Charli XCX on After Parties, Feminism and Her Next Album

She also discusses CuckooLander, the first artist she's signed to her Vroom Vroom Recordings label.

By Brian Ives

2017 will be a big year for Charli XCX. In 2015, she cancelled a co-headlining tour with Jack Antonoff’s Bleachers citing burnout, but now she seems refreshed and ready to return to the spotlight. She’s current preparing to release her next album — which will feature her latest single, “After the After Party.” She’s also launching her own record label, Vroom Vroom, and is excited to discuss her first artist, CuckooLander, who used to be a member of Charli’s backing band. Speaking of which, she mentions that she no longer has a band, which isn’t to say that she won’t be touring in ’17. She will, and she talked about it (a bit). We caught up with her after a pretty hectic few days; she’d been in Stockholm the day before, and was in Berlin right before that. But she showed up ready to talk, and during a nearly hour-long conversation, she also discussed her documentary The F Word and Me, her next album, her best after party experience, her four favorite after party jams… and the tough decision to cancel the Bleachers tour. 

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Tell me about your new song, “After the After Party.”

“After the After Party,” it is a party jam. It’s the song I wrote last for my album after two or three months of partying, so it was just the conclusion to my [air quotes] “research,” let’s call it, into making a party record. I just wanted to make the most party, pop, powerful party jam ever, so I went for that.

After working on your documentary, The F Word and Me, I guess you were ready to do something fun.

Yeah, totally. The previous album I made as well, Sucker… I was really annoyed and angry. I was like “I’m angry at the music industry!” during that record. And then I made The F Word and Me, which for me, was actually really interesting and cool to be able to chat to other females… it was actually quite joyous, I would say.

But yeah, I guess mainly after Sucker I was like “Ah, I don’t care about that anymore,” like that’s not me right now. I love partying; it’s like my number one hobby after like drinking champagne and eating pizza, which is all kind of rolled into partying anyway. But yeah, I guess I was just like, “Oh, I wanna make a record that I can actually party to,” which I’d never done before. And when I started making music I was performing in warehouse parties and East London raves, but I never actually made music that was reminiscent of that time for me. So this album was me just wanting to make stuff that I could get f—ed up to and dance to.

I thought The F Word and Me was really interesting; do you feel like things have improved, as far as more women getting played on the radio?

I never really thought about it from that perspective of women not being able to get on the radio, because growing up I always heard a lot of women on the radio, but maybe now in hindsight…[I realize]  they were always the same women. So I’ve never really thought about it from that perspective.

Female artists have to deal with a lot more questions about the validity of their work. Being a songwriter myself and making pop music and writing for other artists, that’s always something that people are very surprised about, or question whether it’s actually a true story. And I think women experience that a lot.

Some of the biggest female pop stars are really great songwriters. Katy Perry is a great songwriter and has written for other artists. Taylor Swift is a great songwriter. But I feel like people are always shocked, like, “Whoa, she writes her own music!” Whereas if a male artist of that level was like, “I wrote a million songs,” people would be like, “Yeah, cool.” So that kind of bums me out.

But also I’m just like, “Oh, whatever, I’ve got a p—-, get over it,” you know? I’m also on that level now where the question is so old, but I understand it’s an important question as well, because I understand people need to hear about those experiences and hear women, and men, be passionate about equality. But at the same time, personally, I’m also like, I’ve answered that question so many times. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a d— or a p—-, whatever.

OK, back to the after party. What’s the best after party you’ve ever been to?

Best after party I’ve ever been to… I threw a really good after party for my friends who were doing a show in L.A., this collective called PC Music, and I hired two stretch limousines, two white limousines. And we didn’t have anywhere to go, so we just drove around L.A. in the cars for like two hours.

Then we stopped outside of Pink Dot, the liquor store, and then we just partied on the road for another hour, which was great, actually, like a really good vibe. Then we went back to my place and partied more. And loads of windows got smashed, there was vomit on my wall; but it was a good night, it was a really good night. Someone tried doing… what’s the thing where you scale walls? Parkour? They did that on the bricks of my house and absolutely got f—ed up. But yeah, it was really good though.

What’s another good one? Another good party was when I was in the UK I went to a party, and the party was really great, and we went back to our hotel suite and got wild. But the next day I had to be awake to do a live TV performance, and I absolutely nearly vomited on the TV show. And it was a cooking show, and they made me flip a pancake and try a load of breakfast cocktails.

So I’m flipping a pancake, having a mimosa, with a bucket by my feet about to throw up. That was when I was, “Maybe I should take a break from partying for a second.”

💕 1 true love 🍕🙌🏻 goodnight ny 🙌🏻🍕

A post shared by CHARLI XCX (@charli_xcx) on

The other night, you posted a pretty late night photo to Instagram of you having a slice of pizza. Was that an after party?

Yeah, that was weirdly like a chill, late night slice. That was just me having a pizza at 2 am, and then I also had some of that for breakfast.

Talk about getting Lil’ Yachty on “After the After Party.”

Lil’ Yachty, yeah, he’s great. I just hit him up on Twitter. I was listening to his record a lot; I really liked it, and I love his videos and his hair. And I was just like, “This dude is fresh.” He’s really cool.

So I just DM-ed him and never thought he’d hit me back, just because… well, I haven’t really done that whole DM-ing people. But for some reason I was like, “Ah, he’s not gonna hit me back,” but he did. And I was like “Yes! Great.”

So we just started emailing about the idea for the video. It was like, “I wanna make a zombie video for this song and be really pink and cool and your hair will look really good in it, and it would be really awesome if you did this.”

And he was just like, “Yeah, sure.” And then he just kind of sent it to me over the internet, a very kind of like 2K16 way of recording. And it was great; the first time we met was actually on the video shoot. And I really like him a lot; he’s really intelligent. I think he’s a great artist, really cool guy. If I was a rapper I’d probably wanna dress like Lil Yachty.

So are you a Walking Dead fan?

I used to date a guy who was really into zombies in a big way, and we did use to watch The Walking Dead and that kind of s—, but we broke up a while ago.

But the reason for the zombie video was, first of all, the song is a party song, and I didn’t wanna just make a video of me partying in a club, because Flo Rida can do that way better than I can. I didn’t wanna do one of those videos.

And also I was working on the video with Diane Martel, who is one of my favorite people to collaborate with. She’s such an insane, bad-ass, old school video director, but is totally ahead of her time and has this incredible, hilarious language while she directs videos.

So we were thinking about what could be like the dumbest, but coolest way to put a spin on a party video, and we were like, “Who stays up forever? Who never dies? Who always parties? Zombies! Let’s put it out on Halloween and make it pink.” So yeah, that was how we got there.

It looked like you had a good time shooting the video.

I did. It was two night shoots from like 7 pm to 7 am every day. And I decided, “I’m not gonna drink before the video shoot. I’m gonna get healthy,” or whatever.

So I hadn’t been drinking, and then I got to the shoot, and I had this full rider of all my favorite alcohol and stuff like that, and my call time wasn’t until 3 am So I just sat in this dressing room with loads of champagne, and I was like, “S—.” I got wasted.

And then they called me to the set at 3 am and I was like [drunkenly], “Hey, what’s up?” And Diane was like, “Dude, come on!” But luckily, it was the zombie scene, so I was in character, so it was okay. But it was a fun shoot, really fun, and the cast were amazing. Yeah, it was really good.

Method acting!

Exactly, exactly. We actually crashed an Adam Sandler shoot whilst we were shooting the outside scene, and he was being all diva, like, “No, we need to finish shooting.” We were like, “It’s 3 a.m. We need to shoot.” Some Adam Sandler beef on the video, yeah, damn.

When will the album be out?

So the album’s gonna be out in May, and I would say it’s definitely a party record, and half of it is kind of similar to “After the After Party,” and half of it is a lot more club orientated. I worked with Sophie, Stargate, and BloodPop mainly on this album and was in L.A., in Westlake Studios, for a month, just doing it all with those guys there, which I feel like doesn’t actually really happen that much anymore, in pop music at least. So it was cool to feel like I was actually being in the studio and not just sending s— over email all the time.

And half of it, like I said, is much more club orientated. It’s still pop; it’s the most pop thing I’ve done. One of my favorite things about making records is curating who’s gonna work on them and putting producers together who haven’t worked together before.

Sophie and Stargate for me was the perfect combination, because they just bounce off each other really well and create really interesting sounds together, and they’re pop geniuses. I just felt like those guys together would just be killer and very “next level,” and it is a next level record.

It seems like curation is a big part of what you do.

I’ve never claimed to be a producer; I’m not a producer. I wish I could, but I’m lazy and I’m not. But there is definitely an art to curating a record. It’s essentially A&R-ing your own record, which I know a lot of people do, but some people do it better than others, and some people don’t do it at all.

For me, there’s nothing worse than being sent a list of people or a schedule of being in a room with people you don’t know, you’ve never worked with before, you don’t have a connection with, but they’re like, “the hot guy.” “Oh, he had like two Billboard number ones in the past three hours. Go and work with him.” I don’t really care for that. Even though, obviously, there are some people who I haven’t worked with who have been very successful who I would like to work with.

For me, it’s not really about who the hot new person is making top 40 stuff. It’s more about who the next person could be. I wanna work with people who are gonna change the landscape of what pop music is, not continue the formula. And I believe that Sophie is definitely one of those people, and Stargate, are producers who I believe have always… they’ve pushed the boundaries of their sound.

The stuff they were doing in the ’90s, S Club 7 and whatever, to the Ne-Yo stuff, to the Selena Gomez stuff, “Same Old Love,” that whole production thing is like a style now. I think that they’re really incredible.

So yeah, I enjoy curating a record, and also it just means that I can work with my friends as well, which is always good.

Even if you don’t want to work with the current “hot guy” of production, Bloodpop is having a good year.

I just wanna say, I stole a beat from Bloodpop in like 2010 or 2011 or something when he was going under a different name. And we knew each other, and I had to pay him $500 for the beat, and then we became really good friends. But I robbed him of that beat, really. But he was chill, and I put it on a mix tape, and we became really good friends from there. So I’ve been on that for a long time. And he’s incredibly talented, and yeah, he is the guy, and I’m happy, because he works really hard. He’s, like, always in the studio.

Does it matter if you’re in the studio together? Does that “vibe” make a difference?

Yeah, totally, because you’re like in each other’s pocket. We had a little “to-do list.” You can stay in the studio until really late; you can just vibe off each other’s ideas. Even though I love recording in a hotel room, this just felt like more like a way to make a more cohesive record. And I can hear that compared to my previous album; I can hear that this is more cohesive.

Is “Vroom Vroom” an indication of what the album will sound like?

Yeah. “Vroom Vroom” I would say is definitely a kind of prelude to the clubbier side of the record. That’s like me and Sophie just kind of f—ing around and doing the first thing that comes into our head. And you know what’s weird about that song is the chorus is pretty pop, actually. The sounds are probably too crazy for some people, but it is essentially, that chorus is a very pop chorus.

Related: Watch Charli XCX’s Revealing Video for ‘Vroom Vroom’

If things had gone a different way for you, do you think you would have been happy as a songwriter for other people? As opposed to making your own records?

Oh, my God, I think of that all the time. Dude, I think about that all the time. Every time I finish with a record, I’m like, “I’m just gonna be a songwriter.” Because I definitely have days where I’m just drowning in self-doubt. It’s a very hectic, roller-coaster of an industry.

But especially if I’m writing, and I’m in L.A. writing with people who I love, doing two or three sessions a day, it’s so good.

So yeah, all the time I think about just being a songwriter. And I think I will probably do that at a point in my life. I’ll probably just do a hiatus and write songs, and it will be really great.

Do you still write songs for other artists?

I just did the new Mo single, “Drum” with her and Noonie [Bao] and Bloodpop, and that was really cool. When writing an album and picking a track list, there’s always… “leftovers” sounds bad, but you know, things that don’t fit on the album. So I want to pitch those songs to people. But I would generally say, it’s better when you’re just in the room with the artist writing, rather than sending them stuff, because a lot of artists have really strong opinions on what they would and wouldn’t say. So it’s always, I think, better to just be there with them.

I feel like this is a great moment for women in pop music; it feels like women can be a bit more “left-field” and become popular.

It’s a good era. I think a lot of women are absolutely, 100 percent in control of the music they release, the image they put out, the artwork, the things that they say in interviews. It’s definitely not the ’90s in the sense where it’s like someone whispering in your ear telling you how to behave and what to say. It’s definitely not that.

But I still sometimes see when there’s an artist who’s come from a left field kind of pop situation, and then they have like “the moment.” That’s always the label trying to tone them down. My label have done it to me. They’re like, “You don’t smile enough. People are gonna think you’re mean. You need to be more friendly.”

I had a meeting with my label where they were like, “Every Tuesday you should post a picture of you and a dog, because it will make people think that you’re more friendly and an animal lover.” And I was like, “First of all, who got paid to f—ing come up with that f—ing idea?” And second of all, the next day I took a picture of me and a dog, and I was like “Here’s a picture of me and a dog. My label asked me to post it so I didn’t look so intimidating. Here it is.” People get that all the time: “Be a bit more normal.”

Back to your documentary, what did you learn from making it? 

The person who was making it with me made a really interesting point about the Spice Girls, which I had naively never really thought about before, about how they were marketed into the five types of girl you could be. Maybe just because I was such a fan, I never thought about that before. And I was like, “Oh, damn.” Like, these are the five dolls. Pick which one you wanna be, and that’s your life as a girl. So that was heartbreaking.

But for me it was just really interesting to hear other women and men’s experiences. Talking to Marina was really interesting; talking to Jack was really interesting. Talking to everyone in that documentary was great. It was cool to just get their take on things.

But I got annoyed about when it came out that they aired it at like 11 pm or something. Which is fine, whatever. But they aired a documentary about “mananism” at 9 pm [Men at War] on the prime time slot. And it wasn’t because I was like, “My documentary’s better.” It wasn’t that. And it wasn’t anything to do with the dude who created the documentary; I think that guy is really great, and they were definitely showing it in a negative light.

But I was just like, you know what? My documentary is very entry level feminism for a young audience, 12 or 14-year-olds, whatever, with some of their favorite pop stars in it talking about what it’s like to be a woman in the music industry.

And I feel like they might not be able to watch that at 11 pm, but the fact that they are gonna get to watch this evil, horrible man talking about how women are ugly and should care about how they look and should stay at home and do dishes and whatever—I was like, the fact that that is what they’re probably gonna watch instead of this, is so sad.

Do you think that feminism has become cool to younger girls over the past few years?

I feel like feminism, especially over the past couple of years, became the cool brand. Feminism became like a branding tool, which I know some people think is a bad thing, but I think that’s fine. I think it’s fine, like I probably said in the documentary, for like a 12-year-old girl or guy to see Beyoncé standing in front of a sign that says “feminism.” But like how old are Beyonce and Taylor Swift fans? They’re young, they’re like six, right? They can be like really, really young.

And so for Taylor Swift to be like, “This is my squad, and we’re all women supporting each other,” or Beyonce to be standing in front of a sign that says “feminism” and making it cool and part of pop culture is great. That’s great, because I don’t remember pop stars doing that. Aside from [the Spice Girls’] “girl power.”

The fact that you addressed the cancellation of your tour with Bleachers in the documentary was really interesting. It must have been a hard decision to do that.

Yeah, I was just so over it. And I know that’s like a privileged, spoilt thing to say, because obviously, if you make a decision to do something in a job, you should follow through and do it. I know that there were a lot of people who were like, “All she needs to do is get onstage and do what she does,” which is a completely valid point. There are a lot people who do way more complicated, important jobs in the world, for sure. I totally get that perspective. But just personally, on a selfish level, I was burnt out, I was sick, and I was just so—I just felt empty. That’s basically the word to describe it.

Maybe it’s better not to play, than to play badly. 

Right. That’s also what I thought, because I don’t want that reputation of falling apart onstage, which I have done in the past and maybe on that tour a couple of times. So it just was time.

And [Bleachers frontman] Jack [Antonoff] was so cool about it; he’s such an understanding person. He got it, and he wasn’t mad. Obviously, I felt bad for some of the fans, because as it was a co-headline tour, some people were just coming to see him and to see Bleachers, and that was really unfair on them because it was me who made them not be able to go see their favorite band.

I apologized for that, and some people got it and some people didn’t, and that was cool because I was never expecting everyone to just be like, “Great. Cool.” But I said sorry. “I’m sorry.”

You seem to have a punk rock soul, living in a pop star’s life. 

Yeah, I guess people say that about me, like whenever I do like a cover shoot or whatever, the tagline is always like, “Rebel in Pop” or “#BreakTheRules.” Which is fine. I’m not trying to put out that image. I do see myself as a pop star. But I guess I’m not embarrassed. I mean, there’s some things I’m so embarrassed about, but I don’t care if I take a bad picture of me getting f—ed up coming out of a club or I’m always having wardrobe malfunctions.

It’s not something I’m like, “Oh, my God, [I’m] devastated!” I’m like, “Cool, I flashed my butt cheek on the red carpet! Great, whatever.” I don’t know. I probably need to chill on that s—, I don’t know.

I think your fans like you the way you are; you don’t seem to put on a perfect persona. 

Oh, totally. That’s the thing, that’s the thing. It’s exhausting trying to be perfect.  God, I couldn’t do it.

Tell me about your label, Vroom Vroom Recordings. I was kind of blown away by CuckooLander. 

I really just wanted to have a label so that I could champion people that I really love and so that I could release my friends’ music, basically.

We launched it this year, and I signed CuckooLander, and she’s currently making her record. She’s amazing. She used to be in my band and one night got really drunk on the tour bus and played me a load of demos, and she’d never mentioned anything about creating her own music. I was like, “Wow, this is really, really amazing.” And she plays everything, and she’s a producer as well. And I was like, “Wow, this is crazy. We have to do something with this.”

And we went to Sweden together for this writing camp that I always do with a lot of people, and she started writing songs, and then she started going to L.A. and writing, really was on a really good level.

She did that song [“Beating Myself Up”] with Rostam, and they clicked, and I heard that song, and I was like, “Wow, I’ve never heard anything like this before.” Especially at the end where she just rips into this crazy, soulful load of ad libs, I was like, “Wow, this is really amazing.” So yeah, she’s currently making her album, and that will be out next year, hopefully.

The whole idea of the label is really just for me to be able to release the music I love, but also believe in and believe has pop potential too.

Are there other artists on the label?

No, I only signed CuckooLander. I released some singles for other people, but she’s my focus.

Is she still in your band?

No. I don’t have a band anymore, actually.

Are you going to put together a new band for your next tour? 

You know, I don’t even think I’m gonna have a band. I think just because the music is so much more electronic, I think I just wanna have a house party onstage every night. That’s the vibe. So who knows how that will work out.

What will that look like? Are you going to have a DJ? 

I’m not gonna say anything yet. I don’t know. I’m gonna tour in the middle of next year and do festivals and stuff like that, and I’m actually really excited to go back on the road. So yeah, it will be a lot different this time from how I did it last time, but I think it’s gonna be great.

Tell me some songs that you’d want to hear on an after party mixtape. 

Okay: Rhianna, “Sex With Me”; Kanye, “Fade,” just ’cause it’s a classic; Cher, “Believe”; and I don’t know if you know the movie Zootopia, that animation movie, but Stargate and Sia did a song with Shakira for that movie called “Try Anything,” and it’s a jam, so I’ll put that one on there as well.

Tell me why you selected “Fade.” 

That’s my favorite album of the year. That album is so good! This album is next level to me. The only albums I’ve listened to this year are Yachty’s record, The Life of Pablo, and ANTI. Those are the only albums I’ve bought. Yeah, my favorite albums of the year, for sure.

What about Lemonade?

Beyonce’s amazing. I’ve listened to songs from it, for sure, absolutely, and I’ve watched some videos. But I’m just always like that. I’ve always listen to like two albums a year, and that’s it. I just don’t listen to a lot of music, not because I don’t like anybody, just because I’m always listening to my own music, and I find it distracting.

Explain synethesia to me. I understand it’s a condition where you “see” music in colors; I’ve heard you say that green is a “bad” color.

For me, it’s when I create music and I hear sounds, I see sounds in color, so it helps me with the lyrics that I write, the music videos I create, artwork that I create. The whole atmosphere of an album can be dictated by the color that I see the music as. So that’s it really, it’s nice.

Good songs are like pink and black and silver. And you know what? Green used to be a bad color, but now I’m seeing green kind of differently, like electric neon green and neon yellow together are really good.

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