Charlotte Aitchison, better known as Charli XCX, is not your typical pop star. At just 14, she cut her teeth performing original songs in London warehouses. Now 21, she’s co-written one of the biggest singles of 2013, Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” and was recently asked to write a song for Britney Spears. One spin of her April album True Romance and you’ll hear a number of influences atypical for a pop heroine in the making: ’80s pop, new wave, hip-hop and even goth-rock. Aitchison called the Weekly from Stockholm, where she was working on her next record, due out next year.
What are you working on now? I’m in the mood to write all the time. At the moment, that’s kind of all I want to do. I’ve been on and off touring for the past year, and I haven’t really been able to be in studios, writing for myself. So I’ve just been doing that really—and figuring out my brain and what it wants to say for the second record.
Do you write all of your own material, or do you have co-writers? I write everything myself. At the moment I’m working with Patrick Berger—it’s just me and him in a room and we’ll both work on tracks and beats. He’s Swedish, so if something’s not good, he’ll tell me. I mainly worked on my last album with Ariel Rechtshaid, but Patrick also worked with me on a couple songs. We did “I Love It” together.
Your latest album, True Romance, focuses a lot on falling in love and breaking up. Are the songs based on someone in particular, or are they fictional? It’s both. Some of it is things that have happened to me, some of it is things that I’ve done to other people—but I’ve flipped it ’round for some reason. I don’t know, maybe it’s because subconsciously I didn’t want to make myself sound like a bitch. (laughs) Other things, I imagine what it would be like. I had this song called “Stay Away,” which is about being like completely obsessed with someone, like unhealthy obsessed to the point where you’re crazy. I mean, that’s happened to me before, but not, like, to the point where I’ve actually turned insane.
It sounds like you’re tapping into a really strong female image. How important is that to you? I think it’s really important; it’s what I enjoy in music. Most of my favorite artists are strong females. I think it’s awesome when a woman is in control of everything she’s doing, especially in an industry like this where people think that doesn’t happen often, but it really does—well, from my knowledge and how I manage my own project. If I’m not in control of it then I would just rather not do it. I feel like this record talks about femininity and is very feminine, but I feel like “feminine” is such a funny word. Some people think of feminine as just being pretty and quiet and sweet, but I also think being feminine is being angry and also being sexy and aggressive and passionate. It’s such a broad word, but there’s only kind of one image of it at the moment. If you’re in control of everything, then no matter what it is, you can make that feminine.
You were recently asked to write a song for Britney Spears’ new album. How did that go? It was an honor to be asked. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that song. Who knows? It was just cool to be asked to write for her, because she’s so iconic. I mean, you know, she’s Britney Spears. It was just so f*cking cool. I ran to my mom, and I was like “Mom! What do I even do?”
Were you nervous to meet her? I didn’t actually meet with her, but I was still nervous. I mean, she’s probably going to hear it, and I would hate for her to think it’s sh*t.
You had to cancel your U.S. tour dates, including a stop in Vegas, to go on a U.K. tour with Paramore. How did that go? It was cool. I’ve never really toured the U.K. before, so it was kind of weird, but very exciting. The shows are really big. I just got a new band, and it’s an all girl band, so it was great to play with them. Oh, and I fell over onstage at Wembley. That was kind of funny. That was kind of the highlight for me.
You fell over? (Laughs) Yeah, I really badly fell over. I jumped off the stage onto this speaker sub, and then I was jumping back onto the stage and I fell between the gap in the speaker and the stage. My leg got stuck and I fell over, and then I hit my microphone on the monitor. It was one of the worst falls you could ever imagine. It was bad. Then I thought, “Okay, well I’m down here now. Maybe I should try to make it more real. I should do this like punk thing on the floor.” So then I tried to kind of roll around, but my leg was still caught. It was so bad. There’s some really funny videos, some people right in the front got the whole thing. It’s kind of cool though.
That sounds pretty embarrassing, but it sounds like you handled it really well. Speaking of punk, what are you listening to right now? At the moment I’m really into Bikini Kill and I’m into, well, he was kind of plastic-punk, but, Plastic Bertrand, who sings that song “Ça Plane Pour Moi.” And I’m really into The Flying Lizards at the moment. For the first record I was really inspired by the ’80 sand French electro, so I’ve been [listening to] some new things for this record.
You’re kicking off your U.S. tour in Vegas for the Life Is Beautiful Festival. I know you’ve been here before, but have you actually played here? I played a [personal appearance], and that was kind of horrible actually. I hate doing those kinds of things. But yeah, I did a PA in a club, and it was so weird. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I kind of just sat onstage in a coat and hid behind everything. It was too weird. I didn’t like it; there was no vibe. So I’m excited to play with my band and play a festival. I think it’s going to be really cool this time.
I read an interview where you called Las Vegas tacky. Why? (Laughs) Um, well, I mean … when I was there, that’s just the vibe that I got. What’s its nickname, Sin City? I don’t know, everything’s, like, fake. Like the fake Paris—it’s kind of ridiculous. It’s kind of like this hyper real world within a world. I mean, hey, don’t get me wrong, I love tacky shi*t. Where I’m from in the U.K., I live quite close to this town called Essex, and I feel like Vegas is a bigger Essex—spray tans and all of that. It’s just really odd, because I’m not one of those kinds of women. I don’t like to carry a spray tan. I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. And I lost all my money when I went there.
But you weren’t 21, were you? Yeah I know, I had a fake ID. We were there for my keyboardist’s birthday, so I borrowed my friend’s ID. She’s like a 24-year-old Indian girl who I look absolutely nothing alike, but somehow it managed to work.
The Life Is Beautiful Festival is downtown, which is pretty different from the club scene. Didn’t you kind of start out in that kind of scene, though? When I first started playing my first shows. I’d been putting up demos on MySpace and this guy was running a lot of warehouse parties and club kid parties in east London. He contacted me and asked me to come play his shows, and I kind of fell into that east London club-kid scene. That’s kinda how I started.
But that’s not really your thing now? I mean, it was totally eye-opening. I was 14. It wasn’t even a club ;it was just like empty warehouses.
Like an underground rave, maybe? Yeah, it was totally weird. I was 14 living this weird alter-ego life where I’d go to school Monday through Friday, and Saturday I’d be in a warehouse with all these cool hipstery people. It was cool, but I didn’t really get it at the time. I kinda did that for a while and realized it actually wasn’t that cool, and it’s like living life in a magazine. Everyone cares more about the clothes they wear than the music being played. I got out of that vibe for a bit and grew up.
You’re 21 now. How’s it been growing up and essentially turning into a pop star? It’s been, at times, f*cking depressing and awful, and at times it’s been beautiful and amazing and the best thing in the world. It’s very hard on some days, doing what I do. It’s kind of like a roller coaster. That’s why people do it—because everyone wants some kind of weird f*cking twist in their life. This provides plenty of twists. It’s weird. You never know what’s gonna happen tomorrow. It’s kind of like living on the edge and kind of always having a breakdown the whole time. But that’s kind of exciting, I suppose.
Do you think you’ll always be in the spotlight in some way or another? Even if I’m not making music for myself, I would always like to be writing for other artists. That’s definitely a passion for me. Outside of that, I went bowling for the first time in a couple of years and that was kind of cool. I might just become like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski and bowl all the time. Who knows?
Charli XCX Sunday, October 27, 2:20-3:05 p.m., Life Is Beautiful Festival's Ambassador Stage