Published on August 6th, 2019 | by Jerry Doby
Charli XCX Stars on Pitchfork’s Exclusive Digital Cover; Talks Charli, Taylor Swift, and Joining Workaholics Anonymous
In advance of her forthcoming album, Charli, and just two days after shooting the “Gone” music video with Christine and the Queens’ Héloïse Letissier, Charli XCX takes a break to meet with Pitchfork contributor Bobby Finger for an exclusive interview and Couples Rejuvenation Spa in Midtown Manhattan.
Over champagne flutes and chocolate, Charli contemplates her peculiar place in music, with a foothold on both the mainstream Top 40 world and the more left-of-center underground pop scene. She opens up about wanting to shed her status as an “underdog,” which she believes was formed in part by her tours as an opener for superstars like Taylor Swift.
Increasingly, Charli has come to realize that those same diehards might be all that matter to her. This became especially clear when she played more than 50 stadiums around the world with Taylor Swift last year. Those truncated opening sets starting at 6 p.m. were a far cry from the late-night shows in cramped, crowded venues where the Angels have grown accustomed to seeing her. “I’m really grateful that [Taylor] asked me on that tour,” Charli says. “But as an artist, it kind of felt like I was getting up on stage and waving to 5-year-olds.”
The performances served a purpose, though: It made Charli decide to never open for anyone again. “I’ve done so much of it, and it really cemented my status as this underdog character, which I like now,” she says. “But I need to just own my own fucking shit finally.”
During the interview, Charli also discusses her upcoming album, Charli, which she says features her most personal songwriting to date, including one track about her “on and off” boyfriend and one-time music manager, Huck. Adding to the intimacy of the project, Charli and her frequent collaborator, PC Music’s A.G. Cook, rented a house in Los Angeles and worked for three months—the longest she’s ever spent on an album. For comparison, her last full-length project, 2017’s Pop 2, was recorded between parties over just two weeks in New York City.
“It is actually the first time where I’ve been thinking about things that have been happening in my life—like relationships, or leaving people who I used to work with for 10 years—in a creative way,” Charli says of the album, which is set to be released on September 13.
Check out some of the highlights from the Pitchfork digital cover story below and read “Charli XCX Is the Pop Star of the Future,” on Pitchfork.com.
Charli XCX on her peculiar place in pop:
“Sometimes I don’t understand why I’m not bigger than I am,” she said, breaking eye contact and looking at the empty space to my right. But like most of Charli’s downs, it was quickly followed by an up. “I feel very comfortable in my section of pop,” she continued. “I’m beginning to feel like the people who know, know. And the people who don’t? They wouldn’t get it anyway.”
…on being a workaholic, despite her reputation for partying:
Charli reveals a part of herself that complicates her reputation as an enigmatic pop star whose life consists of only two things: partying and making music about partying. “I’m really a workaholic,” she tells me. “To a level that’s not cool.” She appears genuinely troubled by her compulsion towards the many jobs that comprise her career in the music industry—singer, songwriter, performer, producer, video director—and says that she has thought of joining a 12-step program like Workaholics Anonymous to help manage it.
…on the surprisingly candid nature of Charli:
Talking about the album’s surprisingly candid nature, Charli adds, “It is actually the first time where I’ve been thinking about things that have been happening in my life—like relationships, or leaving people who I used to work with for 10 years—in a creative way.” She addresses many of those feelings in a synth-heavy lament about driving alone through Los Angeles called “Thoughts.” One of the few tracks on Charli without a featured vocalist, she tells me it’s “the absolute crux” of how she feels, and the most personal song she’s ever written. “Did I fuck it up?” she sings. “Are my friends really friends now? Are they all far gone?”
Adding to the intimacy of the record is the way it was made: Charli and her frequent collaborator, PC Music’s A.G. Cook, rented a house in Los Angeles and worked for three months—the longest she’s ever spent on an album. For comparison, her last full-length project, 2017’s Pop 2, was recorded between parties over just two weeks in New York City.
…on what her “on and off” boyfriend thinks about being the subject of new track, “White Mercedes”:
“White Mercedes,” a desperately romantic power ballad anchored by the final line of its chorus: “All I know is I don’t deserve you.” The “you” is Charli’s boyfriend, a one-time music manager named Huck. Since meeting seven years ago, their relationship has been, in her words, “on and off.” Currently, it’s “on” to the point of inspiring love songs. When I ask her what he thinks about being the subject of such a heartrending track, Charli tells me that it was first played for him at a house party during one of their “off” periods. “He kind of freaked out,” she says of the moment. “Also, no one wants to hear a ballad at a party.”
…on how she uses collaborations to expand her own creativity and reveal more of herself:
“All of the collaborators that I work with are opening me up to so many different sounds and styles,” she says with a hint of defensiveness, implying a difference between her thoughtful, highly curated pairings and the mix-and-match, label-mandated features flooding the airwaves at any given moment. “A concoction of all that makes a more unique sound.”
…on why she prefers to work than take a holiday:
“If I go on holiday for three days I have a breakdown,” she says. “That’s when everything around me is still, and I have time to question everything I’ve done. I’m like, ‘Are my friends real friends? Am I making art that’s right for me? Why am I still signed to a major label? Do I still care about charts? Should I still care about charts?’ I mean, I could be wrong, but I feel like I am one of the few artists who has a foothold on both mainstream Top 40 world and the more left-of-center underground world.”
She keeps talking about her peculiar place in pop purgatory as her bulgogi, just served and still sizzling, cools down. “People think, ‘That’s cool that you can balance that!’ But I feel like the reason I’m there is that I can’t decide sometimes.”
Bobby Finger on Charli:
This back-and-forth internal monologue plays out all the way through Charli. The album contains plenty of thrillingly weird music that only she and her friends could create, like the outlandish posse cut “Shake It,” a strip-club anthem beamed in from the 24th century whose guests include the brilliantly bawdy rapper CupcakKe and the New Orleans bounce pioneer Big Freedia, and the riotous “Click,” which ends with a beat that sounds like monster trucks having sex.