The Rush of Fame: An interview with Charli XCX
With her new album True Romance receiving loads of positive press, the 21 year-old Londoner is primed to go from Internet sensation to radio darling any day now. Daniel Jones caught up with her at the EB Festival Budapest to find out more. Above: photo by Jannik Schäfer
Charli XCX may have—as the singer freely admits—spawned from the digital world, but there’s something vibrantly physical about her (onstage and off) that doesn’t sync with what one normally expects when they hear the words “Internet famous”. Of course, Charli has long since progressed past URL fame into sold-out IRL performances aplenty. This is due in part to the Top Ten-charting “I Love It”, which she penned for Swedish duo Icona Pop, but it’s largely thanks to her impressive live show. The twenty-one year-old Londoner brings a raw energy and confidence to the stage that echoes former underground rock queens like Joan Jett, with an impressive collection of pop gems to keep the crowd’s eyes and ears on her every second. With her new album True Romance receiving loads of positive press, she’s primed to go from Internet sensation to radio darling any day now. Of course, fame comes with all sorts of strange add-on packs—including having Urban Outfitters release a ludicrous step-by-step guide on how to dress like you for Halloween.
Charli XCX: I’m quite an easy person to dress as, apparently. According to that guide, you just need a shirt, a skirt and some platforms.
It’s not much of a costume!
It was cool, though. A fan tweeted me saying that she was going as me for Halloween, and that her friend was going as my boyfriend. That was a bit weird.
I bet that person got a lot of, “Nice Miley Cyrus costume!” throughout the night. It’s interesting how easy it is to reach out and tell your favorite singer that you’re dressing up as them on a national holiday based on advice from a major retail chain’s blog.
I feel like as an artist I was born from blogs! I like how everything is so accessible.
Your style definitely comes with a lot of online culture tie-ins.
For me, True Romance was sort of based around the whole reblog/retweet style we live in. I wrote that record over five years, and I grew up over the course of writing it. During that time I started using Facebook, Twitter, and was beginning to learn about social networking at the same time I was learning how to make my own videos. That was a huge inspiration. I did this song with Brooke Candy, “Cloud Aura“, and the video was basically a montage of different icons crying—from Britney Spears to Lauren Conrad from The Hills to Pikachu. It’s so clearly taken from that online world, where life is replicated and aesthetics are pooled together to make something new for yourself. A own magazine bedroom wall collage, I suppose. True Romance feels like my diary… like being in my teenage bedroom.
I thought that the lo-fi DIY-ness of the record fits in with that make-your-own-world aspect of the Internet as well. Is that a path you’re going to continue down production-wise?
To be honest that’s kind of… not necessarily over for me, but I feel like branching out a bit more. I’m already working on the second record right now, and I’m about halfway through it, I guess. It’s much more inspired by Paris, by yé-yé pop, Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot, and France Gall. A lot of iconic sixties French music, basically.
Are you going to get a bob as well?
Probably not! That’s not quite my style. I am wearing stripes, though!
And a beret!
Definitely love the beret. So it’s inspired by that, along with some elements of New Wave bands like The Waitresses and Bow Wow Wow. It’s much more live so far, with lots of guitars. It’s very feminine and powerful. It’s about sex as well, in a very angry way. I think that’s a very feminine thing. It’s a riot record.
So there are a lot of intense lyrics?
Lyrically it’s very dumb, actually. But I think that all the best pop records have dumb hooks. Look at Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy”, or The Flying Lizard’s “I Want Money”. It’s very blunt and dumb, and I really like that because I think it’s clever.
Visually, where does your lyrical inspiration come from?
At the moment, I feel like a lot of the songs I’m writing are the color red, whereas most of the tracks on True Romance are purple to me. I’ve also been watching this film Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains a lot lately. In general, though, I think the best songs are written in thirty minutes or so, without a lot of thought process. When they just come out of you. I tend to write like that.
Are you like that in the studio as well? Do you fancy the one-take, no do-overs approach?
I try to be like that. I always have a microphone recording, and I always put the first thing down that comes out of my head. I think those are the best.
How much of the new album is like that?
Some of it! “I Love It” was like that. I don’t like laboring over things intensively. In a dream, I’d record it all in a month and be done with it. I can’t be bothered to sit and work on things because I don’t think that’s how I make my best music.
Do you still feel that the Internet is affecting you in a positive way?
I consider myself to have “come” from the Internet, from Myspace, Twitter, Tumblr and the like. I feel like, because of the Internet, everything can be anything. There’s less genre distinctions, less boundaries… it’s all just blurring into one beautiful mess. I feel like I use it to create a special world for my fans via my tumblr, creating a connectable aesthetic with pictures of Elvira, the girls from The Craft or whatever. It lets people know what I’m into, and they become part of my world. Which is cool.
There’s a negative side as well, of course…
Of course! Some people are fucking crazy. When you have fourteen year old girls tweeting you that they hope you get AIDS, that’s a bit much. The anonymity of the Internet gives you so much freedom on both sides of the spectrum. You can lead an entire separate life. It’s kind of scary.
In your situation it led to fame, but oftentimes it feels like the Internet can kill off culture and subculture before it even has a chance to develop—be it through overexposure or assimilation of the visual aspects with none of the depth.
I’ve always felt that fads and trends, be it fashion or music or whatever, if they’re good enough or interesting, they’ll break through. If it’s fresh enough, it won’t die. The nature of the Internet itself is so copy-paste, spread spread spread, that it perpetuates constant exposure. That’s what happened with seapunk; suddenly Rihanna is on Saturday Night Live with dolphins behind her, you know?
The great Seapunk Scandal of ’12.
What struck me is how offended everyone got over that! I found that hilarious! People were so angry, and it’s like, “Why?” Get over yourselves.
I like those kids, but how can you get upset when someone’s stylist uses ‘your’ aesthetic when most of it is borrowed from the nineties? It’s like Pure Moods meets The Prodigy with Myst graphics. It’s a ripoff of a ripoff of a ripoff.
Exactly, but isn’t almost everything? ~
Charlie XCX’s True Romance is out now on Asylum. Stay tuned for live footage from her performance at EB Festival Budapest.
Published November 12, 2013. Words by Daniel Jones.