CHARLI XCX

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BOT­TOMS UP WITH BRI­TAIN’S SEX­I­EST BAD GIRL

THE HARD-DRIV­ING 22-YEAR-OLD POP PHE­NOM CHARLI XCX IS ONE OF THE BRIGHT­EST STARS IN THE MU­SIC BUSI­NESS. AND SHE'S JUST GET­TING STARTED.

THE FIRST THREE TIMES, I didn’t men­tion it, but at this point it’s worth bring­ing up. “You know you’ve slapped me four times dur­ing this in­ter­view,” I tell Charli XCX. “No, I haven’t,” she protests, rolling her eyes. I start to re­cite the in­ci­dents back at her, count­ing on my fin­gers and then giv­ing up af­ter two. Both of us ar­rived here need­ing a drink, and now we’ve had more than I can count. The specifics have got­ten blurry.

It’s 1 a.m. in Oslo’s city cen­ter, and we’re at Kul­turhuset, a rowdy bar filled with Nor­we­gian hip­sters, their beards dan­gling per­ilously close to their pints of pale ale. “Oh, what­ever, they were more like facepalms any­way,” she says, as the next round ar­rives. Sam, her buddy from home whom she’s made her as­sis­tant, re­freshes us ev­ery 20 min­utes or so.

Charli’s a Bri­tish singer (and a Bri­tish drinker) who be­came glob­ally fa­mous in the most Amer­i­can way imag­in­able: writ­ing and singing the school-bully hook of Iggy Aza­lea’s “Fancy.” The video, in which Charli had a sup­port­ing role, was a scene-for-scene re-cre­ation of the Val­ley girl clas­sic Clue­less: an orgy of cheer­lead­ers, house par­ties, and red cups. Since then her videos have touched on other archetypes of Amer­i­can-youth cin­ema: She’s a trashy mess in the video for “Do­ing It,” a prom-ru­in­ing al­pha bitch in “Break the Rules,” and the world’s gnarli­est cheer­leader in her lat­est video, for “Fa­mous.”

She grew up want­ing to be “the bad kind of cheer­leader, the one who smokes be­hind the bleach­ers” and is now ob­sessed with the for­got­ten pop mis­fits of her youth: Avril Lav­i­gne, t.a.t.u., Hi­lary Duff (for whom Charli wrote the Bill­board top 10 hit “Boom Clap,” record­ing it her­self only be­cause Duff’s peo­ple said it “wasn’t cool enough”). In per­son, she’s seem­ingly de­void of ego. She’s tac­tile and re­lent­lessly hon­est, and she never breaks eye con­tact. If she wants to say some­thing off the record, she doesn’t go, “Hey, this is off the record.” She goes, “Lit­er­ally, you have to swear on your life. Swear on your life. If you put this in, I will lit­er­ally hate you for­ever and ever and I will ruin your life. Do you swear? Prom­ise?”

Not that she holds a lot back. An ex­change about our re­spec­tive hotel­room habits shifts eas­ily to porn. “It’s not like I ar­rive in a new ho­tel room and im­me­di­ately open up Red­tube,” she says. “But I will if I need to.” Nearly all her sto­ries in­volve big nights out and bodily func­tions. There’s the fe­ces she found on the floor of her Mex­ico ho­tel room and spent an hour pho­tograph­ing. The night she got so drunk with a mem­ber of cutesy boy band 5 Sec­onds of Sum­mer, she had to can­cel her flight. The long, hun­gover ap­pear­ance on live Bri­tish TV, dur­ing which she kept a bucket un­der the ta­ble to barf in and napped on a sofa be­tween seg­ments. Just a few nights ago, she was out late and then got straight on the bus to travel to the next stop of the Katy Perry tour, for which she’s the opener. “I woke up in the night and I was in the mid­dle of a 17-hour ride,” she re­calls. “I was just like, I can’t be both­ered to go down­stairs, so I picked up my de­signer hand­bag and thought, Let’s just go for this. I threw up in it three times.” Which is not to say she’s en­tirely reck­less. She wisely de­clines to name the lux­ury brand, ex­plain­ing, “They’d just gifted it to me.”

This is her life, a series of ex­trav­a­gances and wince-in­duc­ing reper­cus­sions. But ask about her, the woman named Char­lotte Emma Aitchi­son, and the ex­u­ber­ance quickly fades. Charli re­peat­edly in­sists that she’s a “pes­simist,” a “cynic,” that she’s “al­ways bored.” And she means it. “I’m just not very good at be­ing happy all the time,” she says. “I feel like an out­sider be­cause I’m not al­ways try­ing to put my game face on. I don’t even have a game face.”

You could have fooled me. From all ap­pear­ances, we are hav­ing fun—joking, laugh­ing, get­ting ut­terly plas­tered. But as the night goes on, I be­gin to get the sense that there’s noth­ing Charli XCX, a 22-yearold with the world at her feet, fears more than gen­uine con­tent­ment.

I’D NEVER MET CHARLI be­fore, but I used to see her around. When I was a teenager in Lon­don, a group of ea­ger pro­mot­ers man­aged briefly to cir­cum­vent the au­thor­i­ties and stage a series of wild bac­cha­nals in ware­houses on the out­skirts of the city. These so-called “all-age” par­ties (there was never any­one a day older than 18 there) were wild, out-of­con­trol raves full of drugs and un­der­age sex. Think Lord of the Flies but with girls and ke­tamine and no­body named Piggy.

In be­tween DJ sets, live per­form­ers would come on, in­clud­ing a mem­o­rable 15-year-old girl who was usu­ally wear­ing three clash­ing vin­tage out­fits and hip­pie face paint, with wild black hair. Her songs were about club kids who thought they were all that (in other words, her au­di­ence). Sam­ple lyric: “We’ve got our neons on and our glow sticks out, try­ing to fight it out to see who’s more in­di­vid­ual.” That was Charli.

“My par­ents would ac­tu­ally drop me off at those raves,” she says. “I re­mem­ber one time my mum came to pick me up at, like, 5 a.m., and some guy threw up all over her shoes. But I loved it. I was like, ‘Mum, when I grow up I want to live in a ware­house.’”

That era cre­ated the city’s youngest celebri­ties. There were 14-yearolds on the cov­ers of Lon­don fash­ion mag­a­zines, mostly just be­cause they were such hard-core par­ty­ers. Charli was a part of the first gen­er­a­tion of teenagers to start de­vel­op­ing their per­sonal brands while still in home­room. When she was 18, she at­tended one of the world’s most ex­clu­sive art schools, the Slade, but she hated hav­ing to ex­plain her weird ideas and love of Brit­ney Spears. She was a doer, not an an­a­lyzer. So she fo­cused on writ­ing mu­sic, for her­self and for oth­ers. Charli spent half an hour in her ho­tel room writ­ing “I Love It,” but as soon as it was fin­ished, she knew she didn’t want it. She gave it to Icona Pop, and when the song blew up, Charli, then 20, heard her vo­cal was still on the record. What fol­lowed was a series of in­ter­nal in­dus­try wran­glings that led to the soon-to-be global hit be­ing rere­leased as “Icona Pop fea­tur­ing Charli XCX.” More hits fol­lowed.

Now she is here—at this bar, at seem­ingly ev­ery bar—pro­mot­ing her al­bum Sucker and ap­par­ently en­joy­ing the spoils. But she in­sists oth­er­wise. “I’m not go­ing to lie and say ev­ery­thing’s amaz­ing, be­cause some­times it’s re­ally fuck­ing tough,” she says. “I’m not good at be­ing a pic­ture-per­fect pop star, happy all the time. If I’m hav­ing a bad day, I can’t pre­tend. I’m al­ways a bit un­happy, (cont. on p. 98)

“IT’S NOT like I ar­rive in a new ho­tel room and im­me­di­ately open up Red­tube. But I will if I need to.”

but that’s just me. I like dwelling in my sad­ness.”

Min­utes later, though, she’s telling me about buy­ing a house in the English coun­try­side that she’s decked out like a “Mi­ami ’70s porn pad,” with shag-car­pet walls and low, back­less so­fas, “so it’s like hav­ing beds ev­ery­where.” Even her room on the tour bus has a ceil­ing mir­ror. I just don’t know what to do with the con­tra­dic­tion—this star who seizes op­por­tu­ni­ties, who seems to in­dulge in suc­cess, but keeps want­ing to tell me that none of it makes her happy. I ask her to square the two. “Just be­cause I might be bored doesn’t mean I have to look bor­ing,” she re­sponds. “I’d rather look fab­u­lous, like I’m hav­ing a great time. There’s noth­ing that says boss more than a belly chain and snake­skin trousers. My dad al­ways used to en­cour­age me to dress weird.”

Charli pulls out her phone and shows me some pic­tures of her fa­ther, dressed in nine dif­fer­ent pat­terns of tar­tan. I see the con­nec­tion. Drinks keep com­ing; the in­ter­view has dis­in­te­grated. At one point she asks me what I think of the rock band Royal Blood, and lets me bab­ble on about how they’re the death of mu­sic. A few min­utes later she in­tro­duces me to her friend Mike Kerr, Royal Blood’s singer-bassist, then rev­els in the awk­ward­ness. I take this as my cue to leave. “What’s your num­ber?” Charli says be­fore I go. “Let’s see how hun­gover we are to­mor­row. If it’s bad, you can come to my room and I’ll show you how to or­der room ser­vice prop­erly.”

Room ser­vice, as she’s told me a few times al­ready, is her great­est joy on the road.

THE NEXT EVENING, Charli is light­ing up an arena of 20,000 Katy Perry fans. On­stage, there’s a gi­ant red lol­lipop pro­trud­ing into the rafters. Charli’s do­ing oi-punk fist pumps. At one point she just col­lapses on the floor and keeps singing. She is a ball of raw en­ergy, and a jolt to the tween girls here with KP painted on their fore­heads. By the end, they squeal for a Charli en­core.

I go back­stage. Charli is slumped on an IKEA couch, but she’s joking around, noth­ing but sun­shine. She fared bet­ter than I did this morn­ing; she just “boshed two parac­eta­mol,” she says, and was up at 7 a.m. to see a so­lar eclipse (but got stuck in the ho­tel el­e­va­tor and missed it). Now that I’ve known her for a full 24 hours, I feel it’s time to press her a bit. “Charli,” I say, “maybe it’s time to ad­mit that you’re ac­tu­ally en­joy­ing this and re­lax a lit­tle.” “But that’s just who I am,” she protests. “I have a busi­ness mind, I have a real drive—i want to have an em­pire. I want to have more of a legacy, and I think just be­cause I wear what I wear, and am a pop star, doesn’t mean I can’t have that.”

I yank a mem­ory out of last night’s haze: She had de­scribed her­self as a con­trol freak. “Power gets me off,” she said. “I al­ways want more than I have.” And now Charli be­gins to make more sense. She doesn’t dis­like be­ing a pop star; she’s just afraid of what it rep­re­sents. Be­ing a pop star is like be­ing the world’s big­gest marsh­mal­low: You’re soft and de­li­cious and ab­so­lutely mean­ing­less. A pop star is an un­se­ri­ous thing. That’s why she’s so keen to play up her down­beat side. It’s her way of mak­ing clear that this role—no mat­ter how well she in­hab­its it, or how much joy it se­cretly brings—does not de­fine her. Charli is start­ing a pub­lish­ing com­pany and has be­gun man­ag­ing other singers. She is also still a pop star open­ing up for Katy Perry.

But be­fore I can pro­pose my psy­cho­anal­y­sis, she starts telling me about the Gram­mys. She wants me to know how bor­ing it was, how she couldn’t get out of her seat be­cause her scarf kept shed­ding, how she and Iggy didn’t win. “It was so dry,” she drawls.

Then she re­con­sid­ers: “Al­though I did get to drive around all day in a white Rolls-royce with my friend’s puppy, dressed in Moschino. Oh, and we did go to Sam Smith’s af­ter-party, and I spent 15 min­utes with my tongue on his ice sculp­ture be­cause I’d al­ways wanted to get my tongue stuck on an ice sculp­ture. Then we rented a room at the Chateau Mar­mont…”

The story keeps go­ing. I think what Charli is try­ing to say is: This is fun, for now. ■

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