"I'm crazy hungover," admits Charli XCX, slumped over on a couch in the NYLON office. "I went to this Billboard party, and then, um, I did some other things, so I'm feeling it now," she adds. It's no surprise that the London-based 20-year-old (whose real name is Charli Aitchison) is having a good time during her visit to New York City; this is, after all, the person who penned "I Love It" for Icona Pop and wears Buffalo platforms and crop tops even in the dead of winter. And now, with her own debut album of angel-pop tracks slated for release (True Romance comes out April 16, mark your calendars), it's likely that the next time you have a good time, it's her music that will be soundtracking the night. What makes Charli XCX strike such a deep chord--just try listening to "Nuclear Season" only once--is that she's the perfect amalgamation of underground and mainstream; like most of us who grew up in the '90s, we were as influenced by the Spice Girls as we were rave culture, and instead of forcing herself to fit into one box or the other, Charli XCX embraces both. Before her slew of SXSW dates, as well as spring tours supporting Ellie Goulding and Marina and the Diamonds, we caught up with Aitchison to find out why pop isn't a bad word--and which of the Disney stars she's obsessed with.
For someone who has never listened to your music before, what do they need to know going into Charli XCX? They should know that I'm a pop singer with a twist. My music is powerful pop music; it's emotional and it's beautiful and it's real. It's not plastic--it's kind of rough around the edges, but it's all rich and luscious. And that's what I want people to feel like when they listen to my record.
Your first album has been a long time coming--how does it feel now that it's actually coming out? I'm already writing the second record, which I'm excited about! But this record is kind of like a child, I suppose. Some of the songs I wrote on it I wrote when I was 15, so it's been a long time in the making. It's kind of me releasing my breath, you know? I'm just so excited to hear what people think of it, because I really do genuinely feel like I've put my all into this record and made the best possible record I can make.
Does it feel like your music has evolved over the past five years? I feel like I've evolved massively. I feel like this record is a coming-of-age record, from a teenager to a 20-year-old, because I've written it as I've been growing up, basically. A lot of views on life and love change during those five years. So it still has that kind of teenage essence in it, but I feel like lots of the songs on the record have changes in perspective. Every song is basically about love, and you have the bratty break-up songs that you experience when you were younger and then you have the 'I'm in super amazing love' songs and then the really freaky 'I'm obsessed with someone blah blah blah.' It's all different types of love all from me from different periods of my life.
What's the songwriting process like for you? I always change up what I do. On the record I write all of my own songs, but I do sit and write with other people and producers and things like that. I know I can write; I know I can write hits, so I don't have a problem working with people because I don't have a doubt in my mind. And I enjoy working with other people; I feel like why not put two great minds together rather than just one? You always get a twist, especially if the person's really different from you, which is really nice.
How do you decide which song you want to keep for yourself and which song you want to give to another band? As soon as I've written it, I know straight away. I wrote a song called "I Love It" for Icona Pop, and as soon as I wrote it I knew it wasn't for me. I just knew I wouldn't want to make a record that sounded like that song, and I knew that someone else could make it better than I already could. And that's why I'm really glad that they took it and they took it in a direction that I would never have gone in and they really made it their own and made it something really amazing, which is really cool.
Pop is sometimes viewed as a bad word in the indie world, but you don't seem to have a problem embracing it. Yeah, I'm completely happy to embrace it. I love classic pop stars: I love Britney, I love Christina, I love the Spice Girls. I love all of that world, and I think as long as pop music is good--I would hate pop music that's just throwaway--and it's a good song, I don't care if it's by Taylor Swift or Rihanna or whomever. And pop in the past year is kind of becoming cool again, you know? People haven't moved away from the word so much, because there has been good pop music that's been made, so I feel like it's become less of a dirty word.
There's also such a visual element to what you do, from the clothes you wear to your music videos. To be honest, I'm much more inspired by visual artists, photographers, and movies when it comes to writing my music than I am by just songs by other artists. So I feel like the visual side of things had to play a big part. [My look is] a trippy, acid Clueless scrapbook vibe. It's quite teenage bedroom magazine poster style, and because I came from the second wave of the club kid scene I put this dark spin on it, kind of like ketamine, acid gravy thing. I'm really inspired by Disney kids--I love that you guys have Selena Gomez on the cover, I'm a freak for Selena! I like Miley Cyrus...and how they're probably also fucked. I love that contrast of sugary sweet and then this kind of green, gooey decay.
Would it be right to assume you put a bit of thought into your onstage outfits, as well? I do think about what I'm going to wear onstage, just because I'm a girl and I do that and I try and plan, you know? I wish I was cool enough to just be like, 'Oh I'm going to throw this on,' but it doesn't work like that for me. I have really big tits as well and I have to figure out how they're going to stay in place, so [it's about how to] wear the right clothes for me and still look cool. And then I have big hair and dance like crazy, all of this practical shit I'm thinking about; you don't want to get a camel toe or a wedgie onstage. I'm loving Adidas at the moment--their two-piece track suits and the new Jeremy Scott collaboration--it's brilliant. I'm always wearing my Buffalos all of the time. I love platform shoes. I actually freaking love eBay at the moment. I've bought everything I'm wearing right now, and I bought all of these really tacky diamond chokers--one says 'Princess' on it. I love fake diamonds and stuff.
I know it's like choosing a favorite child, but which song on the album do you feel kind of best encapsulates what you're all about? There's a song called "Grins" on the record and it's one of my favorites to play live. I feel like that one sums the record up perfectly: It's very beautiful but also very sad and desperate and emotional.