun intended — to the crowd. But it’s fun, it’s cool. They’re up for it. It’s cool to see 5-year-olds moshing to ‘I Love It.’ That’s kind of fun. It’s a trip.
Are you still writing for other acts now or are you pretty much solely focused on your own artist project?
I’m actually focusing on myself right now, but I do do it if it’s somebody I really love and wanna connect with. A while ago Carly Rae Jepsen and I did a couple of days for her record, but I actually don’t think anything came out of that.
Me and Zara Larsson, same thing, I actually don’t think anything came out of that either [laughs] but it’s fun because I like her and know her so it’s cool. I’m enjoying being in my own little world at the moment.
You mentioned before that you don’t often have an emotional reaction to music, why is that?
I think it takes a lot for me to actually listen to music. I have to be really convinced.
That’s kind of a broad exaggeration — I do get emotional from some music, but it’s really specific stuff that I really get into. I remember for a while, well I still am, super into Yung Lean.
“It takes a lot for me to actually listen to music. I have to be really convinced.”
I find Yung Lean’s music really emotional. I find music compares with people who are characters, people who create their own world, and people who are on their own wave length a little bit.
Those are the people that I really connect with, a lot. Whether that’s SOPHIE, or Yung Lean, or Cupcakke, or Rosalia. I really connect with people who are really out there, totally doing their own thing. There are lots of people who do that — and there’s a lot of people who do exactly what other people do.
You’re on a major label, but you’ve been pretty much doing whatever the fuck you want over the last year or so in terms of putting out singles every month, and releasing mixtapes. Have you abandoned the idea of a full-blown album?
I definitely haven’t abandoned it. I’ll do it when it feels right. Maybe that time is getting closer but I don’t really wanna commit to anything.
I’m just really having fun being creative and being on my own terms, I’ve had to fight quite hard in some instances in the past. Now I feel like I have the respect of the people around me, the people I work with, my peers, and I am really enjoying being able to do what I feel. So I am happy with that for now, you know?
‘1999’ is out now. Charli XCX will be in the country next month supporting Taylor Swift, she’s also locked in a Pop 2 headlining show at Sydney’s Metro Theatre.
Jules LeFevre is Junkee’s Music Writer and a Pop 2 stan. Follow her on Twitter.