We meet the singer, songwriter and part-time rapper spearheading a new golden era of pop, with her new album Sucker, out today.
Charlotte Aitchinson, aka Charli XCX, was not your typical teenager. Born in Bishops Stortford, by the age of 14, she was chucking glitter over herself and ripping up teddy bears at Hackney raves. On any given night, the impetuous teen could be found in a dingy Dalston basement belting out the lyrics to the debut album shed already begun writing, a record about rock n roll trolls and dinosaur sex. Now 22, shes finally finding worldwide acclaim by being one of the realest pop stars of our generation, refusing to brush her hair for the satisfaction of a label and challenging existing notions of image and songwriting. Snapped up by Atlantic Records in 2012, Charli dropped two mixtapes in quick succession, releasing her first major label studio album, True Romance, a year later. Although it didnt have the impact she was possibly hoping for, the singer, songwriter and part-time rapper temporarily turned her attention to writing hits for other people. First, she helped propel Swedish pop duo Icona Pop into superstardom with the platinum worldwide smash I Love It. Then, she went back to school in plaid miniskirts and knee-high socks with Iggy Azalea for their co-written number one Fancy. Judging the timing perfectly, she popped out her own single Boom Clap, which did so well that she had to put her new album Sucker on pause until now. No longer a Disney grunger, Aitchinson has transformed into Charli XCX 3.0: a fully-fledged, Grammy-nominated leading lady of pop. Featuring riot grrrl influences, Sucker is a dark anthology brimming with attitude, beatz and brilliant lyrics… And we love it!
How did the writing process for Sucker begin? It began with me feeling angry at the state of pop music. I wanted to make something rebellious, loud and super angry. Thats where it all started. Sucker is about rebellion.
Growing up you were influenced by Ed Banger, Eminem and Britney Spears. How would you describe your sound now?
My sound is definitely pop, but with a punk edge. On this record I was listening to a lot of French yé-yé pop, that 60s Paris sound, so lots of Brigitte Bardot and France Gall. I was also listening to a bunch of punk and new wave bands: everything from The Ramones to Bow Wow Wow. While visually I was inspired by Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains and lots of Robert Palmer music videos!
Are you into Riot Girrrl? I ask because I can hear it in Sucker
Totally. I love Kathleen Hanna!
As an artist you create a whole universe. At this point are you still your own creative director or is there a Team Charli?
Im very much my own creative director, I hand pick everyone I work with and I write the treatments for my music videos too. Every time Im on a TV show, the clothing I wear is all me, I have a very strong visual aesthetic and I dont want anyone to mess with that!
Do you have a favourite track on Sucker? The one that you can say, yeah, I nailed this?
Need Ur Luv. Its not like anything Ive ever written before and its definitely the song that took the longest to get right. I made it with Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend, whos become a really good friend of mine.
You also co-wrote Fancy with Iggy Azalea. Were you both surprised when that track blew up?
Well, we never expected it. When we were writing Fancy, Iggy and I were underdogs. I always thought it was a cool song, but you never know how much a song is going to take off, and that one really blew up. A lot!
Whats your song writing process like?
I dont like having a process, because you cant craft a hook. I like being able to do whatever.
Is there a difference between writing for yourself as opposed to another artist?
No, not really. Whenever Im writing for someone else I always think they asked me to do this because they like my style, so I dont change it. I always try and write songs that I think are cool.
Theres been a lot of noise lately surrounding feminism and pop. Do you tune in to the discussions?
Yeah, I do. The more people talking about feminism the better. Its great! Women are using feminism as a topic, both lyrically and via performance. Its really important to stand up for your rights as a woman.
Is there anyone on your dream producer list?
Im funny with who I work with, Im quite closed off. I like to work with friends and people I trust. But if Im a fan of someones I will always reach out to him or her. Like right now Im really looking forward to working with this guy called Sophie from the UK. Hes super sick.
What were your highlights of 2014? Both the ups and downs…
Definitely being nominated for two Grammys and getting to perform at the MTV Europe Music Awards. If Im completely honest, I didnt really have any low points… 2014 was a really incredible year for me and really fun!
Everyone from Mixmag to The New York Times love Sucker. It must feel really good when people get what youre trying to do?
Im super happy that people love my record! But if they didnt, then I wouldnt care either. Im just happy that I made the record that I wanted to make. Of course, when people say nice things in the media and when people get it, thats really cool.
You take the art form of pop very seriously. Do you think were entering a golden era of pop in 2015?
Totally, I really believe that! There are so many interesting pop artists right now who are reshaping what it means to be a pop star. Pop is becoming more real and emotional.
While youre still very young, youve been in the music game for a while now. Do you feel like a veteran, or still new to this?
I guess I feel a bit like a veteran Ive been around for a while now, but I like that. I like that I feel a lot older than I actually am…
You describe music in colour, dubbing previous albums as gold, black and pink. Do you have synesthesia?
I think so. I relate a lot of my work to visual elements. It helps me write lyrics and understand the songs better.
I heard that your parents used to come to raves with you when you were underage to watch you perform…
Yeah, they did, which at the time I found so embarrassing! Theres nothing worse when youre a teenager… But now I look back and I think, wow, that was really cool. Mum and dad are really cool.
Finally, what are you listening to whilst on the promo trail?
Right now Im listening to Spooky Black, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Sophie.
Read the full interview up on i-D & in the Music Issue of i-D