One young lady that I’ve been hearing about over and over again this past year is Charli XCX. My music industry mates both behind and in front of the radio would whisper in conspiratorial tones ‘’keep a look out for Chari XCX – she’s about to blow up!’’ this year she’s featured on both Icona Pops hit ‘’I love it’’- which she wrote. She also appeared on Iggy Izaea’s hit ‘’fancy’’ and this past month she performed her own hits boom clap and break the rules at the MTV Video Music Awards. A quick check on twitter confirms that she’s spent the past year flying across the globe daily for tours and promo, as well as having been nominated for loads of global ‘’ones to watch’’ and awards this year.
So, she’s a bona fide singer songwriter that’s flying that British flag globally. She’s much bigger in Australia and America than she is the in the UK. I had to meet her to catch up on her story so far.
Like so many of this digital generation, this mixed race, Hertfordshire girl the Internet to make it to the top in her chosen field. Every music star from Rita Ora, Britney and Christina Aguilera is vying to work with this straight talking chic who’s full of contradictions regards feminism, youth movements and more.
I caught up with Charli who was born Charlotte Emma Aitchison, at a shoot for BEAT Magazine in Shoreditch Studios where she’d flow in directly from new york to politely take her seat and follow the stylist and photographers instructions for their shoot.
Its crazy to think this Bishops Stortford girl is making teenage music anthems for today’s generation of girls across the world that, like her, grew up on a diverse mix of music from pop to hip-hop.
She reveals that in her early days she had a fascination with London and city life. Her musical influences were Britney spice girls, shampoo, and typical girl pop. ‘‘At 14 i discovered Ed Banger and got into those acts’’.
At the age of 14 in 2007, she began recording her debut album on a loan granted by her parents…it takes one persuasive teen to convince adults to invest in the fickle music industry. ‘‘I never saw those songs as a debut album I just did songs at 14 that I put onto the internet, I made a deal with my dad, who ran a small venue in Bishops Stortford, I wanted to record some demos so he lent me the money to do that, so as soon as I made some cash, I paid him back. I don’t want people to think I was a spoilt rich kid cos I really wasn’t’’.
Her mothers Indian, and her fathers Scottish. Being from a mixed race background, she’s representing the very current generation of young Brits but this didn’t really have a massive influence one way or another of her influences or her experience of growing up ‘’ my parents never really pushed any particular music onto me so I just listened to Britney all day. I always saw myself as very normal and felt very comfy, my friends never made a big deal about my background. My parents were just happy with me doing whatever I wanted to do. I didn’t really see myself as being different, there was never really a thing made about it., I was very unaware of it until very recently actually and coming from the generation I’m from I don’t see anything , I just listened to Britney spears all the time’’.
In the same way that music reflects the society it comes from, celerity and tabloid faces should do the same. In recent years a lot of more diverse faces than before have sprung up with names like Jessica Ennis, Alexa Chung, Leona Lewis, Lewis Hamilton, and Charli, who all reflect the changing face of this generation. These declining cultural barriers must only be a good thing and Charli acknowledges that for her parent’s generation it was a lot different. ‘‘I think its great and amazing that any industry can be diverse, we can all just do what we want to do, coming from the generation that I come from its not shocking, but I recall my parents telling me when they were first a couple it was a shocking thing. I think its great to fly the flag for where you’re from’’. This reminds me of something that Olympian Jessica Ennis said when she described herself as more Sheffield than mixed race when asked where she identifies most strongly with.
Charli was signed at 15 and is still only 22 so no overnight success, it’s taken her years to get where she is. Being spotted so young and not going down the reality TV show route though, she says is a blessing in disguise. ‘‘When I was younger I was angry at that reality show world, cos I felt like I was working really hard and not getting the success that I deserved, but now I can see that it’s a good thing. My journey to where I am today has been long winded, with lots of twists and turns, and allowed me to become who I am. It didn’t happen for me sooner because I wasn’t ready, but the weird routes have helped me understand and given me more control’’.
This is demonstrated by her never getting lonely when on the road ‘’ I actually don’t get homesick- I love my family but I love touring. cos I’ve been doing this now for so long i have a lot of friends across the world. I stay grounded cos my mates don’t care about Charli XCX. That’s great cos i don’t wanna be a diva. If I am on the radio they turn it off lol!
She comes from a generation of artists where blogs and social media are paramount, and acknowledges the importance of online presence in her marketing…’’for me I wouldn’t be here without the internet, I like it, it’s a difficult thing to figure out and can cause stress for people but it keeps me accessing my fans that’s great’’.
She has nearly 200k twitter followers, engages with her fans regularly and is more than aware of the pro’s and con’s of being so available to her fans 24-7. ’’Just as easy you can access them, they can access you. but I see myself as a musician not a celeb. I see myself as an anti pop star, I think if you put out stuff about your personal life you become about that instead of your music.
When pressed on her definition of an ‘’anti pop star’’ she explains ‘’nowadays there seem to be a lot of rules about being a pop star, things you have to say the lies you have to tell, if u do something crazy it should be crazy weird and wild not walking out of a club drunk at 2am, I’m not into the tabloid crazy world. Also I’m just like a bit really weird. i don’t have time to play into the traditional pop star rules. I don’t like being rude I think it’s much harder to be rude, and much easier to be nice’’.
Pop stars working the web, is the norm now. A few years ago Rihanna wrote on twitter that only she would run her twitter and that there would be no more ‘’corny label tweets’ Now that Charli’s established herself, she’s still sitting in the pilot seat of her social media. ‘‘I do all my own social media its not time consuming its better when its from my brain as opposed to someone 20 years older at the label’’.
So like Bieber, the web and online marketing has had a huge impact on her career- in early 2008, she began posting songs from her album, on her official myspace. I also love the fact that she seems to have a fascination and obsession with female alternative rappers like Iggy azalea and uffie (I use the word ‘rappers’ loosely). ’’At 14 I began to make my own music, I wanted to make cool rap, white girl rap and I completely failed cos it didn’t sound good at all’’.
She continues to gush about her love of female rappers
‘’I just wish I was a rapper, I was obsessed with Uffie, I’ve always thought that rappers were really cool and so I wanted to work with them cos i don’t think I’m good enough to be one. They’re just so fierce strong and powerful and I love that in a woman like Iggy or Brooke candy. I always have fun with them’’.
…’’but this guy Chaz Cool found me online and invited me to come and play at a party. I’d been to London and hadn’t gone out there so I was like yeay I’m so excited. I told my parents. They freaked out ‘’you wanna go to an illegal rave in hackney wick, I said they could come so they did, and that’s how I got into that scene’’.
The idea of adult parents at an illegal rave doesn’t come without its awkward scenarios though. Charli recalls a story about when her father was offered the MDNA drug but thought the seller had said MDA- the flooring boards. Her father reassured the seller that he would if he had enough room in the car shocking the seller who wondered just how much he wanted to buy! LOL
So this Straight talking, dark pop princess, turned attending raves at 14 into an international pop career.
Like Timbaland, Kanye, Jessie J, Naughty Boy and more, CHARLI’S the latest in a long list of acts that started writing/producing hits for others. of course, record labels are now hip to the pie chart money split and if they can cut someone out to make more profit then that’s the strongest card to play. Signing charli means they keep all the writing, publishing and keep their golden egg -laying chicken close to home. She’s responsible for writing some of this years biggest pop hits from ‘’fancy’’ to ‘’I love it’’. The way the music industry talks about her, it sounds like she knocks out hits in minutes. Is it really that simple? She admits ‘’I love it was written in 30 mins in a hotel room, songs that come the fastest are the better ones as its your instinct that the 1st recorded thing is the best’’.
Her hit boom clap is on constant rotation on radio but Charli was hitting the big time early in her career with zero radio play. We debate whether one day mainstream radio and its monotonous playlists will all just die ‘’my 1st record didn’t get any radio play at all and I still managed to tour all across the states, but now my singles are on radio I see its good for it. Its not detrimental to your success, there are lots of different types of radio. It’s definitely helped me get a wider audience but the internets what’s really helped me and music thrives there. It’s hard to say about radio-it surely pushes pop acts to another level’’
With break the rules there are young girls globally loving to embrace their rebellious side- but I’m a bit older than Charli and have seen many a strong rebellious female music star in my time push the envelope, I don’t think anything will in my mind top Madonna’s sex book, so I wonder if there can be such a thing as a rebel in pop any more? Or have all the rebellious stances been played out? ‘’ I think you can be a rebel still, it goes back to my earlier definition of pop star vs. anti-pop star. You can break the rules by even wearing what you want to wear and not playing by the rules of record labels. I dress how I dress for me. ’My new music album isn’t a straight up pop record in way so I am reveling by making exactly what I want and I hope to push boundaries with that. Other artists like Grimes, Lorde and Sky Ferreira are really pushing the envelope too.
‘’I’ve always been different; when I was younger I had media training and was told I was the worst person that she had ever media trained. Then there was a meeting just about my hair and what to do with it. I was like ‘ what is this about?! You guys don’t even have hair’.
Most people are intrigued that Charli gave her hit song – I LOVE IT away. Like Ne-Yo many years ago who wrote ‘’you should let me love you’’ for Mario and then was plucked to be the front man, leaving fans to ask ‘where is Mario now?’’ its anyone’s guess as to whether we will see another huge hit for Icona Pop again or whether they will do a Psy and fall off the radar into one hit wonder world.
Charli says there’s no way that ‘’I love it’’ would have ever made her own personal music catalogue ‘’that song was written 2011/12 i was in Stockholm and writing with this guy Patrick Berger, I was nervous, I asked him to send some beats, he did, one was for I love it, I wrote it quickly and took it to him the next day, he loved it and said it was cool. We were going to get a coffee and bumped into the girl from icona pop and she heard the song and her group recorded it. I didn’t want it cos I didn’t want to make a record like that. It was nothing like the record I’d already slaved away for five years and it didn’t fit on my album but fitted so well with them’’.
After “I love it” was released, Charli had said that she had her ‘’first real experience with the bad side of the music industry and how people can change and how it can become like more of a struggle. It wasn’t a very enjoyable experience. When it should be a time for celebration it’s never really been that nice’. Its funny when u see the whole music industry machine pump into action. Even though it was Icona Pops song I observed a lot from my position, when moneys involved some people go crazy, it became a bit weird and then thereafter I’d always be asked to keep recreating that song for lots of other artists. I started becoming jaded and annoying. It opened up a lot of weirdness to me’’.
FELLOW MUSIC PEERS
Charli’s a fan of ladies like Kate bush, Britney and Bjork- she said that when she was 7 she really wanted to be a spice girl, and that girl power never dies! – She also comes across as a powerful, kick ass girl bringing a new round of girl power; something she see’s herself fitting into comfortably. ‘’ I feel like there’s a huge wave of girl power around now with feminism regularly being discussed by high profile artists, I knew what girl power was when I was younger bit wasn’t picking up on it when I was 7, but now there’s so much to talk about and that people are talking about it is great. I want to encourage my fans to be themselves and be strong females and never feel like they’re not adequate and that they have to fit into rules, I feel like my fans already believe that anyway’’.
She’s a fireball of contradictions; she delights and provokes, is passionate and pushes the boundaries of pop music with her stances on sexy outfits vs. empowered women. When it comes to sexuality and image she is strong about her position. ‘’I think u can be a feminist in the pop industry and I definitely see myself as a feminist. I think there are different perceptions on what a feminist is and how u should dress, but those boundaries are being broken down, people say how can u be a feminist when you dress like that and I don’t even understand that statement because I believe that men and women can wear whatever they like cos its about equality’’.
Her views on the Miley Cyrus twerking storm are supportive. ‘‘I think she was just doing her and good for her, I think she’s punk and one of the only punk artists out there now. I’ve seen her live show and its genuinely one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life and then I think good for her. I don’t think that performance was thought through and intended to cause as much offence as it did’’.
As well as girl power, she also mentioned that you’d noticed ‘’a decay in youth culture, stating, “I don’t feel like there’s anything for people to really grab onto these days. There’s no movement to speak of.” (Rolling stone mag)
With me she expands ‘’i feel like in the 60s there was a real feeling and identity in the air that everyone could be a part of and hold on to and now I feel that’s not the same anymore, it still lives a bit now, but more on the internet as opposed to being in reality. There’s nothing to be angry about that’s when all the best stuff in pop happens when people are angry, and that’s why feminism is exciting to me cos its something that’s important instead of just falling out of a nightclub going ‘’here I am, again, doing this, nothing really important again’’
Charli has toured with Coldplay and Ellie Goulding, and is building up quite a celeb following- Rita Ora and Britney want to work with her but she’s turned down working with some stars that have come calling- (She rejected a collaboration with Christina Aguilera). She shares with me her criteria for pressing red or green.
Americans have always had a healthy fascination with British pop stars from the Beatles to spice girls, but recently there’s been a really strong British movement taking over the USA,– from Adele to Ed Sheeran, Sam smith and naughty boy- everyone says Charli is next to blow. ‘’ I don’t feel any pressure cos I promised myself last year that I wouldn’t care about ‘’success and charts’’ anymore cos its really stressful, I made a promise to myself to make music that feels right and cool, and its worked, its not the forefront of my question anymore’’.
Art is a big influence in her work- she’s been inspired by musicians as well as artists and photographers. at 15 she was photographed by David bailey- that’s an incredible story! She name drops even more spectacularly ‘’David bailey was actually my 2nd photo shoot ever- my first was Rankin, David hated me, he was classic David bailey and i was like a right little bitch, but then we got in front of the camera we just clicked, he was incredible to work with and he invited me back a week later so I did something right’’
There’s certainly no Barbie doll TOWIE style fashion for this rock meets punk lady. Iggy azalea says its “badass that Charli can do a dance routine in a cheerleading outfit and still be punk rock’, she’s been referred to as the ‘dark pop princess’, calls her sound ‘’ magical, ethereal, gangsta pop.’’ and calls her look Disney grunge. i laugh at the contradictions ‘’I am all about contradictions actually yes, I like things that sit on the edge of bring slightly wrong, so wrong that its slightly right. i like contradiction a lot and think it produces good art!
Her look and brand are as distinctive as her music, and her image and attitude really match her sound – with her own font logo and fashion sense too, she smiles ‘’it is intentional’ ‘I’m behind everything i do, every video i create is my treatment or idea. It’s the same with everything I wear, I feel like as I’ve grown up and I’ve found my own style, i don’t follow fashion i have my own style – I’m not a slave to fashion man’’.
We finish with a couple of funny anecdotes that may surprise most people. Her 1st ever gig was in a disused peanut factory and she has a recording of a ghost on her phone after staying in a hotel, which was reputed to be haunted. The ghost apparently drowned in the frozen lake and likes to hang out in the hotels billiard room. Charli and pals recorded through the night and the next day when playing the sounds back heard this really low-pitched woman’s voice talking. I know what you’re wondering. No. The ghost didn’t make it onto any tracks.