The self-proclaimed “anti-pop star” who’s taking over the Top 40. BY SARAH LAING
charli XCX doesn’t want to be famous. “The whole idea of celebrity very much scares me,” admits the 22-year-old musician (funnily enough, while at rehearsals for a major American awards show). “It just seems very intense, and I don’t think I really care about the rules.”
You probably knew Charli XCX’s voice before you ever knew her name. It was her Gwen Stefani-esque vocals declaring “I Love It” on that Icona Pop song all summer in 2013, and this year she was behind (both lyrically and vocally) the ear-wormy hook on Iggy Azalea’s hit “Fancy.”
And while that whole ride has been “pretty cool,” this Brit (born Charlotte Aitchison) says it feels like it has been a long time coming. Raised in rural Hertfordshire, she got her parents to finance her first album at 14 (although it was never released) and was actually discovered on Myspace by a promoter who worked the London underground scene. She has been writing for artists like Icona Pop, but her first album, True Romance, barely charted.
Obscurity won’t be an issue for her second album, Sucker, out this December. Bolstered by Charli XCX’s success with Iggy Azalea and a canny placement on the soundtrack for teen blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars, the lead single, “Boom Clap,” is cracking the top 10 on the charts. The new album is “aggressive but quite vulnerable and very feminine,” she says. Much of it was inspired by the growing up she has done since being an insecure teen “trying to make a ‘cool’ album.”
Charli XCX’s biggest music icon is a slightly unlikely one: ’90s school-kilt-wearing Britney Spears. “When ‘...Baby One More Time’ came out—boom—I was there,” she says of her crush. “And then the Crossroads movie came out and that was a whole other level.”
But regardless of her admiration for the ultimate pop princess, Charli XCX insists that she’s actually planning to “change the idea of what a pop star is.” “I’m continuously messy, I can’t dance and I’m never going to be perfect,” she declares. “I’m actually kind of an anti- popstar.” The “XCX” in her name either stands for nothing or “X-rated content,” depending on her mood.
“With this album, I haven’t gone and tried to make a hit record; I’ve just done what’s me,” she explains. (Although she does admit to caring deeply about how the record is received.)
Charli XCX’s personal style has also evolved: The signature mane of black curls is still there, but the look is less Club Kid and more Rose McGowan circa Jawbreaker.
“I like it when clothes have a dark energy,” she says. (In a dream come true, McGowan actually appeared in the video for Charli XCX’s high-school-themed new single, “Break the Rules.”) While Charli XCX holds tightly to her identity as a “rule breaker”—you get the sense that she’s trying very hard to remain the rebellious kid who used to flirt with her teachers and steal chemicals from the science lab—it’s her softer side that she is most protective of. “I’ll still party and do stupid shit like get drunk and take drugs, but I’ll never not be nice. I’d rather [make music with] friends than get paid to do it with people who hate me.” n