New Music To Know: Charli XCX Turns Pop On Its Head
by Jay Tilles
Her music has been described as synth-pop, dark wave, new wave, tumblrwave, indietronic, gothtronic and post-apocalyptic pop. Regardless of genre, one thing is certain: Charli XCX’s style is anything but ordinary.
The British singer-songwriter and former art school student describes herself as “Wednesday Addams meets Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice meets Baby Spice.” Having thrown teddy bears into crowds, licked photographers’ lenses, or writhed across boardroom tables, she‘s equal parts musician and showman.
Now 20 years old, Charli XCX (real name: Charlotte Aitchison) was just 14 when she recorded her first two songs in her bedroom. After posting them online, the tracks caught the attention of local club promoters, who requested she perform live at their venues.
Growing up as any impressionable teen girl during Britney Spears’ most formidable years, Charli looked up to the pop princess and even set her sights on emulating her career. But as time went on and Charli’s style matured, so did her tastes. Despite leaving her fondness for Spears to her youth, Charli still respects the pop star’s production, heralding songs like “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”
“I guess I just realized that I wanted to make my weird pop album and write the Britney sh** for other people,” she told Radio.com.
Despite Charli’s ability to write snappy club anthems, she much prefers the darker fare, evident in songs like “Cloud Aura” (see below). With a potpourri of ’80s influences, she feels most comfortable referring to herself as a pop artist, yet it seems those filling out her shows are more interested in the underground. That said, her songs are undeniably pop in their instrumentation, so it is worth wondering: Will American pop radio embrace her edginess?
“I feel like there’s good pop music and bad pop music, and I feel like a lot of [radio] stations in America play bad pop music — pop music with no emotion, pop music that’s kinda flat,” she explained.
Charli is no fan of acts like “Flo-Rida or Pitbull” that are just doing it to “make money and nothing else.” An example of mainstream pop that’s more in Charli’s lane (and that she’s a fan of) is Tegan & Sara (“there’s passion behind it,” she said.)
Six years ago, Charli began slicing and dicing other artists’ songs, laying her own lyrics on top. The tracks multiplied, spawning mixtapes. But for Charli, these mixtapes don’t carry the same weight as her first “real album,” True Romance, released last month.
“I really put my heart and soul into the record whereas with the mixtapes, while they were very much me and important, I feel like they were just things that were on my mind at that point,” she said.
Charli has a knack for turning other producers’ beats and instrumentals into fat, fizzy melodies.
A fan of respected fellow British beat producer Gold Panda, Charli confessed she’d “been a fan” of his track “You” for some time. After some time “messing around,” she sampled and looped a few bars, laying vocals over it. Surprised by his quick approval via phone, she completed the track and paid homage by titling it “You (Ha Ha Ha).”
“I was surprised no one had used the beat before because it’s so amazing,” she said. “I guess I kinda got lucky.”
Although “You (Ha Ha Ha)” features punctuation in the form of the f-word, it’s the Grindhouse-style music video that got Charli into some hot water recently. The clip follows the brightly-styled singer bouncing through a gun factory, loading gun shells, trading the lead tips for lipstick. Having been released just weeks after the Newtown, CT, shooting, Charli quickly issued a response saying in part, “The idea is to make lipstick, not war, but I’d like to say sorry if anyone has mistaken this video for advocating violence.”
While her very first song took only a week to produce in her bedroom, recording True Romance was an entirely different beast, taking “nearly five years to complete.”
“I’m involved in every single aspect of my songs,” she explained. “I write every part of my songs. I sit with producers and I know what I want. That’s me on the record, my words, my thoughts.”
Having started at 14, now the ripe old age of 20, Charli knows exactly where she wants to be in another six years.
“I see myself writing great songs for other people, making amazing records, perhaps I’ll be on my third for fourth record,” she said. “I’d really like to make my mark on pop music.”
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