A long distance phonecall with Charli XCX

So this was a frustrating interview, purely from a technical point of view. I bloody love Charli XCX, and much like her career has just crept up on everyone, so has my love of her songs. I’ve often noted how I get obsessed with one singular track and put it on endless repeats, and the mid-album single SuperLove has taken a serious hammering chez Bob. The album Sucker is amazing, like all the best bits of Shampoo mixed in with my favourite elements of electronic pop. So my only frustration was that our phone connection - from San Francisco to Brixton - kept dropping out. I’d just spoken to Anne Rice in New Orleans just minutes before this chat with no problem, so I’ll blame her phone. Anyway here goes:

I’m gonna start with the first time I saw you play, which was in Munich at the Queerbeats festival, at the start of 2009...

In Munich? Oh yeah, wow. With Peaches?

Yeah! That was an amazing early show in terms of playing in a queer space, and one of your early “art rave” experiences. What’s it like thinking back to that time and how has it informed what you do now?

It’s crazy because I remember when I got that show, that was my first show out of the UK and one of my first proper shows ever, one where it wasn’t just ‘oh we’re having a houseparty in London’ or a friends house or whatever, it was like an actual show and I just remember I was so excited. ‘Cos Peaches had hit me up directly about that and it was cool. I remember being so excited to play that show and that kind of excitement it feels the same now, I guess it’s just I’ll get excited about different things. It’s weird looking back and it feels like I’ve been working on this for a very long time, so it’s cool that it’s happened. I’m happy that people are actually listening to my music now and actually seem to care.

Often I’ll ask popstars ‘what do you think of your gay fans’ but with you, I think you just attract a kind of crowd that don’t care, in the best possible way.

Yeah, and that’s great. I mean I love whenever I play at my shows, all of my fans are so - they’re so carefree, they all just wanna be there and have a good time, they all wanna be like - I feel like the best thing about my fans is that they’re all just like sooo different, they understand…

[phone cuts out, I wrestle with a window to try and drown out the sound of a dog barking]

Hey sorry, not sure what happened there, where did you get up to?

I go upto 'the greatest thing about my fans is…'

Well just that I feel like whenever I play at my shows all the fans there are just so wild and free and I feel like encourage people through my, or I want people to be themselves, I feel like I’m not really the stereotypical popstar in many senses. The way I look, the fact that I dance like an absolute crazy person, I don’t really care and that’s so liberating and I love when my fans are also like that, I want them to just be themselves and it’s always nice to feel that atmosphere at one of my shows.

Has anyone ever tried to tame your dancing? Have you had a choreographer?

Oh well I mean I did choreography for the Iggy [Azalea] video but that was just kind of funny. Not the video sorry, the performance but that was really funny because she totally knew that I couldn’t dance and like…

Urgh. [phone cuts out, I have to hang up]

Hey! Round Three.

Sorry, so where did you hear upto?

I got ‘Iggy totally knew that I couldn’t dance’

Oh yeah, so I was saying for the Iggy performances I learnt some choreography but it became an ongoing joke between me and her that I could never get it right. And every TV performance I fucked up something, which was kind of funny. It was weird was by the end of it I actually did really enjoy it, it was funny to be because I never saw myself doing that. But at my own shows, or that kind of shit, I never ever like tamed my dancing. I remember when I first started doing shows and when I was first with Atlantic they were like ‘you need to look more beautiful onstage, you need to watch how you pose because photographers will capture you in a bad angle’ and I was literally like fuck that. I would rather give an amazing show for the people who are there, I don’t really care about what I look like onstage, it’s all about an energy, a wilderness for me, you know, it’s not all about the appearance.

Totally, it reminds me of Peaches actually, how she wanted to get crowds to take pictures of her hairy crotch and pre-empt that notion of being papped or posing.

Sorry, say that again

You reminded me of Peaches in that she wants people to take pictures of her in unflattering poses.

Right. I mean, I’m just like yeah whatever. I care more about the show. The people who are at the show, rather than people who are looking at the show through pictures, id rather put on an amazing performance and not care about whether I’ve got sweat patches or whatever.

I wanted to talk about your song Famous. There’s definitely an irony now in that you’re singing about pretending to be famous, and yet you’re now in a situation where you are actually properly famous.

It’s funny because I don’t see myself as that at all. I honestly don’t, it’s weird to me when people say ‘oh, but you’re famous’. I don’t think that at all, because I guess since Fancy I’ve just been in the studio, I don’t enjoy the idea of going to some fancy party and having to pretend to be friends with some people I’ve never met before, it really freaks me out. I like hanging out with my old friends from school who don’t give a shit about my music career, it’s funny to me when people say you’re famous, I don’t see it like that. I’m in my own brain about the whole thing that I don’t really notice it, I’m in the studio and it’s weird, I used to care about it when I was younger, the idea of being famous, and then I think the more I got older the less I wanted it and more I wanted to make music because I think that whole other side of things seems super stressful to me now. So, I don’t know it’s weird. That song for me, I understand your point and also it’s a really dumb song anyway, it makes me laugh.

Do you get noticed on the street?

I do, sometimes I’ll get noticed in the street but that really depends where I am. Like the other week I went to my friends gig in New York and people I guess have the same fans I have so people noticed me there. But I can walk around most places and be in my own brain but then also I don’t really notice. We were in Japan the other week and I walked into a bar and I was waiting to meet someone and my manager was ‘you do know that everyone is talking about you’ and it was a really small bar and it was weird to look around and notice that everyone was whispering about me and it made me feel like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, I was like OH MY GOD but it’s not something that I’ve really clocked on to to be honest.

Now, your album title is kind of aggressive but playful at the same time. Is it referencing you or your fans or anyone in particular?

Right. It’s kind of referencing a time where… I dunno. It’s partially aggressive for sure, it’s partially tongue in cheek. I guess the whole record is, part of me became very annoyed at the music industry at the end of last year about - I feel like I got to see a different side of the way hits were made and the whole process behind making hit top 40 music and it opened my eyes to a lot of things and I suppose partially it was a reaction against that. Also partially it was the fact that I’m aware I’m totally part of that world now, I do big writing sessions and it’s partially me playing up to a pop role and partially its me commenting on how I think it’s pointless and weird. And also I guess it’s like a middle of finger to all the people who never liked or cared about my music and now they’re like ‘oh we always thought you were great’. But I dunno, it’s partially a comment on me going for the pop thing now and yeah it’s a mixture of messages but also I wanted to have my own lollipop made, and loads of japanese cute lollipops and merch and all that shit, so partially its that dream being lived out in my brain.

It’s funny you say people not liking your earlier stuff and in previous interviews you’ve downplayed some of your first two singles, but I still really like Art Bitch.

Oh you do? thanks

Yeah and for me that song was the closest to foreshadowing the kind of pop stuff that you’re doing now. I feel like it was always there in your stuff. I guess I’m asking if you still hate it.

I mean, I’m aware there might be some of them that are good, but it’s a personal thing for me. I’m sure everyone has that thing that they’re a bit embarrassed about that they did when they did when they’re younger and for me it’s one of those things. Even though I agree that Art Bitch is kind of a cool song, but some of the other stuff I’m like Oh Whatever, that was before I you know, began to even recognise who I was as a person, so I hide away from it a bit. But I’m sure if I was in that situation I would think some of those songs are kind of cool. [laughs]

Now your new single Break The Rules is about not wanting to go to school and yet you’re very obviously not at school any more…

Oh yeah I’m not at school, I turned 22… so I’m not at school. That song for me is not, I feel like people who know me will know that that song is not at all serious. For me that’s a very tongue in cheek song, I’ve always thought that stupid songs are the best songs in terms of their catchiness and popness, and I feel like that was what I was doing with that song. That song was actually written when I went to my first ever writing camp or whatever, ended up writing that song, I was kind of joking and then realised I was really into it and came up with this idea for a video and I feel like I decided I wanted to make a song and a video that I would’ve loved when I was at school. I remember when I was at school and I discovered Pink and Avril Lavigne, I just remember being WOW THIS IS SO COOL AND BADASS.

It’s funny thinking about fans in terms of you now being able to do that, make the pop music that you would’ve wanted to listen to.

Yeah, to be honest I’ve always made the music that I wanted to listen to and it’s actually funny that I really do listen to my own music more than any other music. To be honest I’ll only really listen to my own music and like maybe some Britney and that’s it. It’s probably really boring and depressing but, I have to like it! I’ve always made music that I’ve liked but right now this record passionately feels like the most me ever. I really feel like even though with True Romance, I love that album and I’m really proud of that album, for me that was partially finding my feet and understanding how the music industry played out. And now with this record I feel like I’m so much more conscious of like people and my vision and this record feels like the best thing I’ve ever done.

I guess one of the massive differences between pop music when you started out and where it is now is this whole thing about collaborations. So many popstars are working together, it’s just a really common thing. I didn’t really notice it before, and I know it happened before, but the other day I was listening to the new Ariana Grande album and literally every song is featuring someone, and the ones that aren’t featuring someone are co-written by someone, it seems like a more interesting way of working that people aren’t doing a solo record of just one person. In terms of your career, has it helped you find your feet, being about to do collaborations?

Could you repeat that last bit again?

I went off on one didn’t I?

Sorry, my hearing is really bad.

In terms of your own career, has doing collaborations helped you?

Yeah definitely, it’s something that I love to do and I know I’ve done quite a lot for, considering I’ve only had one record out, I feel like I’ve done a lot of collaborations. But it’s cool and definitely of course it’s helped, the Icona Pop collaboration was my first ever ever time that I’d written a song for someone else and I guess the first time was my dream collaboration and it was so amazing to see that blow up and that song opened so many doors for me. That collaboration was a huge deal and Iggy of course she’s been 100% amazing throughout this whole thing and she taught me so much about being a legit person. I admire her so much, she’s one of the most hard working people that I’ve met in the industry. Also I just like collaborations, especially when girls do collaborations cos that was always my favourite growing up, like Eve and Gwen Stefani would collaborate and that would make me really excited, it was really good fun to see a moment like that but then also with I Love It, I feel like that could’ve been like if The Spice Girls and Shampoo would’ve collaborated. That would’ve been one of those moments.

If what sorry?

I was just kind of going off on my own brain, the idea of that kind of collaboration of Spice Girls and Shampoo…

I was always more of a Shampoo boy, they seemed a bit more down to earth

Really? They were always the [*something*] version...

The what?

Oh don’t worry, I really don’t want to go through that! But yeah they were so like beautiful.

The line is really bad, but I’ve got 15 minutes so I’ll wrap it up there. Thank you.

Okay cool, my hearing is super bad, I’m a bit deaf...

And then we descend into goodbye pleasantries.