Charli XCX has had a big 2013. All the way up to eleven big. In January she’d still yet to release a debut album proper, despite demos for it having been around since late 2011. Then hot on the heels of ‘True Romance’ came that smash hit with Icona Pop, a string of UK arena dates supporting Paramore, European ones with Ellie Goulding and a first headline tour in North America. But the Hertfordshire singer-songwriter’s ultimate highlight of the year?
“The Backstreet Boys tweeted me!”
It was her cover of the US boy band’s ‘I Want It That Way’ that “blew up” online that they responded to. “The next thing I knew,” she giggles, “they were like ‘Hey! We like your version better than ours!”
2013 has been pretty huge for you. There was that Number One single...
Yeah, that was weird. On that day, I completely hid from the world, I went to the cinema with my Mum and saw World War Z, and I could feel my phone vibrating, and I was like ‘Oh god, that’s either people telling me it’s gone to Number One, or it’s people being like ahhhh, bad luck’. I got out of the cinema and checked my phone and was like ‘Ahhhh! It went to Number One!’, like, crazy.
The tour with Paramore was also pretty massive.
That was good. It was cool because I’d never really toured in the UK, I mean I did a support tour with Sleigh Bells ages ago, but that was my first ‘big’ tour.
I played at Wembley. I fell over at Wembley, on stage, which was epic. I feel like, if you’re gonna fall on stage, do it at Wembley! It was really funny, I jumped off the stage on to a sub, and that was fine, but when I went to get back on the stage, I fell down the gap between the stage and the sub, and my shoe - I was wearing big platforms - my shoe got stuck and it was just a bit of a drama. And then I fell over and thought ‘maybe I’ll try and make it punk’, but I was rolling around on the floor! Luckily the screens weren’t on. If the screens would’ve been on then I would not be telling this story.
And I just came off my US tour, which was my first proper headline tour in the States, and that was next-level, because I never expected it to have that kind of reaction out there. So many of the shows were sold-out, fans were so cool, I got given loads of presents. So much Justin Bieber perfume, a singing Justin Bieber doll, loads of weird stuff. Our tour bus got attacked - in a really sweet way, not a terrible way! I got thrown loads of weed on stage, which had never really happened to me before.
And then after all of that, coming back to London and doing a show at Islington Academy was awesome. I had this fear of London, I don’t know why, I just always had it, but it was the best show ever. I wanted to cry. It was so cool, playing in my home town, people wanted to be there and really loved it.
You’ve recently said you’re working on a new record.
Yeah, it’s nearly done, actually.
How have you found time?!
I wanted to do it really quickly, the nature of the album I’m making is a very fast-paced, spontaneous kind of record. The sound is much more live, it’s much more raw, there are some really punk elements to it. It’s very ripped and rushed and sexy and strong and bold, and I personally feel like all the best songs are written in half an hour anyway. I feel like if you need to take a day to write a song, it’s probably not that good. I like things that just... fall out, and it’s like ‘BOOM!’, they’re there. You know?
I was in Sweden for a month in total, and we did almost everything there. Just me and Patrik Berger, who I worked on ‘I Love It’ with, we were just banging songs out, starting every day at twelve, and just went on until five in the morning, falling asleep on the studio floor, then just starting again.
I like it. I think this music is definitely the best music I’ve ever made.
Do you think this speed is a reaction to it taking so long last time?
Definitely. I think partially, even if I’m not 100% conscious of that, which I can’t say I am, but I think that’s definitely part of it. And I’ve also kind of grown up doing this, growing up in this music industry world, but not really as someone who’s been at the forefront the whole time, I’ve grown up slowly learning about things behind the scenes and I feel like I can really control all aspects of that now.
Do you think you’ve taken much from the people you’ve toured with?
Not so much Paramore, but I have actually been listening to a lot of Sleigh Bells recently, I love ‘Bitter Rivals’ and the video as well. The record is mainly inspired by a lot of 60s French pop, the Yé-yé girls, Sylvie Vartan, France Gall, Brigitte Bardot, Johnny Hallyday, people like that, and also a lot of New Wave bands, like Bow Wow Wow, The Waitresses, and The Flying Lizards.
The vocal hooks are strong, shouty, with some really blunt lyrics. I feel like that’s what I’m good at, like, blunt, straight to the point lyrics. It feels really Girl Power, I suppose. A very feminine record in the sense that it’s sexy but also very angry and punk, and I think that those are all very feminine. And I’m seeing all the songs as being the colour red, which I think embodies it as well.
For me, I feel like this record is about not giving a fuck, and it’s about embracing who you are, and I don’t mean that in a cheesy way like ‘be who you wanna be’, although I do mean that as well, but in this industry... it’s like fuck it. If you want to fucking take your clothes off and dance around naked and do your fucking thing, do it. "I feel like I can control all aspects now." As long as you’re in control and it’s what you want, and not what three men in suits want at your record label, it’s fine. That’s fucking punk and you’re in control, you’re owning your body. If you want to shave all your hair off and fully cover up, come dressed as a punk, that’s also cool, and that’s also really sexy, if you’re in control of it. I feel like that’s what this record’s about, it’s about not obeying stupid rules, there are so many stupid rules in the music industry like ‘Oh, she’s not wearing many clothes, she’s selling sex, she’s a slut’, that’s not the case, Vivienne Westwood made amazing clothes for punk bands that had no breast coverage! Sex was the name of the shop. Sometimes I feel like the music industry, even though the lyrics in all these pop songs that are huge right now on the radio are so sexualised, as soon as anything real, like really sexy happens, everyone’s like ‘Oh my god! We’re nuns’.
Like Janet Jackson’s nipple...
Yeah! It’s like SO WHAT! We’ve been singing about nipples for years, and as soon as one pops out everyone’s freaking out about it!
Are you at home for Christmas?
Yeah, I’m at home. I go to Dubai for New Year, which is quite cool. And I’m in New York next week, which is the ultimate Christmas destination...
Do you have any particular traditions?
My Mum hates Christmas. Well, actually, she’s one of those people who says she hates Christmas, but then I think she secretly loves it. It’s very much the standard affair, we just get the family round, we open presents, play board games.
We have this bomb one, there’s a bomb that ticks and you pass it, and that’s just the gimmick in the game, I can’t actually remember what the game is, but it’s got a bomb in it. Pictionary, that’s always a really angry ‘Argh, he doesn’t know what I’m fucking drawing!’ type thing, it becomes quite heated.
Last year my Aunt did the whole dance - well, I don’t know if there’s even an official dance for it - but she basically danced to Shaggy’s ‘Boombastic’ in front of the whole family. It was very explicit. And, I mean, it’s a long song, so it went on forever. Then my Mum joined in. It was very odd.
Charli XCX’s new single ‘SuperLove’ is out now via Asylum / Atlantic.