Charli XCX Is Still Waiting for the World to Catch Up to Her
The British pop star returns with her most personal record yet, a dazzling force of next-level sounds combined with serious self-examination.
Charli XCX’s Sandy Liang dress and Balenciaga sneakers are barely visible beneath the fuzzy, rust-colored blanket pulled up to her chin. The petite pop princess is furiously scrolling through her phone, trying to gauge the reaction to her brand new record, Charli, which dropped just over 12 hours ago.
“I’ve been in and out of the internet, honestly, I haven’t done a full, deep dive, but…” she pauses, before showing me an Instagram video of someone giving a lap dance to “Click,” one of the tracks from her first proper release in five years.
“Like great, good for them right now,” she says with a smile. “I think the reaction has been good.”
The 27-year-old Brit, who first strutted her stuff in raves across London 10 years ago—and rose to stardom after providing the infectious hooks on Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”—is a far cry from the woman on 2014’s Sucker. She began working with different producers to find her sound, which blossomed into her relationship with her now-creative director A.G. Cook. Their two mixtapes that dropped in 2017, Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, changed the course of her artistic trajectory into all things synthetic and shiny, influencing the freedom and independence she explored on Charli.
“I was just so free on those mixtapes—I didn’t care,” she says. “I was learning this new language, so to speak, and I think just becoming more and more confident being who I truly am as an artist—not worrying about commercial success or streams or stats of any kind, and just truly making the music I wanted to make.”
A handful of tracks from Pop 2 ended up inspiring those on Charli. “Track 10” from Pop 2 reappears as “Blame It On Your Love,” a more polished gem with a bouncing beat that features a verse from the almighty Lizzo. And the reimagining worked—to the tune of nearly 35 million streams.
The album is studded with collaborators on nearly every song, and features longtime friends like Brooke Candy (who appeared on Charli’s debut True Romance), established names like HAIM and Sky Ferreira, and some of 2019’s rising stars, such as Lizzo and Clairo.
Despite all the features, Charli teased that the record was her most personal yet when she announced the album in June. She tells The Daily Beast that she didn’t realize that the album would become so intimate during the creative process.
“It was just that I was recording on days where I felt really emotional sometimes, and that was captured in the moment,” she says. “But looking at it as a body of work, I’m actually really happy that it went down this road because it feels very special to me now. It really does feel like I’ve been able to capture a snapshot of who I am right now.”
The most eclectic track on the record, “Shake It,” features the familiar quartet of Brooke Candy, Pabllo Vittar, CupcakKe, and XCX, which created Pop 2’s highlight “I Got It.” Charli says that she wanted to do an “I Got It Part Two,” but with someone else in particular: Big Freedia. And while she appears on the track to introduce each artist, she vanishes just as quickly.
“I wanted ‘Shake It’ to be this next step up. We wanted to do this song where I would kind of, not really be on it,” she says. “We thought that would be funny and annoying to do a song that I wasn’t really on, on the album, so this was the perfect moment.”
Another set of related tracks, “1999” and “2099,” both feature Troye Sivan. “1999,” which was released nearly a year ago, is a keenly aware self-own, where XCX and Sivan sing about wishing they could go back to the ‘90s—even though Sivan would have been 5 and XCX 8 in ‘99. Charli was keen on reteaming with Sivan, only this time do something entirely different.
“I made this really nostalgic pop song, so I kind of wanted to do the exact opposite,” she offers. “I knew that he was into Pop 2, and I know when we did ‘1999’ it was very cool for us, like we made the fun video, but we both wanted to get a little weirder. So ‘2099’ was a way for us to do that.”
Not all the tracks on Charli are hard-hitting, mega-produced pop bangers. Standout track “Official” features just keys in the beginning, while Charli lists off intimate moments between her on-and-off partner that could make them an official couple. It’s a track that is so personal, Charli has trouble finding the words to describe it. In fact, she didn’t even want to include it on the record.
“The reason ‘Official’ is on the album is because of A.G. [Cook],” she says. “It’s hard for me because it is so emotional, it is so stripped back, it’s like… I mean you can tell I’m even weird talking about it. It feels so vulnerable and so exposed, it’s almost like I’m embarrassed of it.”
But she commended Cook’s insistence, as it had stuck out as a frontrunner for fan-favorite track within hours of the album’s release. Charli continued to dive deeper on the record, examining her relationship with partying and romance on tracks like “Thoughts” and “I Don’t Wanna Know”—ideas that she previously threw around as filler material for her self-indulgent bangers.
The singer and songwriter’s unprecedented moves have defined her in this new era, leading multiple outlets to brand her the pop star of the future. While she is producing music unlike anyone else in pop right now, she finds the notion ironic.
“It’s funny because I’ve been releasing music for 10 years,” she explains. “It still makes me feel like I’m in the wrong time. But I don’t know that there will ever be a right time for me.”
“I think part of the reason people like me is because I’m on the fringes of pop. I’m never, like, fully in it, and when I am, sometimes it doesn’t feel right,” she continues. “I’m just kind of out here on my own little spaceship doing my thing. And when people get it and like it, that will be cool. But the second that people who don’t get it catch up with me, I’ll be onto another thing anyways.”
And as our interview winds down, she’s already on to what’s next. She hints at the source of bubbling drama—one that’s caused fandoms to collide after The 1975’s frontman Matty Healy tweeted that she is a “fucking force,” and that he sent her a beat that she wrote on.
“I can’t really tell you anything too concrete, but there’s a song, and we don’t know what we’re going to do with it,” she says. “It might come out, it might never come out, I don’t fucking know, but I really respect The 1975.”
Her eyes widen as she continues, “I am working on so much stuff.”
“Today I’m supposed to have my head in this and be excited that my album came out,” she says in a sarcastic tone. “Which I am, but my brain is just itching to move on. I wanna make the next album now.”