Charli XCX: Best Year Ever

“I like working because it keeps me from crying,” Charli XCX tells me.

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Oct 31 2013, 7:30pm

“I like working because it keeps me from crying,” Charli XCX tells me. She sounds tired. She’s been working on her second album for months. “Most of the time,” she says, “if I have days off, I'll cry, because it feels so weird and I don't really know what to do. If I have downtime, I always freak out and have a nervous breakdown.” Right now, she’s on her way to the airport in Stockholm, getting ready to head to the US for a club tour.

Charli XCX has been a figure-in-the-making for almost a decade now. She began working in music at 14, but failed to gain early traction, aside from a couple of promising singles. Without a hit, the singer became the songwriter, writing for others, ultimately penning the massive hit “I Love It” for the Swedish duo Icona Pop, which in part led to her debut record True Romance finding its release. While “I Love It” is inescapable and her album is critically acclaimed, the singer has managed to shield herself from the suffocating wave of success. “This whole crazy world thing, sometimes it freaks me out,” she says. “Even though I know what's going on around me, I don't really like to get too sucked into it. I keep myself to myself and do my own thing a lot of the time.”

Even though Charli still performs “I Love It” live, it appears that she’s moving towards an arena of greater artistic agency, throwing herself into her new material. That transition begins with “SuperLove,” the first single from the record, which premiered last month. The song is a disco-infused jam, one that feels organic while still being able to fill an arena. “SuperLove” should not, however, be seen as a primer on what her new material will sound like. “I suppose it's like a tease into it. ‘SuperLove’ is quite a live song, compared to True Romance which was mostly electronic,” she says. “I was going to do a cover of this Daniel Johnston song ‘Premarital Sex’ but I don’t know. That's an example of how non-pop the record might go.” TrueRomance already felt like left-field pop; dark synths, drum machine clangs, and breathy vocals mix in a way not really expected from her pre-album internet singles (“You (Ha Ha Ha)” and You’re The One”). Charli XCX doesn’t so much subvert expectations as she does whatever the fuck she wants and lets the pieces fall where they may.

Sometimes, doing whatever the fuck she wants means creating a music video with an authentic Japanese bike gang (“It was intense and we were on edge, but they were super nice and really cool, and we got to go on the back of their bikes.”), robots grinding, and Charli, sleep-deprived and loving it. “My awesome director, Ryan Andrews, and I, we've been watching movies like Akira and Inshu the Killer, even though that movie doesn't relate much to the video, and we were both like ‘we just have to go to Japan.’” Andrews, it should be noted, is both Charli’s boyfriend and go-to video director. “We don't even have to talk on the set, you know? It's weird and it's kind of freaky but we're like weird telepathic twins.”

Recently, Charli popped up on “Float On,” the closing track from Danny Brown’s Old, which found her playing the ethereal angel demon on Brown’s shoulder. “I think it's cool that me and Danny Brown are from completely different musical worlds, yet I can do that stuff. I love hip-hop, so it was really nice to be asked by such a talented artist to be on his record,” she says. “We never really met until we both played a festival in Europe together and I went to see his show and it was so cool. He was this crazy…guy.”

With her next record, however, Charli is allowing herself to succeed or fail on her own terms. “I've done so many collaborations in the past. I felt like I had to take this one for me,” she says. After the year that she’s had, skyrocketing from relative anonymity to a rising pop star, Charli is embracing autonomy.

Charli speaks of her upcoming tour in support of True Romance with the eagerness of a teen.“This is my first time going on a tour bus!” she says. “I'll probably just get so over-excited that I'll pass out. Oh my god, there's a toilet and a bed!”

For the first time, maybe ever, she feels as if she’s finally in a place where she both knows who she is and knows what she wants out of her music. And if doing things her own way means redeyes to Tokyo and touring across America, so be it. She’s never not working. “If I have a day off, I'll always go into the studio or like I'll watch movies and try to think about videos and shit. I don’t really like to stop.”

Luis Paez-Pumar does the Twitter here - @paezpumarL