By Kevin Zimmerman
Even if you haven’t heard Charli XCX, you’ve probably heard her.
That may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true: The fast-rising EDM-influenced singer-songwriter says she wrote the melody and lyrics to Icona Pop’s summer hit “I Love It” in about 30 minutes, and has written a song for one of her idols, Britney Spears’, new album, due out in December.
But the woman born Charlotte Aitchison isn’t just writing for others. Her own debut album, True Romance, came out earlier this year to favorable reviews, and “SuperLove,” the lead single from her forthcoming second album, is in the process of winning over armies of new supporters (its glitzy video, which features dancing robots, is one of the current must-sees).
“It’s definitely the most ‘pop’ song I’ve written,” she said from the U.K., where she opened several shows for Paramore before starting her own U.S. tour. “And getting thrown into the deep end with Paramore, playing arenas for the first time, has been great.”
It comes as no surprise to learn that Charli’s interest in music has been driven mostly by videos and movies. “The moment I saw Britney’s ‘…Baby One More Time,’ I immediately clicked with pop music. The idea of dressing up like her and learning those dance moves – plus getting into the whole Disney Britney/Justin Timberlake/Christina thing at the time – got me involved in creating my own songs.”
Diving head first into the rave scene in East London, Charli quickly gained popularity for her talents, aided by the tracks she’d started posting on her MySpace profile page. It didn’t take long for her to move from dancing to deejaying, and she was soon drawing the attention of the record industry.
“Managers were contacting me through MySpace, and the labels started coming to my shows,” she says.
Still unsure of her direction, she briefly attended art school. “I didn’t really get it,” she laughs of her brief collegiate experience. “Looking back, I don’t think I was ready for it. So I kept trying to write music, and then I completely got into it.”
Charli then started putting out ear-catching mixtapes like Heartbreaks and Earthquakes, featuring the likes of Drake, producer Blood Diamonds and her own vocals, alongside dialog from American Beauty, Cruel Intentions, and sci-fi cult-film-in-the-making Beyond the Black Rainbow. It was when she released the powerful single “Stay Away.”
Soon, Atlantic Records signed her up, and debut album True Romance – which includes “Stay Away” alongside such other well-received tracks as kiss-off “You (Ha Ha Ha),” featuring another EDM up-and-comer Gold Panda – was released earlier this year. “She has a flair for combining a wide array of pop culture sources into something fresh and familiar, as well as a fondness for strong female characters,” noted Allmusic.com in its four-star review of True Romance.
In keeping with the bang-bang production that’s marked her career from the start, Charli says her songwriting process essentially boils down to her experimental nature.
“From going to raves and club kid parties, it just evolved into what I do now. I work in a cut-and-paste kind of way, which I think reflects the culture we live in now. Sometimes the results are overly obvious or naïve, but always in a good way.”
Characteristically, work on her second album is proceeding in “a muddled, very unstructured sort of way. I’m taking inspiration from movies and music videos to inspire me, but sometimes I don’t really know what I’m talking about – I figure it out later.”
Noting that her first album took some five years to complete, she says, “I’m in no rush with the next one. I’d like to put it out quickly, but we’ll see what happens.”