Clever, visionary and in total control of her career, Charli XCX has always been a pop star who stands out. She’s so fancy – you already know. Here, she tells Gay Times how she
slayed the internet with this year’s sexiest and most subversive music video, Boys.
Charlotte Aitchison has always been a bit of a maverick. When she was just 14, this self-starter from Hetfordshire dubbed herself Charli XCX and posted tracks with titles like !Franchesckaar! and Art Bitch on Myspace, which led to performances at a load of sketchy East London raves. Her mum would be waiting patiently in the car outside. A couple of years later, she was snapped up by a major label, and her career has grown steadily but unconventionally ever since. You probably know more Charli songs than you think: she co-wrote and featured on Icona Pop’s I Love It and Iggy Azalea’s Fancy, and she scored a huge summer hit in 2014 with the thumping Boom Clap.
This year, Charli, who’s still only 25, has been especially prolific and surprising. In March, she released a “mixtape” called Number 1 Angel, which turned out to be a sneakily fantastic pop album. Record label politics just prevented her from calling it one. Then in July she wrong-footed us again with Boys, a brilliant minimal electro bop with a super-sexy and subversive music video.
“I was busy thinkin’ ‘bout boys, boys, boys”, Charli sings on the chorus, and the video shows us what some of these thoughts look like. Joe Jonas eats pancakes suggestively. Madonna’s producer Diplo whips off his top and plays with puppies. Tom Daley gets, well, wet. The gifs from this video will be the gift that keeps on giving.
“The song was done and I was thinking about the music video, and I just had this idea of sexy guys doing sexy things”, Charli explains over the phone from Romania, where she’s playing a gig. “I was thinking about all the guys I’ve met working in the music industry, and I just thought, ‘Do you know what? It would be really cool if I got these dudes to do the sexy things for once.’ I made an active decision not to be in the video myself and to direct it instead. It kind of began with me thinking about Joe Jonas eating pancakes in a sexy way. That was the trigger, I suppose, and it went from there.”
The array of male talent Charli secured for the video is dazzling: Stormzy, Riz Ahmed, Mark Ronson, indie hero Mac DeMarco, and YouTube stars Cameron Dallas and Connor Franta all appear too. Charlie says it took her four months to shoot them all, but no one needed too much persuading. “You know what, I was just really honest with them”, she explains. “I mentioned the male gaze and this idea of reversing it so it was the guys doing the sexy things for once. I wasn’t trying to trick them into it, you know? They were all down. I was so happy that everyone got it and no one had any issues with doing what they were asked to do. I feel like that says a lot about contemporary male artists in 2017. Obviously more men are identifying as feminist – it’s not just girls that are feminists now – and making this video really highlighted that for me, which is so awesome.”
By asking male stars to adopt – and play with – roles traditionally reserved for women, the video could almost be perceived as drag-like, although there’s no dressing up involved.
But were there any ideas that were just too out there to shoot? “Um, well I really wanted a scene with a python but no one was brave enough to do it!” Maybe only Britney can handle a python anyway? “I know, right?
Let’s leave the python to Britney.”
If you opened Grindr during July and August, you may have noticed adverts for the Boys video, so presumably Charli knew it would resonate especially well with a certain portion of her fanbase. “I mean, I definitely knew my gay fans would be a bit more into this than some of my other videos, just because there’s loads of man-candy there”, she says. “And I did see the meme going round after the video launched. What is it? ‘We’re doing it for the gays’, or some shit like that?”
We think Charli means the one of Real Housewife Erika Girari saying, ‘I’m gonna give the gays everything they want.’
“Yes, that’s the one! I loved it.”
Charli is a pleasure to chat to: sharp, perceptive, and funny. She says she’s aware fans are clamouring to hear a finished version of Girls’ Night Out, a massive song she’s played lives a few times. But at the moment, she doesn’t want to divulge a release date.
“That song has definitely been spoken about heavily on the internet. And it’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about. But that’s all I can say right now. Ha!” When we ask her plans for the rest of the year, she replies without missing a beat: “I guess I might just be busy thinking about boys...”