Listening to ‘True Romance’, the long-awaited debut album by British singer songwriter Charli XCX, and the collection of gorgeous, velvety secrets it holds, it’s flummoxing to believe that the woman pulling the strings is just 20 years of age. Such is the album’s lyrical depth and sonorous warmth.
But while Charli’s prone to calling her style of music “weird shit”, we’d prefer to think of it as pop… or at very least where pop should be. So we excitedly popped on the phone to Ms “Kiss Charli Kiss” (her old MSN sign-off) for a natter about the new LP, but start by congratulating her on the success of her collaboration with Icona Pop, ‘I Love It’.
“Oh thankyou! It’s weird seeing it blow up everywhere. It’s really nice,” she says. “I’m really proud of the girls and I’m really proud of (co-writer) Patrik Berger and myself. I think it’s cool. We all worked hard and we deserve it.
“I actually wrote that song in half an hour in my hotel room in Sweden about two years ago. As soon as I wrote it, I knew that I didn’t want it because I couldn’t picture the music video in my head and to me, that’s usually how I decide whether or not I connect with the song. So I took it to Patrik, told him I had this great song but didn’t have anyone to sing it. Icona Pop came down to the studio in Sweden a week later, we played them the song and they really liked it and they wanted it. They sung over my vocal and the rest is history.”
That 30 minutes of work paid off big time, with ‘I Love It’ taking on a life of its own across the globe. It slammed the top five here in Australia, selling four times platinum and sold in excess of a million copies in the US. It’s not slated for release in Charli’s native UK until next month, however, affording her the time to compose the next big pop hit.
“I always want to be able to write songs for other people… pop hits like ‘I Love It’. Songs that are universally known. That would be amazing,” she says. “But I just want to be able to keep writing my weird pop records as well. That’s my goal. I’d like to have it both ways.
“I love being able to write the songs that I write and to be able to have 100% control of my projects. That’s what’s important to me. I’ll write hits for other people all day long… that’s fine. But I want to make sure I’ll keep doing my little weird shit.”
Her debut album ‘True Romance’ is anything but weird shit. It’s a sonically rich, seamlessly produced future-pop masterpiece overflowing with refined, luxurious gems. Mainstream pop as it should be now, not tomorrow. Charli explains her aim for the sound of the album.
“I knew I always wanted the record to sound very luscious, very textural and very rich. I see my music, especially this album, as being the colour purple. I wanted the music to sound ‘purple’. I wanted it to sound like this deep, emotive colour,” she says, going on to explain why, despite having a few producers and songwriters on board, ‘True Romance’ feels and sounds so fluid.
“The main collaborator on the record is Ariel Rechtshaid who I’ve known for about four or five years. We’ve always been working on songs together and I couldn’t have made the album without him. He’s a very important part of the process for me. I like to keep the people that I work with to a select group.
“I think I was probably only in the room with Ariel, Patrik and Joakim (Åhlun) on the record. And most of the other people that I worked with like Blood Diamonds and J£zus Million, even though I’m massive fans of theirs… I’ve met them, but we worked over email during the writing process.
“I like to keep the studio very insular when I write. I like to keep it small and I like to keep it between people that I trust. So I definitely think that’s why it sounds the way it does – because there aren’t 20 people on each track,” she says.
“It wasn’t something that I set out to achieve, but I definitely am a massive fan of the drama and the romance that surrounds the ‘80s,” she admits. “Robert Smith is a hero of mine and whilst making the record, I was listening a lot to Martika, T’Pau and people like that, so I guess that kind of drama may have rubbed off on the album a bit.”
We suggest that not a lot of 20 year olds would even know who T’Pau or Martika were.
“Well I think that ‘Toy Soliders’ is one of the best songs ever,” she adds.
Lyrically, ‘True Romance’ is about all aspects of love; the good and the bad. And while there are moments of positivity in the lyrics, there are more than a couple of middle fingers raised to partners past. And Charli’s not worried about offending, confirming that she’s none the wiser if her exs have heard it.
“I haven’t spoken to them about it actually, so I don’t know. But I also don’t really care,” she admits. “I just think that all I wanted to do was to document my past and my relationship with romance and I think that’s what I’ve done.
“And the reason that I called it ‘True Romance’ is because I don’t think that you can have the perfect love. I think that even when it is perfect and you’re walking on clouds and you’re in this dream state, there are also the moments when you’re crying on the floor and you’re heartbroken and you’re depressed. And I don’t think it can be ‘True Romance’ unless you have both of those sides.”
But Charli tells us that despite the turbulence of relationships in the past, she remains very much a lover of love.
“I’m a big romantic,” she admits. “My dream date is probably Robert Smith and I think he’s the most romantic person ever. So I fall in love very easily and I love falling in love.”
Something else Charli XCX is more than a little fond of is girl power… Empowered female singers in the world of pop. She once stated the need to “reboot British girl power” but tells us she believes that as of late, girl power is undergoing a resurgence.
“I feel that girl power is coming back. I definitely feel girls are putting on the most interesting shows,” she tells us. “And they’re writing the most interesting music, whether that be pop in the top 40 realm or more the underground kind of realm. So I really believe girls are doing it right now and I definitely feel like we’re making the most interesting shit happen.”
But beyond herself, who else does she rate out of the current crop?
“I really like Kitty Pryde. I really like what she’s doing right now. I really like MS MR. Lizzy and Max are close friends of mine – and I think the work they create is amazing. Who else?”
Marina, we interject, given they’ve just collaborated on a track called ‘Just Desserts’.
“Yes, of course, of course! I’m very excited to go on tour with her,” she says.
Speaking of tours, Charli hints that we may see her down under for some live shows early in the new year. Though “nothing’s planned yet”, she tells us that a series of headline dates is “definitely what I want”. We’ll get to experience the full set of skills honed in her heady teenage days performing in the ’00s rave scene in London.
“I’ll never forget the first show I played in one of the warehouses,” she recalls. “I just stood on a crate and I looked at the ground and sung my way awkwardly through four songs and couldn’t look up at anyone and didn’t know what to do. It was really horrible.
“But then after playing a few of the shows and watching some of the performers who were there, I began to really learn from them. It was the second, possibly third wave of the rebirth of the club kids, so it was probably more about fashion than it was about music… more about fashion and performance. I really learnt a lot from that. I learned how to totally embrace your inner freak. I don’t think I would be the performer that I am today had I not been playing those shows.”
That the performer is as extraordinarily gifted and accomplished as she is now at just 20 years old makes for a scary prospect for the tour de force Charli XCX will be in ten years time when, she tells us, she hopes to be on her “third or fourth record”.
For the time being, however, we must be content with ‘True Romance’. A thoughtful, beautifully produced slice of “purple”. Pop… as it should be.
“I see my record as being a pop album, but a lot of people don’t, which I think is a shame. That’s just the way it is at the moment. But I think that it’s changing.”
And if ‘True Romance’ is any guide, that change can’t come soon enough.
Charli XCX’s album ‘True Romance’ is available physically and digitally now.