Charli XCX Reviews 2016: On Brexit, The Chainsmokers, “Damn, Daniel,” & More
Over the last few years, Charli XCX has become one of the most exciting and idiosyncratic pop stars of our time. She’s had a hand in some massive hits, but rather than skyrocketing to household-name and festival-headliner status, she’s continued to skirt the fringes, making forward-thinking, genre-agnostic pop music as if trying to recalibrate the mainstream to her liking before joining it completely. That’s what leads to something like the Vroom Vroom EP she released earlier this year. The four-song collection saw her collaborating with SOPHIE, who originally came to prominence via his collaborations with the conceptual pop-art collective PC Music. Next year, she’ll follow that with a new full-length album, for which she continued collaborating with SOPHIE, Stargate (the prolific hit-making production duo she’s worked with in the past), and BloodPop. Considering the distinct identities of her last two albums — 2013’s True Romance and 2014’s Sucker — who knows what it’ll sound like, other than not quite like anyone else currently releasing music.
Before the next chapter of Charli XCX’s career really gets going next spring, we caught up with her to talk about what we can expect from her new album, but we also asked her to look back at 2016. We spoke about the heavier topics like Trump and Brexit, but also Stranger Things and a certain chart-topping dance duo everyone loves to hate.
CHARLI XCX: Oh God, OK, I’m going to be so bad at this.
STEREOGUM: Well, you’ll probably know about this first one. It’s close to home. Were you in England during the Brexit decision?
XCX: Yes, I was in England then and, obviously, was really disappointed with the result of the vote. I remember waking up at like 6AM to go to the polling station. I had to get on a flight that day. It was pouring rain, and I was like, “Oh, this is ominous.” I honestly didn’t think it would happen. Obviously, a lot of people didn’t think it would happen, and that’s why it did happen. Pretty bummed out about that. I even sent a tweet about how the EU was cute and we should totally remain in, but alas, it didn’t really make a difference.
the eu is sexy and cute so plz vote remain today guys 💕
— CHARLI XCX (@charli_xcx) June 23, 2016
STEREOGUM: You described something that’s very similar to what went on here with the election. Many of us thought it wasn’t going to happen.
XCX: It’s interesting, when the Brexit thing happened, I kinda felt like Trump would get in. Obviously I did not want him to at all, but because Brexit was so — because that’s how I and a lot of my friends felt about Brexit. I’m surrounded by a lot of very liberal people who were very for staying in the EU and didn’t see the rest of the world. So the whole Trump thing, I was like, “This might happen and that’s really depressing.” And then it did. Shit.
STEREOGUM: When I did this interview with Wayne Coyne last week, he talked about Brexit and hoping it would be a wake up call for America, a “this could happen to us” kind of thing. For you being from England: When Trump did win were you thinking, “Shit, more of the same,” or did you have any other thoughts?
XCX: I was in Mexico when it happened. I remember staying up really late and going through the internet, constantly refreshing everything, realizing it was happening, and I actually got really depressed for the next couple of days. Me and my friend that I was with, we were just getting so sucked into the internet and watching all these montage videos of the worst things Donald Trump had ever said and done. It was totally dark.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, I’ve been doing that a lot since the election, too. Just losing days on end reading about all this stuff — it really keeps getting worse every day it seems. So, uh… slightly different topic. Are you familiar with the Chainsmokers?
XCX: [laughs] Yeah, I am. What a dynamic duo. I haven’t read the Billboard article, but that’s what you’re referring to, right? Where they say, “Oh, yeah, we do this for the pussy, bro!” or some stupid shit like that. Well, yeah, obviously I’m like, that’s fucking dumb. I don’t know, I don’t really have an opinion on them actually. I did have a really bizarre dream about them where they called me and they wanted to go goth. And they asked me to be their stylist. The Chainsmokers wanted to go goth. I fully dressed them up like Fairuza Balk in The Craft. Then I woke up. So I don’t know if it made them more successful or less successful or what their vibe was about it. That’s the only contact I’ve had with them.
STEREOGUM: That’s a hell of a dream.
XCX: Maybe one day the dream will come true and I’ll be the Chainsmokers’ stylist, shopping in fucking Camden Market for a bullet belt. Who knows.
STEREOGUM: Did you play Pokémon Go at all?
XCX: Yeah, I played it once at my friend’s house in the UK. I caught a Bulbasaur. You know what, I was such a Pokémon nerd when I was younger. I had a folder that you could put your Pokémon cards in that looked like a Pokédex and I used to carry it everywhere. Because I was a fucking legend. We used to watch the TV show regularly. I went to watch the movie. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that masterpiece. Also the second Pokémon movie. I went to see that. I was really big into the original, analog Pokémon, let’s call it. But I didn’t really get involved in Pokémon Go. It sounds dangerous. I don’t want to get hit by a car.
STEREOGUM: You and I are around the same age, I also had a folder full of Pokémon cards. Was it strange for you to see this thing from when we were kids come back in such a 21st century, smartphone-oriented kind of form?
XCX: I mean, not so weird, because it’s kind of always around for me. I have a lot of Pokémon t-shirts. I have a t-shirt with Pikachu and Ash on it that I wear from time to time. I’ll also still play the games from time to time. Like in normal life. It didn’t crop back up totally unexpectedly, for me. But it was a very clever idea, for sure. It’s crazy how people really fucking went for it.
STEREOGUM: Did you catch the whole “Damn, Daniel” video?
XCX: Oh my God, OK, it’s my best friend’s favorite thing to say to me. I haven’t seen the video, but she says it to me all the time on the phone and when she texts me. At first I was like, “Who’s Daniel!? What the fuck are you talking about?” And then she told me. I don’t really know how to even work the internet, so that’s why I’m not up on my meme life.
STEREOGUM: Neither am I, usually, until I have to do these interviews.
XCX: OK, cool, just a couple of old-school kids.
STEREOGUM: How about Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West? Did you follow that?
XCX: I did know about Taylor Swift v. Kanye. What an epic battle of pop/hip-hop. Yeah, like, whatever. [laughs] You know what I mean? “Oh, someone called someone a bitch, did approve it, didn’t approve it, there’s a phone call.” Ohhh fucking hell. I’m like, yeah, the song is really good. It’s a great song, and it’s my favorite album of this year. Well, ANTI as well. Do I hate Taylor Swift? No, absolutely not. I think she’s cool and she’s always been very kind and awesome to me. Do I think Kanye’s a dick? No, I think he’s a rock star. I just don’t care. You know, whatever, it’s good. They both know how to run the fucking media. That’s part of being an artist these days. It’s all good.
STEREOGUM: Why was The Life Of Pablo your favorite album this year?
XCX: I only listened to those two albums this year anyway, so it didn’t have much competition. But I know, even if I had listened to other records this year, they would’ve been my favorites. ANTI was just so groundbreaking, for such a high-profile pop star to put out a record like that and have it be so believable. No artist could sing those songs apart from Rihanna. That’s why I loved it. And The Life Of Pablo, it’s just a joyous fucking mess, do you know what I mean? In the best way possible. I think Kanye is the best artist of my time.
STEREOGUM: I agree, he’s definitely one of the artists of our generation. Did you watch Stranger Things?
XCX: Yes! Oh my God, obsessed.
STEREOGUM: I’m just catching up on it now, actually. I just watched the third episode today.
XCX: [gasps] I’m so jealous of you! You have so much to look forward to.
STEREOGUM: Well, some of it got spoiled for me… so, don’t spoil it for me further, but what did you like about it?
XCX: I just think it was the most amazing homage to the ’80s and to sci-fi. The kids in that show are fucking so talented and I’m a big Winona Ryder fan so it was amazing to see her in something again. The whole thing, it was just so well done. And obviously the font is incredible. I’m getting into fonts these days. So that was a fun little intro sequence for me.
STEREOGUM: There were many romantic casualties this year, including Brangelina. How’d you feel about them splitting up?
XCX: I didn’t really have a reaction to the split itself. More just like, the way the media really fucking… I mean, obviously they were going to go for that for a story, because that’s such a high-profile couple or whatever. For me, it was a way where we saw how the media can make everything a million times worse than it probably is. I know that’s an annoying thing to say, because that’s been the case forever. Obviously I don’t know them. But they both seem like prolific and respectful human beings, and the way the media is fucking trying to tear them both apart is just really horrible.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, gotta say, this year hasn’t made me feel so great to be involved in the media between things like that and Trump, etc. We also lost a lot of iconic musicians this year. Did any of those affect you in a particular way?
XCX: Yeah, Bowie and Prince, really. They’re both incredibly iconic artists. Yeah, 2016 feels fucked up, that we lost both of those guys in one year. And also Lemmy, as well. At the time, I was dating someone in a rock band who was super into Lemmy. We went to the Rainbow, where he used to drink in LA, a couple of nights after it happened. It was pretty bizarre to have lost so many legends in one year, and very sad.
STEREOGUM: This year can’t take a break.
XCX: Yeah, 2016 really fucked us. Remember 2015, those good old days? I don’t. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: Since 2016 was such a mess, let’s look forward and talk about 2017. You have a new album on the way.
XCX: Yes, in May.
STEREOGUM: What can we expect from it?
XCX: It’s basically a party record. I’d say it’s the most pop album that I have ever made but also the most progressive album that I’ve ever made. I worked on basically all of it with SOPHIE and Stargate. Really, I’d say 75 percent of the songs are about champagne and the other 25 percent are about dudes. [laughs] So, yeah.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel like it’s a logical progression from Sucker and then the Vroom Vroom EP?
XCX: It does relate to the Vroom Vroom EP. The record is kinda split into a more pop side and a much more club-oriented side. The Vroom Vroom style, that feeds into the club side where things get more aggressive.
STEREOGUM: How was it working on the whole record with SOPHIE?
XCX: Amazing. It was great to be with him in LA, in Westlake or just going to his house at 3AM and working. He works so fast. It’s also like a party when he works, because he creates something on the spot and also has really great dance moves when he’s in the studio. It’s a good vibe. And also I’m just obsessed with his sounds. He’s an incredible sound designer. We definitely flow off of each other. I could make songs with him every day, and they’d all be absolutely incredible and I wouldn’t get bored ever.
STEREOGUM: Does it have any sort of thematic ties to Sucker or True Romance or is this totally new territory?
XCX: I would say it actually links a lot more to True Romance than to Sucker. I think as I create more albums, Sucker will be this weird anomaly. I kind of hate that album right now. And also, I feel like I was going through a very… “Oh, I’m annoyed!” I was like a Bratz doll then. That’s how I’d sum up that era. Now I’m not annoyed. Now I just want to party.
STEREOGUM: Is there a reason you hate Sucker besides feeling disconnected from that era?
XCX: I don’t think some of the songs are as good as they could’ve been. Some of them are great. “Doing It,” smash. “Boom Clap,” smash. I hate “Break The Rules.” I don’t know. It’s not as cohesive as this album.
STEREOGUM: Well, I don’t hate Sucker, so I’m excited for what comes next one way or another.