Charli XCX creates dance-pop draped in the darkness of relationships gone wrong. Her debut album, April’s True Romance, features 13 synth-driven tales of lovers driven insane, souls devoured and heartbreak survived.
But none of its lovesick singles have caught on like “I Love It,” a track Charli co-wrote, shouted kiss-off lyrics over and then gave away to Swedish electro-pop duo Icona Pop. The British singer-songwriter says she has no regrets about relinquishing to another artist what became a monster international hit.
“I wrote it in my hotel room in half an hour,” she says. “I knew it wasn’t right for me.”
Charli spoke to CityLife from a Stockholm studio where she’s crafting her next album and preparing to kick off her North American tour with an appearance at Life Is Beautiful on Sunday.
She will perform at the Ambassador Stage at 2:20 p.m.
Penning a worldwide hit has opened doors for the 21-year-old. She’s now sought out as a professional songwriter in addition to being a performer. Among the big names that have recently solicited her skills was Britney Spears.
“That was really cool,” she says. “I wanted to be her when I was 7.”
Though it didn’t produce a chart smash like “I Love It,” True Romance won rave reviews for tracks like “You - Ha Ha Ha” and “Nuclear Seasons” that blend mid-tempo dance beats with anguished lyrics. A highlight is “Set Me Free,” where Charli sings, “I have been dancing with shadows/I have been calling your name/I feel the skin dripping from my bones/ your touch, it makes me insane.”
Slated for release next year, her sophomore album is “very much a work in progress” with some songs sketched out but nothing complete. Her working process varies. She might hammer something out on a piano, sing a melody into her smartphone or just focus on the beginnings of a beat.
“Sometimes I’ll think of a cool line,” she says. “Other times, I”ll just be humming something. It just kind of happens. It will just be an idea that pops into my head when I’m doing something completely different from writing a song.”
Charli says her musical influences in writing the new album are French yé-yé music of the ‘60s and ‘80s new wave. If those styles seem incongruous, they’re certainly not in Charli’s mind. She rattles off her specific inspirations from those genres as though they logically blend. “Johnny Hallyday, Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg,” she says, “along with The Waitresses and Bow Wow Wow.”
As she mines those artists’ oeuvres in search of her own hit, Charli has also turned her attention to another genre: ‘90s boy bands.
Earlier this year, she was among the artists invited to participate in The Onion’s annual A.V. Undercover series, where musicians choose a song to cover from a list compiled by Onion editors. The list is comprised of good songs and so-bad-it’s-good songs, and most artists selecting the cheesy material have their tongues firmly planted in cheek when interpreting them.
Charli took a different approach to The Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way.” No irony. No winking. And her torchy take kills as a result.
“It is such a good song. It’s not ironic,” she says, of her slow-burning performance. “I genuinely believe in well-written pop songs, and it is one.”
She’s now incorporated the ballad into her live sets, and her fans love it. The Backstreet Boys recently took notice on Twitter, something Charli’s still excited about.
“I was, like, ‘Whoa, this is a career highlight for me,’” she says. “BSB just tweeted me!” CL