Charli XCX On How She Wrote The Biggest Pop Song Of The Year
The lovable pop star chatted to us about Icona Pop, her great new album True Romance, and a-holes who don't believe she writes her own music.
Folks have been impatiently waiting for Charli XCX’s debut album since ‘Stay Away’ became an instant blog-hit almost two years ago. Needless to say, then, that her new full-length, True Romance, has been earning near universal accolades since dropping last week, some weirder than others. Like, some guy at PopMatters just described it as “pop you don’t have to be embarrassed about listening to”, which is a nice way to put it… if you’re a sad loser. The only reason anyone should be embarrassed by pop is if they’re listening to songs about how much fun it is to murder children or fry kittens, and even then, we’d give it a pass so long as it’s catchy.
But anyway, back to the-girl-formerly-known-as Charlotte Aitchison. She’s so cool that she wrote the definitive pop song of the year (‘I Love It’), and then just gave it away to someone else to sing. Even Bob Dylan would’ve at least recorded it first. Her impressive new album further melds her gloriously catchy pop sensibilities with quotable lyrics and an interesting sad-goth streak (or, as my girlfriend approvingly says, “Ha, Shakespeare’s Sister!”). All this and she’s just at the tender age of 20, which really makes a dude feel OLD.
Charli caught up with us from a hotel room in Brussels, where she was currently in the midst of a tour with Ellie Goulding and Imagine Dragons.
Junkee: Hi Charli, so how’s the tour going?
Charli XCX: It’s cool. The crowds are, like, quite quiet, even for Ellie. They’re really kinda too polite (laughs). But it’s still cool; you push them enough, they go crazy.
I’ve been listening to your album a lot over the past week, and I’ve counted at least five spoken-word breakdowns. What inspired that habit?
(laughs) Well, I guess, when I was much younger, I was a real massive Uffie fan. When I discovered Ed Banger and French electro and, like, Uffie in particular, that’s what really inspired me to get into music in the first place; I was just really taken by that sound and the style. I don’t know, I guess that kinda rubbed off on me a bit. Also, I was a big All Saints fan, and they used to drop those spoken-word breakdowns pretty well, so I guess it kinda stems from there, too.
There are also A LOT of sad love songs. Why so sad?
Well, the whole album is about my, like, romantic history; every song is about love or romance, apart from ‘One’, which is just about taking ecstasy and partying like a crazy person. But, I feel like love is a very schizophrenic thing. It’s not all beautiful and happy and amazing; there’s definitely a darker side where you’re, like, crying everyday and feeling depressed and alone. That’s definitely been my experience of it, anyway.
Are you the kinda person that gets sad, like around 2am, in the middle of a club?
Uh, not really. The only time I’ve done something like that is when I saw Robyn play for the first time and I cried when she played ‘Dancing On My Own’, ‘cause it was so emotional. Everybody else was dancing around me, and I was just crying. The lyrics hit home that day.
‘Set Me Free’ is an excellent song on the album, but I read that you wrote that when you were 15. It’s quite poetic — “I’ve been dancing with shadows/ the skin dripping from my bones” — lines like that. Do you have a whole stash of this teenage diary stuff that still hold up as great lyrics?
(laughs) Uh, probably not much that I could use today. I did write in diaries a lot when I was younger, I think mainly because I was a big fan of cheesy teen movies, like the remake of Freaky Friday, where Lindsay Lohan has a cool diary. My early teens were very Avril Lavigne, very dramatic, pretending I had all these issues to work out in my diary when I was completely fine. I think most girls go through something like that, anyway.
Yeah, not just girls (*embarrassed*). The single you wrote for Icona Pop, ‘I Love It’, has been massive. I think it was on a cricket commercial here.
Do you regret palming that one off to Icona Pop, rather than just keeping it for yourself?
Everyone wants to ask me this! No, not at all. When I wrote it, I knew it was gonna be big — everyone around me was saying it, the producer was saying it — but I just wasn’t feeling it for my record. When I write a song, I can usually picture the music video in my head, and with that song I couldn’t picture anything; it was so alien to me. I was scared that it would go to someone crap, though. That was my one fear, that it would go to someone I was gonna hate or, like, someone with no meaning or something like that. I’m glad it went to Icona Pop, ‘cause they’re something fucking cool and fresh in the pop world.
How do you even find the inspiration to finish a song when you know it’s not for you?
Well, to be honest, I wrote that song in half-an-hour in a hotel room. I don’t think about any shit like that, I just write what comes out of my brain.
There must be a shitload of money that comes out of writing a hit song like that, right?
Ummmmmmmmm… It’s paying my bills, let’s put it that way.
That’s nice. Have you bought anything to treat yo’self?
No, it all goes back into my tour. Kinda boring, really. Oh, I bought myself a glow in the dark mic stand and a light up mic lead. That’s all really.
I’ve been stalking your Instagram and Twitter feeds lately, mainly for research. You post an awful lot about The Sims.
Oh yeah! I used to play it when I was younger, and um, I just thought it had a really good soundtrack. And, like, my sound engineer may be writing a song for the new Sims.
I don’t know; I suggested that to him, but I don’t think he was into the idea. But yeah, the songs in the game are so fucking great. They all sound like Blood Diamonds samples, you know? So I’ve just been jamming out to Sims tracks lately.
How much time to do you think you’ve wasted on The Sims in your life?
Well, I don’t have it anymore, but I really wanna get it for the tour. I’m going on tour with Marina [Diamandis] in about a week, so I just wanna create a Sims house to put us in and our bands; I think that would be really funny. When I was younger, I always used to make my Sims wee themselves. I would treat them really badly, like trap them in between bits of furniture. I was really mean.
Last week, Grimes wrote a pretty epic post on her Tumblr about the misogyny she’s faced in the music industry. Is that something you’ve experienced?
Yeah, actually, a couple of times. And you know, I was so glad that she posted that post, and I was glad that blogs picked up on it and then also picked up on a lot of things that other female musicians have been saying. I mean, with me, one thing I always get called out for is what I wear and my music videos and, like, is it selling sex, that kinda thing, which I think is really fucking wrong. As a female, you should be able to do whatever you want, whether that be embracing your sexuality or completely shunning it if you want. Like Brooke Candy [who appears on Charli’s album track, ‘Cloud Aura’] dresses super sexually, but it doesn’t make her stupid, y’know what I mean? She’s embracing her love of fashion and her femininity. It pisses me off that women have to be put into categories like ‘slut’ or ‘nerd’ or whatever the word is; that’s fucking disgusting.
Another thing I’ve noticed coming up a lot regarding people like me and Grimes and Solange and Sky [Ferreira] is that we collaborate with other people, and in the eyes of some men, it completely dumbs down our project and makes it a big ‘major label scam’ or something [see here and here]. I don’t really understand that! It’s unfair. Like, I’ve written one of the biggest hits in the world this year and yet I’m being told that I’m just getting help from Justin Bieber’s male producers or something. Yet, that never seems to be an issue for these people when Vampire Weekend uses the exact same guy. D’you know what I mean? I just feel like it’s really terrible, ‘cause females are making the most interesting music in pop right now.
Charli XCX’s True Romance is available now in shops, iTunes, etc, through Warner Music.