“I just drink champagne and have a good time!” For pop-punk phenomenon Charlotte Aitchison, aka Charli XCX, all it takes is some zebra print and a little liquid courage to rock the mic. And not just any mic – after years of paying her dues by performing at illegal underground London raves, Charli is now owning the stage at festivals like Lollapalooza and New York City’s Governor’s Ball. Her third studio album Sucker came out to rave reviews. Of the title she says, “I suppose it’s like a middle finger to the people in the music industry who previously saw me as like, a ridiculous person, or a joke. Or didn’t think that I could achieve what I’ve achieved. Really it was just kind of me being a bitch, which I like,” she laughs. “I kind of like it. It’s sassy and it’s bitchy.”
Charli’s career took root in 2008 when she started self-releasing tracks on her MySpace page, among them a rendition of “Wires” by Athlete that went viral. Such internet recognition landed her a deal with Asylum, and eventually Atlantic, leading to her major- label debut, True Romance, which was a veritable commercial flop. Charli would have been relegated to musical obsolescence were it not for the lightning that struck the entire pop world when she collaborated with Icona Pop on “I Love It.” The song landed at No. 1 on the UK charts, getting licensed in everything from phone commercials to an episode of Girls, in which Lena Dunham does too much cocaine (it was the actual track playing during that specific scene). Thanks to this stroke of luck, her label held onto her for the sophomore release of Sucker, which Rolling Stone placed at No. 6 on their list of top albums of 2014. Now she is firmly planted in the spotlight. Charli’s eventual solo success hasn’t stopped her from continuing to pursue songwriting. She wrote the hook for Iggy Azalea’s summer anthem “Fancy” and has credits on tracks by artists from Gwen Stefani to Rihanna.
The roots of Charli’s musical ethos can be pinpointed back to an era of the 90s that is currently undergoing its renaissance, with artists like her leading the charge. It was an entire generation ago, for example, that the Spice Girls (whom she listened to fanatically growing up, to the point where she considered them her personal friends) stormed the pop world, coining a brand of neo-feminism that was as much about empowerment as it was about dancing and wearing heels and not giving a fuck. The Spice Girls’ younger audience at the time have now grown into their own, and there is no more definitive an heir to the lineage than Charli. A larger than life personification of that “Spice Girls 2.0” girl power, Charli unabashedly promotes its underlying politics. Something she believes has shifted for the better is women’s actual attitudes towards one another when it comes to support. “Within music there’s definitely another wave of girl power happening right now… I think that’s such a characteristic of our time.” Less evolved, Charli believes, is the broader issue of how women are judged for their clothes, their fashion, their decisions about what to wear and what it supposedly suggests about their dedication to the cause.
Whether you call it “sassy,” “bitchy,” pop punk, girl power or feminism, Charli XCX is bringing her brand of it loudly to the world and has no intention of slowing down. For her, the future is wide open.
Watch The Untitled Magazine’s behind the scenes video with Charli XCX here and read the full interview by Indira Cesarine for The #GirlPower Issue below:
Indira Cesarine: Obviously, a ton has happened to you since the last time we interviewed you, which is pretty incredible. What do you consider to be the most standout moment that’s happened to you in the last year?
Charli XCX: It was probably when I actually ran into Bill Murray in the lobby of a hotel. That was really cool, cause he’s like my dream crush. That was probably the highlight of this year so far for me. And I wasn’t very cool, at all. He was like, ‘I like your shoes’ and I kind of just screamed and ran away! That was definitely a highlight, along with being nominated for two Grammies. That was really cool. Some of the people I’ve gotten to work with are really cool, from Rita Ora to Eric Wareheim. He directed a video for me. I’ve always been a fan of his work. I’ve been able to work with some really talented people this year and that’s been really cool.
IC: What sort of musicians or musical inspirations are you into at the moment?
CXCX: Well, for my previous record, Sucker, I was very much inspired by BowWowWow, and by the Ramones, and Weezer, and the Hives, and also Britney Spears who I’m always inspired by. I’ve just started working on my new record and for this album I’m much more inspired by electronic pop music. I’m really into Robin right now and Sophie, and some Japanese artists, like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Tommy february6 and people like that. So that’s kind of where my head’s at right now.
CXCX: Well we actually only met when we shot the music video for that song. I’d just been asked by her people to go to the studio and write some hooks for her record. So I went and did a few different things and one of them was over “Fancy” which she’d already done her rap on and I thought it was cool so I did my thing on it. She fell in love with it and decided she wanted to release it as is. And that was how we met. Obviously we spent a lot of time together, promoting that song for about a year, so that’s how we got to know each other.
IC: I love the music video, that’s so interesting you guys actually met on set. I thought the cheerleading theme was a cool idea. What was the inspiration behind that?
CXCX: Well it’s basically like a copy of the movie Clueless, which was Iggy’s idea. It’s one of my favorite movies ever. I guess that really was the inspiration. We actually shot it in the same high school they shot the original movie in, which was kind of cool too.
IC: Yeah, that is cool. What do you think about the whole cheerleading thing in America? You guys don’t have it in England, do you?
CXCX: No, we don’t really have cheerleading in England but I actually really wanted to be a cheerleader for a second when I was younger, after I saw Bring It On. I remember I used to design my own cheerleading costumes. I would just draw them for ages. I tried to find a cheerleading squad; there were probably about like ten in the whole of the UK. I feel like I would have made a terrible cheerleader. I would have been donking off and just making the outfits too short probably!
IC: Isn’t that the point?
CXCX: Yeah I guess so, right?!
IC: In the video you seemed to do a good job with all the moves, did you have to practice a lot for that?
CXCX: No, I never really practice for videos. I’m not really one for choreographed dance routines or anything like that. Everything I do is just happening whilst it’s happening in my brain. You know? It’s never a thing that’s thought out or anything. Sometimes, I look totally stupid but I kind of like that.
IC: You just like to be spontaneous?
CXCX: Yeah, yeah. You know it’s the same when I play live. I really like to be spontaneous on stage. I don’t like to premeditate anything.
IC: I know that you recently released a song with Tinashe and Ty Dolla, which is called “Drop That Kitty”. Can you tell me about that particular song?
CXCX: “Drop that Kitty” was a song we were trying to write and pitch to Rihanna for a second. And then Ty fell in love with it and wanted it for his own record. And he wanted me to stay on it, and I wanted Tinashe to be on it too, cause I thought it would be cool if it was a super, aggressively girl power kind of thing, especially with those lyrics. So, that’s kind of how it all came together. We actually performed it at the MTV Movie Awards, which was really fun. And I dressed up as a zebra, which was cool!
IC: Where do you get your style ideas?
CXCX: From a lot of my favorite movies and movie characters. That’s definitely what inspires me most, fashion-wise. I really like a lot of the characters that Rose McGowan plays in movies. From Courtney Shane in Jawbreaker, to her character in Planet Terror and Scream. I really like her, and also I really like her style off-screen, I think it’s cool. She’s actually in a music video of mine, which is cool because she was such a badass the whole day, which was awesome.
IC: Which one was that?
CXCX: “Break the Rules.” She played the kind of evil head teacher, which is cool.
CXCX: I also love movies like The Craft, Clueless and also Ladies and Gentlemen and The Fabulous Stains. All of those movies really inspire me and my fashion sense quite a lot.
IC: You’re into Quentin Tarantino and his films quite a bit?
CXCX: Yes, definitely. I think he’s so fascinating and I love how he creates such worlds with his movies. It’s kind of on the verge of being so bad it’s good, but it’s always incredible, it’s always great. He pushes the genre so far and I really admire that about him. I like the idea of creating a world for people to access. Whether it’s Pulp Fiction, whether it’s Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill; I think he just approaches movies and scripts in such a full throttle kind of way.
IC: You are pretty full throttle. You have this incredible, sexy energy; you’re so comfortable in your skin. Have you always been like that? Like when you were a kid, I know you started music and performing when you were 14. Were you always like “this is me!”? Did you have any moments when you were younger where you were insecure?
CXCX: Yes, totally. I feel like I only really became comfortable in my skin and in who I was at the end of 2013, I suppose? Where I just kind of thought, ‘Fuck it’. I just began to genuinely not give a fuck what people thought about me. Which I’d already said before previously, but never really fully believed. It was only really then that I actually began to believe it, and it so refreshing and liberating. Before that, and still now, I have moments of self doubt, but I think that’s just normal human nature. Especially with what I do, and the way that I live my life, there’s always moments of doubt, whether that’s the way you look, or the music that you’re making, you get scrutinized all the time. I guess you do in any walk of life. I think there’s always room for doubt and moments of insecurity. That’s what makes people people.
IC: What do you think of the whole “body positive” movement, which embraces female curves?
CXCX: It’s great. I mean, I love boobs! I’m all for curvy bodies, and boobs and bums. They’re all great and feminine and amazing. I think it’s wonderful. But I think any body shape is beautiful as long as it’s the right body shape for you and the most comfortable and natural and makes you feel good.
IC: And so, tell me a little bit about your album title, Sucker. What was the inspiration behind it?
CXCX: I suppose it’s like a middle finger to the people in the music industry who previously saw me as a ridiculous person or a joke, or didn’t think that I could achieve what I’ve achieved. It was just kind of me being a bitch, which I like. It’s sassy and it’s bitchy. The first song on the album is named “Sucker” also, and it’s about my views on the music industry and stuff.
IC: You mentioned people that didn’t believe in you. Did you feel like when you were on your path, working on your career that there were people that didn’t take you seriously?
CXCX: Yeah, totally. There’s always nonbelievers, I suppose. I think that my biggest trouble is that I struggle to accept that that’s just the way the industry is. I feel like people are nice to you when you’re doing good things, and people aren’t so nice to you when you’re not, because they don’t care, there’s nothing to gain. I’m always very cynical. I think, ‘You weren’t there from the beginning!’ but I guess that’s part of the game that you have to learn to play, which is stupid and unfair, but that’s just the way it is.
IC: Yeah, it is. You’ve had a ton of hits over the years though, like your song “I Love It” with Icona Pop that you also recorded, which is just brilliant and a huge global success, as well as “Fancy” of course. What do you prefer, between writing and actually performing your own work? Do you have any preference?
CXCX: I can’t really pick between writing and performing. For me it’s like, they’re two different things and I want to do both. I want to have an empire and I want to be a great songwriter and I want to be a great performer and I want to be in front of the camera, but I also really crave to be behind the scenes and working on other things. So I can’t pick; both are equally important to me.
IC: I love your song, “Break the Rules”, which I think is brilliant and it seems like you totally live by that sort of mojo. What is your favorite rule you’ve ever broken?
CXCX: My favorite rule I’ve ever broken? I used to flirt with teachers a lot in school. That was fun. Apart from that, I was kind of a nerd in school. I actually really liked school, which is probably not the rock-n-roll answer that you’re looking for! But I like art and I like learning. I actually did one kind of weird art piece video where I put burgers down my pants and danced to Major Lazer. That was kind of I guess a weird rule I broke. My art teacher kind of freaked out.
IC: Does it take a lot to shock you?
CXCX: I don’t know, not sure. It really depends. I get shocked by different things. I get shocked by the internet quite a lot, because it literally blows my mind how it’s this crazy other realm where people become monsters. That shocks me quite a lot and also petrifies me.
IC: What do you mean, people can become monsters?
CXCX: There’s just so much hate floating around on the internet. I don’t mean that it’s directed at me. It’s just that people can become whoever they like on the internet. Sometimes that’s a great, fantastic, creative thing, and other times it’s totally scary and crazy, especially when some of these people are probably twelve years old. It kind of blows my mind a little bit!
IC: Yeah, they don’t have to operate with a filter. You can say or do whatever without any consequences or fear of repercussion… As you know, this is our “Girl Power” issue. What do you think about the word ‘Girl Power’? Is that something that you’re into? Obviously since the Spice Girls, it’s been around a while. Some people love it, some people hate it.
CXCX: Well, I grew up around girl power. I grew up listening to the Spice Girls; they were such a huge part of my life. I kind of felt like they were actually my real friends. So yeah, I love the term! I think it’s a really positive term. When it comes to music, there’s definitely another wave of girl power happening right now. I think that’s great and really amazing and something that a lot of people are talking about. And I think that’s such a characteristic of our time. I had an interview with Debbie Harry for a magazine. We were talking a lot about girl power and she was saying how it didn’t really exist when she was performing at the peak of Blondie; she was saying how you could really just expect a girl to stab you in the back. I feel like it’s kind of the total opposite now. I feel like most females are really on that level of mutual respect and love for one another in their artistry and I think that’s really cool. I really respect people who are like that, and people who aren’t, I don’t have any time for. So yeah, I like girl power, and I like how it’s increasing.
IC: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
CXCX: Of course, 100 percent. How could I not? Definitely.
IC: I know you’re into super sexy styling and clothing and you’ve been known to say you love stripper heels. Do you find wardrobe choices that are sexy to be empowering?
CXCX: Yeah, but not exclusively. I like all kinds of clothes. I’m a really big fan of early Vivienne Westwood from the ‘Let It Rock’ kind of era and sex era and some of that stuff was super sexy but some of it was also really hardcore punk – like huge, oversized, punk, hardened suits with safety pins and shaved heads and I think that’s sexy too. I think clothes definitely do make me feel empowered, but they don’t necessarily have to be stereotypically sexy to do that. They can just be whatever I feel.
IC: What do you think about the idea that—obviously it’s a big, sort of controversy with how women dress—that if you’re too sexy, you won’t to be taken seriously.
CXCX: I think it’s bullshit. I don’t think the way that a woman dresses really affects whether she’s a valid feminist or not. I think there’s so much more to consider than that. Fashion, for example, determines what you wear, not whether you’re a good feminist. I think that’s so stupid. I think as long as a woman is in control of what she’s wearing and what she’s saying and doing, because she wants to and loves to and it makes her love herself then I think it’s a good thing. Clothing has nothing to do with feminism, to be honest.
IC: So what sort of advice would you give to a girl who really wanted to be a popstar?
CXCX: I might just say make loads of music. Practice making music, practice writing songs. Just write. Try and write good stuff. Yeah, that’s all I would say. I don’t know anything about like life. I just kind of muddle through this however I can.
IC: So I know you toured with The Bleachers. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the highlights of the tour?
CXCX: I love Jack, he’s great. He actually gets pedicures on tour. He likes to do them once a week, which I feel is quite a high pedicure-to-day ratio. He likes karaoke too, which is awesome. I like karaoke. We get on really well and he doesn’t have an annoying ego which is great. He is a clean freak though. Like he’s really super clean, but we’ve spoken about that.
IC: Are you messy?
CXCX: I’m more lazy than messy, but I think laziness needs the mess from time to time.
IC: I know you’ve been open about doing drugs at festivals. What’s your opinion on recreational drugs?
CXCX: Chuckles… I would say, ‘everything in moderation’. That’s probably the right, correct answer. There’s also a camera pointed right in my face right now, while we’re doing this interview, so I’m gonna go with everything in moderation being the path I follow.
IC: So, fast forward ten years. What would you want to be doing?
CXCX: Well working in music, definitely. I’d like to direct music videos at some point; that would be really cool. And just writing. I really would love to be one of the best songwriters around. That would be really cool. I would like to write for a lot of different artists, so that’d be really fun.
IC: Do you get very nervous when you perform?
CXCX: No, I just drink champagne and have a good time!
Interview & Photography by Indira Cesarine for The #GirlPower Issue
Stylist: Karen Levitt
Hair by Ryan Kazmarek
Make-up by Colby Smith
Photographed at Haus, NYC