Four Walls of 3D Screens: An Interview with Charli XCX

"I'm trying to figure out my life, basically," says Charli XCX. "It's kind of a mess right now, but it's all good."
charli xcx


This interview you're about to read took place on the Thursday before South by Southwest, as Charlotte Aitchison took a break from packing for a month of shows, beginning in Austin. "I'm trying to figure out my life, basically," said Charli XCX. "It's kind of a mess right now, but it's all good." Despite the pre-tour chaos, she talked enthusiastically about her music, so much so that I often had to slow down my tape as I transcribed this interview to understand what exactly she had said. The consequences of her upcoming album, sampling Gold Panda, the influence of visuals on her creative process and why music videos are more important than records—all can be found below.

PMA: Have you approached the creation of your album differently from how you approached your mixtape and EP's?

Charli XCX: Making an album feels like so much more of a big deal because it's going to be something that people can hold. I always freak out about that shit because with the mixtape I didn't really think about the consequences, but I feel like this album has consequences. It's kind of freaking me out. True Romance is a combination of all of my famous songs that I've done so far with where I'm at right now as a person.

PMA: What does it mean for an album to have consequences?

Charli XCX: I feel like this album is my child. I've put so much of heart into this record; I really have. It's about all of my relationships; about my feelings about love and all the people I've loved. To have people being able to access that and have people being able to write about it, and then them maybe writing really bad things about it. I hope they don't because I think it's a really good album, but they might and that really scares me, that would make me really upset. As I'm sure it would with any new artist, but I never really thought about it that much before. I really do feel like I've made a great record though, so hopefully that might not happen.

PMA: I wanted to ask you about one song on there which I can't stop playing right now, "You (Ha ha ha)." What does it mean to be "tapped in the basement / a victim of pro-placement"?

Charli XCX: "Trapped in the basement" doesn't really mean actually trapped in a basement. It just means trapped underground emotionally, like you can't get out. An pro-placement—it's like someone else is taking your place in a relationship. You've been pushed out, and you're on the outside, not the inside anymore.

PMA: It's interesting to me that that song is so dark thematically but still so overtly catchy, as is often the case with pop songs. How did you decide to use that Gold Panda sample for that song?

Charli XCX: I actually made that song maybe two years ago. I was working with this guy, Jaques Almond. We were just working on tracks and then we would just play some shit and I played him that Gold Panda, and he was like, "wow, why don't we do something over this?" and I was like, "alright cool, let's try it." Initially I just wanted to do something with it and put it online. At that point two years ago, no body knew who I was or anything, but then I sent it to my label and they were like, "This is really cool, this is really cool." And I was like, "Is it? OK, well, I don't know. There's a really big fucking sample in there." Then, basically, they got it to Gold Panda and he really liked it. Now I'm here, putting it out having shot a video for it.

PMA: Speaking of that video, you had to put out an apology because of its gun imagery. Do you have any regrets at all with that video? Or do you think people are just being oversensitive or perhaps missed the grind house reference?

Charli XCX: I explained what the video was about, which paying homage to the grind house genre. I also explained that the bullets had been turned into lipstick, love bullets. "Make lipstick not war." I filmed that video in October, and I'll admit the timing was unfortunate, but it wasn't meant to be shocking or anything like that. It was always meant to be—and it is—an homage to grindhouse and Tarrantino. I called my record True Romance which is one of my favorite movies. People took it out of context and I apologize, but that wasn't what it was about.

PMA: I've heard you call your music "dark pop." What does that mean to you? What does it mean to make dark pop music?

Charli XCX: My previous releases were much more like darker, eighties, midnight kind of realm. So the video that came with "You're The One," was much more industrial and dark. I then started experimenting with some sounds and I actually feel like my music now sounds like angel pop, as I call it. It's very emotional, very dreamy, but it's still pop music. So I've kind of moved away from the dark pop music vibe now. I saw all those songs as being black or midnight blue, and I think that's why I called it dark pop.

PMA: What do you think prompted that change from "dark pop" to "angel pop"?

Charli XCX: Just things that were happening to me in my life. Relationship changes, the people around me. I was writing a lot of stuff at home, and I found a lot of crazy cool producers that I really loved. I'm much happier and wanted to make happier music.

PMA: Do you have any particular aspirations or goals for this record?

Charli XCX: Just to put an album is pretty exciting for me. It's taken me so long to do it. I would love for it to become a record that people recognize as a really good piece of pop music. Apart from that, I can't wait to tour this record. I wanna create this amazing live show. Really create amazing, amazing visuals, incorporate my favorite films into the visuals. If I had an endles amount of money, I'd love to make every wall in the room into a screen and then give people 3D glasses. I think that would be really cool. But I'm broke, so that won't happen for a while.

PMA: That would be quite wild; if that ever happens please let us know. I've heard you talk a lot about how the visual elements seem to be intertwined with the creation of your music. Is there always a visual component, for you, when you're creating your songs?

Charli XCX: Yes, when I create my songs I am always inspired by visual things. I'm inspired by my favorite music videos like Chris Cunningham's videos for Björk and Madonna, photography, and my favorite movies like Carrie, Clueless, Empire Records and things like that. When I'm making a song and it comes to the end of making that track, if I can't see a music video for the song then I don't want to put it on my album. I feel like I always have to see the music video, and if can see it then I know the song is good enough to go on record.

PMA: So would you say the song on record is more important to you or the music music video is more important?

Charli XCX: I don't know if this is like a bad thing to say, but I feel like the music video is more important for me. It encompasses every aspect of editing—the performance, the colors, the music… my whole world. I'm like a child, I love to see colors and I always see my music in colors. It can go into a magical world, and in a music video that's where I can do that, get that rush. I love it, I love it.


Charli's much anticipated debut album, True Romance is out tomorrow April 16. It is currently streaming at Pitchfork Advance.