Charli XCX is a born night owl. During her set at Wake Up Call, the ever-restless alt-pop star hit the intimate rooftop stage at W Hollywood with the full-swagger of someone who’s been touring some of America’s largest venues. She had the crowd dancing to radio anthems like “I Love It” and “Boom Clap” as well as mixtape cuts like “5 In The Morning.” It wasn’t that late when she took the stage, but one sensed that even if it were 5am, she’d go just as hard and the crowd would follow.
This is a homecoming show for Charli XCX (born Charlotte Aitchison), as she now splits her time between LA and the UK. In her hotel room a few hours before her show, she insists it’s not just because she wants to escape the English winter, though that’s part of it.
“I do sort of like to escape the cold months in London and the UK. And that is definitely one of the benefits of being half based in LA. However, I do enjoy a season, as well,” she says. “I actually moved to LA because I was working with a lot of people over here, so that was the main reason. I was just in the studio more over here, and stuff like that. But, all my family are in London, so it’s definitely still back and forth. I like both, you know?”
Clad in designer goth attire and projecting an air of relaxed confidence, she starts musing on the beginnings of her career, and the many versions of Charli XCX she’s already been. Aitchison started posting songs to her Myspace page as a teenager, and in 2011 her single “Stay Away” caught the attention of music blogs and fellow artists; shortly after the release of her first mixtape Heartbreaks and Earthquakes, she was invited to tour with Coldplay and Santigold. Her official debut album True Romance followed in 2013.
Charli XCX is a true child of the post-internet generation of music listeners, one who sees no need to differentiate between genres or styles. She holds the Cure, Björk and Britney Spears in equal reverence, and she’s just as comfortable crafting giddy crush anthems like “Boom Clap” and club annihilators like “I Love It” (written for Icona Pop) as she is making punkish anthems like “Break The Rules” or collaborating with Cardi B. Eager to show she can fit in anywhere, she spent the summer opening for Taylor Swift.
“To play in front of that many people is really great. I mean, obviously they’re there to see Taylor, but I think even if they don’t necessarily know me, they know, like, at least three of my songs that I play,” she says. “And then, they’ll be like, ‘oh that’s that person.’ I really enjoy like winning people over. I’m kinda confident about that. Maybe even verging on cocky.”
Charli XCX can make radio-conquering bops seemingly at will; “I Love It” is still probably playing on some station right this second. But lately, she’s been focused on boundary-pushing, underground dance music, teaming with innovative producers like A. G. Cook and Sophie and for last year’s acclaimed free mixtapes Number 1 Angel and Pop 2.
“I’m not sure there really is a difference between a mix-tape and an official album,” she says. “For me, it’s easier to release it if I call it a mixtape. There’s this whole pressure with an album, and build up, the label wanting to be more involved. So, by calling it a mix-tape, I just sort of can get to go off in my own little world, and do my thing.”
Her free mixtapes allow her to explore sounds and approaches that anticipate what pop music might sound like in a hundred years when all nightclubs are filled with sexy androids and dense, filthy bass lines have united the world in joy. Which is to say, they are a little much for Top 40 radio. But she insists that she hasn’t consciously set out to create a dynamic where her albums are intended for pop radio success and to win over the Taylor Swift fans while the mixtapes quench the thirst of her diehard fans who love her more adventurous impulses.
“I think albums can be whatever you want them to be, and mine definitely will be what I want them to be,” she says. “I think that sort of kind of old-school mentality of having to be on the radio is sort of dead, ’cause I’m not really sure the radio means that much anymore. Which, I think is great for artists, ’cause I feel like there’s a lot more freedom to be like super creative.”
In addition to her releasing a recent mixtape and touring, she has also appeared on the remix for Tove Lo’s “Bitches,” and has dropped singles and videos for “Girl’s Night Out,” “Focus,” “No Angel,” and “5 in the Morning.”
“I feel like there are no rules for me anymore, when it comes to releasing songs and albums, mixtapes, whatever you want to call it. I’ve realized that I just wanna keep putting out a continuous flow of work, because then I don’t get bored,” she says. “Also I don’t really believe in the rigid, kind of formulaic sort of old-school label or strategy of like single, single, album. I think there’s space to be way more free than that, so I enjoy it.”
Pop 2 saw her exclusively collaborate with female singers like Carly Rae Jepsen, Cupcakke and Brooke Candy, and was executive produced by the transgender songwriter Sophie, whom Charli calls “one of my favorite people to work with. I kind of feel like she’s the future of pop music,” she says. “I do definitely have an affinity to particular artists, and particular scenes that I get on with extremely well. For example, the LGBTQ community are a community who have always really supported me, and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without them. And, there are so many incredible artists, producers, performers, who belong to that community. And, it’s always so fun to collaborate with people from that community.”
Don’t expect her frantic pace or love of collaborations to stop anytime soon. And don’t expect her to get to bed at a reasonable hour either. The woman who claimed in a song that she balls until five in the morning does her best to live up to her reputation. Within reason.
“I would say I definitely do go ’til five in the morning on some days. It’s definitely not an everyday thing,” she says. “That would be a straight-up lie. But, I reckon maybe, at least, like once or twice a week, there are very late nights.”