Synth-Pop Singer-Songwriter Charli XCX Talks True Romance, Tasting Sweat, & Lena Dunham

Charli XCX is no newbie to the music scene, though her age might indicate otherwise to those not in the know. The 20-year-old Brit, born Charlotte Aitchison but recognized by her hotly debated stage name, has been making people move since she was an adolescent.

At 14, XCX was already on the radar, albeit far from mainstream, discovered on MySpace and invited to play raves at the weekend. An only child, her parents would drive her to and from performances—sometimes staying, watching on like ever-adoring chaperones—then take her to school come Monday. What might have remained a fond memory or a passing phase, however, evolved into a career, with a capital “c,” her warehouse party past giving rise to a girl who knew her pop hooks and dance beats.

The past half-decade has seen her morph from girl to woman, as well as release several solid songs, among them one of her best, “Nuclear Seasons.” At 16 she signed a record deal, catapulting the former club kid from promising act to legitimate artist with a single signature. For the past four years she’s worked towards today, which sees her major label release of True Romance. Her lyrical prowess and knack for catchiness continue to impress with this sweeping and anthemic debut, a 13-track album featuring favorites like “Lock You Up,” “What I Like” and “Cloud Aura.”

XCX, who also co-wrote Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” (which, if you’ll recall, was a huge hit following a particularly entertaining episode of HBO’s Girls) is currently touring Europe and the U.K. with Ellie Goulding, and will touch down in the States come May. New Yorkers can catch her supporting Marina and the Diamonds at Rumsey Playfield on May 29 and alongside Little Daylight on May 31 at Glasslands Gallery.

In the meantime, hear from the hard-hitting goth-pop princess herself. She’s got plenty to say, from her outlook on love (which she’s in, with Ryan Andrews) to her fantasies surrounding calling all the concert shots (think outlandish creative direction as it pertains to set design, à la Girls dreamboat douchebag Booth Jonathan).

You titled the album True Romance. Is this record the embodiment of “true romance,” to you? It’s such a bold statement to make. To say, like, Here it is. This is the definition.
This record is, for me, what true romance is. I’ve been writing the record for the past two to three years, but one song I wrote when I was 16. So, I feel like I’ve been writing this album as I’ve been growing up. Your views on love and life change over time. You experience different relationships, that kind of thing, and I think the record is kind of about that. It’s about love from different angles. Different periods of your life. There’s a bratty breakup song, when you went out with a bad boy. Then there’s a song about falling in epic, amazing, real, true love. And I feel like that’s what happened to me during the process of writing this album. I feel like I’ve fallen in love, massively. I feel like the record looks at how you can be on this love trip, in this dream state, but at the same time you can feel lonely and isolated. I think it’s interesting how schizophrenic love is. And that’s what the record is to me. It’s schizophrenic. It sounds that way. It sounds like love.

Did the title come at the end?
The title came last, actually. It was kind of, like, a reflection. I never wanted to make a concept album and come up with the title track and write songs around the title. I wanted to write the songs as naturally as possible and as naturally as they came to me. It just so happened they were about love. Once I started writing them, I supposed that was an appropriate title.

Makes sense. Can you tell me a bit about being so young coming up in the music scene?  
It was kind of crazy. At the beginning, I was very, very excited about everything. I was 15, signing a record deal. I was so elated by it. So, whenever there were highs and lows—which there definitely were, and still are—I took them really personally. It was a quite traumatic experience making this album, especially when I was younger. It can be emotional making an album, putting all your thoughts and feelings on a CD. I found the industry very difficult. There were so many expectations I thought I had to live up to. I was unsure who I was. I wrote the song “Stay Away” then. I began to find myself and what kind of music I wanted to make. I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I realized I don’t have any criteria I need to meet. I’m just doing my thing. I’m not feeling like I have to please anyone.

Even with the tumult, it had to have been a blast.
It was really fun. When I was younger, I’d go to raves, and that was crazy. Then, I’d go to school on Monday, and that was weird. But, it was cool. I kind of feel like I got sucked into that. I’m glad I left that scene and started making real music on my own.

Oh, yes. You’re talented, your debut’s a gem and, on top of that, you’ve traveled the world touring in support of Coldplay, Santigold, Ellie Goulding. Was it difficult to adjust to the limelight? MySpace and late-night raves are one thing, but stadiums are another thing all together. That’s rock star status.
For me, I can’t think about going on stage as the “limelight.” I think about it as playing my songs for people and losing my mind. When I’m on stage, I feel completely free. I feel completely inspired. I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m getting lost in the moment. It’s like one big trip.

Speaking of trip, do you have a favorite place to play?
I love America. I love L.A. and I love New York. And I haven’t been there yet, but I know I’m going to love Tokyo so much when I go. It sounds so magical.

It does. So, which one: New York or L.A.?
I don’t know. People compare them, but they’re so different. It’s so difficult to compare the two. I feel like L.A., maybe, for me, just because it’s so different from London. Whereas New York is so similar.

Aww, shucks. So, do you have any down time when you tour?
Never. It’s constant. But, that’s fine. It feels good to play shows and have people come listen to my music. That’s really nice. I mean, it’s weird doing promo every day. You have to talk about yourself all the time, and I don’t really like doing that. It’s just strange. I’m starting to get used to it. It’s all right.

You’re adjusting. How’s tour going so far with Ellie?
It’s fun. The crowds are big. She’s cool. I think I managed to convert her into a platform shoe-lover. She tried on my Buffalo platforms and was like, Oh my god, these are amazing!

How would you compare the experience of performing at big venues versus small?
Playing big venues is always less personal. Like, when I was doing the Coldplay tour, there were, like, seven screens. Only the front, like, five rows can see you up close. But, in a club it’s wild. You can taste everyone’s sweat, which I really like. I feel so much more alive. You can really get in touch with the crowd and make it, like, an apocalyptic, end of the world party. So, I really like that. Obviously, it’s a dream to play in front of as many people as possible, so big stages are good. But, when I have my own massive shows, I want the walls and ceilings and floors to be made of screens. So you’re in a screen box. And it’s, like, my favorite videos and mash-ups of my favorite movies playing. It’d be a mindfuck.

Do you watch Girls?
Yeah! Like that artist [Booth Jonathan]’s thing. Exactly like that, except on a massive scale.

That’s also, as you know, the episode featuring the song you wrote, performed by Icona Pop.
That was really cool. I’m a big Lena Dunham fan. I feel like she’s this sexy, hilarious, fierce super-girl. So, it was really cool seeing her singing that song. It was quite funny.

Is Hannah your favorite character on the show?
I don’t know. I also really like Adam. And I really like Shoshanna. And I love to hate Jessa, because I know so many people like that and they’re so frustrating.

Do you have a lot of super-fans?
I do, actually. They’re all sweet, but they’re crazy. It’s cute, though. They’re all young. They message me all the time. Like, everyday. It freaks me out that my music can mean that much to someone. I didn’t have that. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have had the power to tell them, because I didn’t have Twitter. Now, everyday, you can build up this false relationship in your mind. It’s scary. It’s mad.

I’d agree with that. After all this, the journey so far, what do your parents think?
They’re proud. Whenever I’m in London they’ll come to my show. They’re really supportive. They took me to the raves when I was younger, came with me and were really cool. I’m really thankful for that, actually.

That’s awesome. I imagine a lot of parents wouldn’t be as nurturing when it comes to their young daughter rocking the sometimes seedy rave scene. You also dress pretty provocatively. From where does your aesthetic sensibility derive?
I’m really inspired by movies. The Craft. Clueless. Empire Records. I just love that nineties aesthetic. I like basics, grungy stuff. I’m a big fan of the Spice Girls. Some of their music videos are my favorites. Like, “Say You’ll Be There.” I feel like I came through the third wave of the club kids in London. I was watching Party Monster, finding out who Michael Alig was. Part of me will always be interested in that world. DIY, but high fashion at the same time.

So, do you have a dream collaboration?
I’d love to work with Bjork. She’s incredible. I admire everything she does. Her voice is like butter. So angry but so sweet and beautiful at the same time. I think she’s wonderful.  

Whose music are you really into right now?
Jai Paul. I’ve always been a big fan of his. Kitty Pryde. I think she’s really cute. I love her lyrics. I always listen to the same stuff on repeat. Like, Uffie, Kate Bush, The Cure. Robert Smith is, like, my hero.

Last but not least, what would you be doing if not this?
I’d be crying probably. 

Personal Faves: Crushing With Kitty Pryde

Instead of ending the year with a slew of Best Of lists, BlackBook asked our contributors to share the most important moments in art, music, film, television, and fashion that took place in 2012. Here, Samantha Young shares the teenage dream of Kitty Pryde.

The first time I saw Kitty Pryde was on the first night of a three-day bender commemorating my expulsion from graduate school. The 19-year-old rapper released her haha, i’m sorry EP on the same day that I got the email saying, “We regret to inform you that you are flunking out.” The weekend after that was the Northside Music Festival, featuring Kitty’s New York debut at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. It was mid-June, and she had already gotten notable press from the New York Times, Complex, and the FADER. Her mere existence seemed like blog bait. Here was a teenage white female rapper/Claire’s employee from Florida with a song called “Okay Cupid,” well aware that people weren’t going to take her that seriously and seemingly fine with it. I had what was probably an average amount of curiosity for a music writer, finding the semi-viral track reasonably catchy but nothing that particularly jumped out at me. I wasn’t totally hooked, but I knew that attending Kitty Pryde’s show would capture something—I wasn’t sure what—about that specific point in time in the music blogging environment.

I was fascinated by her sudden internet fame but not enough to analyze it totally sober, which I told an acquaintance at the festival’s open bar before her Friday night set. Waiting for her to go on, I also found myself standing a few feet away from noted author/drug user Tao Lin who naturally exudes a disconcerting aura that compounded with my whiskey-and-beer haze. This was how I watched Kitty take the stage in a frilly party dress, accompanied by her BFF Annie and brother George. I didn’t have any major breakthroughs about the nature of internet culture, but what I did take away was that she was probably more self-aware and having more fun than I was when I was 19—even though she was obviously awkward and unused to performing.

I am young enough that my teenage years are still somewhat within reach, but old enough that I was surprised that I could relate so much to someone who was born that deep into the ’90s. When I was 19, I was locked into the most powerful infatuation of my life, the kind where I was so invested that knowing this boy was dating someone else was almost physically painful. If only I’d started rapping instead of sitting in my dorm room watching Ghost World and feeling sorry for myself. “Okay Cupid” is the kind of crush song that could only come from a teenage girl, which relegates it to guilty pleasure status by default for some people, but fuck it, I’ve been there and I can’t deny its truths.

Two days after the Knitting Factory show, as the festival and the constant flow of free Jameson came to an end, I reunited with the man that I would soon start associating with “Okay Cupid.” Our connection was tentative and based on misguided ideas about what we could do for each other’s careers, but I ended that night feeling optimistic, like I could bounce back easily. His number was safe in my phone, and it felt like something was going to happen.

Not much actually did happen. We went on what I thought was a cute date until he ended it with a hug instead of a kiss. I knew he probably thought I was too young for him, and we kept hanging out on his terms instead of mine. I let him call the shots because my love life was otherwise a complete dead zone and his cheekbones provided a distraction from the abrupt end to my academic life. I passed the time with songs about longing, and “Okay Cupid” was at the top of the list, full of lines I could easily apply to my embarrassing situation.

“The more you taunt me, the more I think I’m wanting you.” Check. “Lordy, shorty you’re a 10.” Check. “I don’t care how long it takes to get you after me/I wrote our names on my binder and everybody laughed at me.” Check. “My flattery makes me look like a fool again.” Check.

By the second time I saw Kitty Pryde in August at Santos Party House, I was firmly a member of the Kitty Committee. Now that there was some sort of fledgling intrigue in my life, she was someone I related to and felt a stronger connection with. It also helped that this time around, the crowd was there because they wanted to be there, not just out of morbid curiosity. Her stage presence was more confident and relaxed, and when she threw glitter into the crowd, it felt like a blessing from the internet in 2012. I was sober and it was the most fun I’d had in a long time. It was what I needed after freaking out over the school year beginning, even though I had mostly come to terms with my former program not being a good fit for me in the first place. Kitty also had a new song that featured the line “I’m just a little girl and you’re a grown-ass man” and a tougher, more serious flow than any of her previous work. I was immediately sold. She was still going through the same stuff I was going through, at least on the crush front.

A few days later, “You were a tool again, but you’re the one that I’ve chosen” ended up being the line from “Okay Cupid” that was the most relevant to me. I had a misunderstanding with the object of my affection and didn’t see him for a couple of months. During this span, I saw Kitty Pryde two more times and was self-conscious about being one of the more enthusiastic people in the audience. I shouldn’t have been, because she’s the kind of performer who’s just plain likeable, even if she’s not the most technically gifted rapper on the internet. She’s grounded in the real world, and she affirms that it’s okay to have feelings, even the weird ones that I kept dwelling on.

When Kitty remixed Marina and the Diamonds’ “How To Be A Heartbreaker,” she delivered some real talk about playing hard to get that I needed to hear, even if it wasn’t advice that I was taking. “Rule number three is don’t assume it was meant to be,” she said, younger but wiser than me. “Disregard your heart and never ever wear it on your sleeve.”

These weren’t words I was thinking of when I finally saw my crush again, pulling him into a stairwell at a party and vaguely mumbling, “It was because I like you,” hoping enough cheap bourbon was involved on both our parts to cloud over what was or wasn’t happening between us. The answer was still nothing, but “Okay Cupid” was there for me when I was sitting alone in my room at 3am, already rehashing the night.

Kitty Pryde is what resonates when you’re into an older guy who you know is kind of shady, but who’s good-looking and personable enough to keep your interest anyway. Kitty Pryde is what resonates when you can’t help it and revert to your teenage self. Kitty Pryde is what resonates when you want to ignore your real problems and daydream about your dumb crush instead.

Sufjan Stevens Completes Your Seasonal Music Collection With Rap Mixtape

Holiday rap music is a frequently recorded but highly underappreciated genre. Surely, most connoisseurs of both hip-hop and Christmas tunes know the most tried-and-true standards—Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas In Hollis,” Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’”—and those who maybe don’t exhibit the same appreciation for the genre still looked up that video of DMX singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” But the genre still has just so much potential, so many tracks left unnoticed and so many holiday raps to even attempt, and who better than to bring seasonal rap to the Twitterin’, content-farmin’ masses than the ultimate Christmas music overachiever himself… Sufjan Stevens?

Of course Sufjan Stevens made a free Christmas rap mixtape, on top of Silver & Gold, the five-album new holiday set released last month. Of course he did. And of course it’s called Chopped and Scrooged, which, if you’re going to make a Christmas rap mixtape with a punny name addressing both of these qualities, you might as well make it something as great as that.

You’re probably reading this and not even batting an eye. And the roster of artists he compiled is as varied as his own cross-genre festive material. Heems (formerly of Das Racist) opens the mixtape with the commanding “The Boy With A Star on His Head,” a decidedly less jovial holiday rap than, say, “Christmas In Hollis,” but still effective, especially with the weird, atmospheric middle section from Stevens. Elsewhere, bounce master Nicky Da B invites Santa Claus over for an NSFW rendezvous on the scandalous and very fun “Christmas in the Room” and Kitty Pryde (who previously tweeted about the album) addresses Kris Kringle in a different manner, asking for gifts in the form of “Implants and Yankee Candles.” You can download the mixtape here or stream it via AsthmaticKitty’s SoundCloud below.

BlackBook Tracks #8: Gift Raps

I originally made this for my friend’s mixtape club under the theme “gift raps.” It is exactly what it says it is.

Le1f – “Wut”

Underground rap’s summer anthem of 2012 has been on repeat for weeks.

Iggy Azalea – “Murda Bizness” (ft. T.I.)

The latest party anthem from the Australian upstart shows off her undeniable star power. It’s also accompanied by one of the year’s best music videos so far, a spoof of the child pageant world.

Kanye West – “Monster” (ft. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver)

Remember those days when Nicki Minaj was just doing guest verses and had yet to do anything that people considered disappointing?

Angel Haze – “Werkin’ Girls”

NYC rapper Angel Haze is Universal’s toughest new signee, and this cut from her latest release Reservation shows why.

Das Racist – “You Can Sell Anything”

#RappersThatSpitTheTruth isn’t trending on Twitter any more, but this is still my pick.

M.I.A. – “URAQT”

Have a throwback to 2005 to remember that this bad girl has always done it well.

A-Trak – “Ray Ban Vision” (ft. CyHi The Prynce)

This hilarious/infectious track was a favorite in fall 2010 and still sounds fresh, thanks to the ever-reliable A-Trak’s amped-up production.

Dominique Young Unique – “Gangster Whips”

This Florida-based rapper has remained fairly underground for years now, but she’s slowly but surely going to make her way out.

Yelawolf – “Lick The Cat” (ft. Diamond)

This song contains the line “White boys eat pussy like a sandwich.” That is all you need to know about it.

Azealia Banks – “Fuck Up The Fun”

If you haven’t already, listen to this track from Azealia Banks and Diplo and you’ll immediately know why our friends at Vibe put this dream team on their cover.
 

Kitty Pryde – “Orion’s Belt” (ft. RiFF RAFF)

Resistance is futile. Recent Mad Decent signee RiFF RAFF is one of the most bizarre, compelling figures in pop culture today, and Kitty Pryde’s honesty and self-awareness is inherently likeable.

“I Can Rap,” Claims Kitty Pryde in New Video

Kitty Pryde is the latest how-much-of-this-is-a-joke rapper on the internet, and whatever she’s doing, she’s having fun with it. The 19 year old from Florida calls herself the “rap game Taylor Swift,” and on “Orion’s Belt,” she teams up with Riff Raff, the heavily tattooed rapper who’s Diplo’s latest Mad Decent signee and the inspiration for James Franco’s character in the forthcoming Harmony Korine film Spring Breakers.

Directed by Jason Miller, the clip features the duo hanging out at a carnival. Airbrush t-shirts are involved, of course. Kitty’s Skrillex-haired brother and BFF, who served as hype-people at her New York debut show on Friday, also make appearances.

Sadly, Riff Raff left his Icee chain at home.