She’s already made music with everyone from BTS to Blondie, Lizzo to Lil Xan – but who are the artists she’s still itching to collaborate with?
Charli XCX is the sound of pop right now. For September 2019, the prolific auteur is guest editing Dazed. Head here to check out the fashion brand she’s spotlighted, her list of dream collaborators, a visit to her home in LA, a video of her reacting to fans’ memes, plus way more.
Charli XCX has worked with a who’s who of modern pop music. She’s teamed up with rock’n’roll royalty like Blondie, Korean pop superstars like BTS, emo rappers like Lil Xan, and cult electronic producers like Mr Oizo over the years, while her new album, Charli, is packed out with a who’s who of 2019’s most vital pop talents, including Lizzo, Christine and the Queens, and Troye Sivan. She’s a prolific collaborator, something she says is a major part of her working process. “My motto, which some people hate, is that I prefer collaborating than not collaborating,” Charli explains over the phone from Los Angeles. “It develops the sound into something unique when you have so many ideas melting together.”
In recent years, Charli XCX’s own projects – including Charli, but also its preceding two mixtapes, Pop 2 and Number 1 Angel – have demonstrated the pop star’s great instincts as a curator. She’s proven adept at bringing together a collection of talents, some of them famous stars in their own right and some of them almost complete unknowns, in a way that feels unexpected and exciting. They’re always genuine, one-of-a-kind talents, too, be it doomy pop singer Sky Ferreira or eccentric Estonian rapper Tommy Cash. “I only care about people who I deem to be truly unique,” Charli says. “The artists that I love to listen to are artists who are often ahead of their time, and nobody can replicate what they do, whether that’s SOPHIE or Yung Lean or A. G. Cook. No one can dress up as them and pretend to be them, it just wouldn’t work. That’s what I find a strong artist to be, somebody who can’t be morphed and moulded into multiple different things.”
So how does such a prolific collaborator find these artists to work with in the first place? Charli admits that she doesn’t actively seek out music that much today, and instead relies on recommendations from others. “When I was younger, I used to be really hungry to find new music,” she says. “I’d always be on Limewire downloading shit, even if I didn’t know what it was. Now, I find listening to music sometimes really distracts me creatively, so I really have to be told by fans or friends.” She’s not just paying lipservice to her listeners when she says this. She’ll often check out music that her fans tell her about, as was the case with raunchy rapper CupcakKe, who features on Charli track “Shake It”, Pop 2’s “I Got It”, and Number 1 Angel’s “Lipgloss”.
“One of my fans actually DMed me like, ‘You should check out this girl CupcakKe, she’s amazing!’” she says. “I have really great dialogue with my fans. They’re so in tune to the finer details of my music. They understand all the producers, they know all the productions they’ve done for other artists, they’re really up-to-date on ‘the scene’ – way more than I am – so they find shit and they send it to me. My fans put me on to Dylan Brady, and we start working together, and then he told me about his 100 gecs project, which is something that I listen to constantly now.”
Given Charli has worked with just about everyone at this point, I was curious to know which artists she’d like to work with that she hasn’t yet had the chance to. Her choices reveal some of her own obsessions as an artist, and provide an insight into her general approach when working with others.
You and Grimes have actually worked together before, but the results have never been released, right?
Charli XCX: So Grimes and I did collaborate for this album, we made a song. We’ve known each other for a while, just through doing festivals together, and we were on a magazine cover together with Sky towards the beginning of our careers. I’ve always respected her as an artist, her energy is so unique.
Sometimes she’ll hit me up. When “1999” came out, she was like, “I love this song!” I was like, “Do you want to do something?”, and she was up for it. We went to a studio and we started on this idea really late at night. We worked all night on this on this song, and we sat with it for a while. While it was going to go on the album, we just started talking about the potential of doing something really pop. I think that’s the side of each other that we both really love. She really loves Taylor Swift songs and she really loves Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. I like that she is so in tune to the pop landscape, but still able to subvert it – maybe not even intentionally.
What did the song you made sound like?
Charli XCX: We made this song that was really clubby and techno-y. It’s cool, no doubt, and maybe one day it will come out, but it almost felt obvious, actually. We can churn out those kinds of songs quite quickly, but I think we need to put a little bit more time into the pop moment. We’re both super busy and kind of in it with our own shit, so we didn’t have time this time around, but we’ve spoken about it, and I hope we’ll do it. Pop is the way to go for us.
You performed with Miley Cyrus at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend earlier this year, but am I right in saying you’ve never been in the studio together?
Charli XCX: That’s correct. We’ve never recorded or been in a studio together, or even spoken about it. The time that we performed was only the second time we’d ever met, which was crazy. She just tweeted me like, “Hello, do you want to perform ‘We Can’t Stop’ together?” She doesn’t have my number, I don’t have her number, so it was literally a public request. I was like, “Totally!”, all while freaking out – in a good way. It was lucky I was on Twitter at that time, because I would have hated to appear shady by not responding.
I was just so struck by her, she has this really amazing aura. She’s a fucking rock star, you know? She’s like a rock star from the 70s. It was awesome to be around, and performing on stage with her felt extremely natural and free. The music I make is extremely different from the sound that she is currently gravitating towards, and her style of performance – like, the way that her stage show looks, with a load of a vintage amplifiers, and how she uses a mic with a cord, is very different from the direction that I have embraced over the past few years. But I feel like I have that kind of punk energy in my performance. When I was younger, I was really inspired by The Vibrators and Iggy Pop and that world, and I can really feel that from her, that raw energy. I love that, because I don’t think you feel that that much in mainstream pop. It’s all a little bit controlled, and she’s not controlled. I love that rawness. It’s so exciting to be around, because you really don’t know what’s going to happen.
She seems really open to crazy ideas as well.
Charli XCX: Totally. We used to share a creative director, this amazing woman called Diane Martel. She was creative directing the Bangerz tour and a lot of the imagery around that time. I went to see that tour and it was just so fucking good. It’s the best pop show I’ve ever seen. Like, someone flying through the air on a fucking hot dog, and she’s coming out on a tongue slide. It was like this David LaChapelle fairground ride meets Tim & Eric. It was so sick. I really like that she’s so up for exploring ideas like that, or that crazy album she made with the Flaming Lips, or Dead Petz. She obviously has this very experimental side to her.
So, obviously Kylie Jenner isn’t a musician. How would this collaboration work?
Charli XCX: Well, that’s the thing. I think it’s a crying shame that Kylie Jenner isn’t a pop star.
I remember you said this a few years ago.
Charli XCX: Yeah, and I really believe it still! Kylie Jenner would be an incredible pop star. The aesthetic would be so good. Imagine a Kylie Jenner album produced by SOPHIE! The songs would be iconic, there’d be really good club moments on there, but then there’d also be a really emotional song about her daughter and it would be really heartfelt and real, like all piano ballad-y with SOPHIE drums. If she ever wants to transition into music, she should call me. She probably won’t (laughs), but she should. I feel like there’s a lot of other people in her world she might want to go to first, but she should think about me once she’s gone through the other, bigger list and wants to take it more left.
What would your role be? Would you executive produce it, or write a song together, or something else?
Charli XCX: I don’t know! I’d want to see what she wanted to do. I think I’d be her cheerleader, if she wanted that. I feel like she should executive produce her own album, because she would probably have a load of really great ideas. But yeah, if she wanted to co-write with me, I’d be up for it. I’d like to just be around, witnessing the magic unfold.
Have you met her before?
Charli XCX: No, never. This is all just this fictional dream in my head. If she ever read this, she’d probably think I was crazy.
If you were a Kylie lip kit, what would be the theme, and what would it be called?
Charli XCX: Okay, well, I’d probably have to brand it as something to do with me, so I would call it ‘Charli Baby’, and it would be this baby pink, cute lip gloss that was really glossy and shiny. Oh no, wait! I would just fucking call it ‘Sticky Icky’. And it would be this glittery, glossy, sticky lip gloss in hot pink, and me and CupcakKe can be the face of it – and Kylie, obviously.
PIERRE ET GILLES
I’m less familiar with these two, and I’m sure some of our readers will be, too.
Charli XCX: These are my favourite photographers. They’re a photography duo, and they take these extremely homoerotic, glittery, camp photos of people. Often they do portraits of famous people, they’ve worked with Madonna and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Sometimes they reference religious iconography in their work. They’re these beautiful, exuberant, luxurious images. I’ve always loved their work. When I went to art school – which was a total fail – I was really obsessed with them and with James Bidgood, who made the movie The Pink Narcissus. I would always use both Pierre et Gilles and James Bidgood as references for music videos and photo shoots. I think a lot of my collaborators still reference their work. I would love to do a shoot with them, it would just be amazing.
What would your shoot look like?
Charli XCX: I think it would just be like, the most camp, pop-tastic, diamanté-filled photoshoot – possibly ever. It would actually be really fun to do a music video with them as well, and build all of these really extravagant sets. A stage show would be really amazing, as well.
Pierre et Gilles have obviously been working for a while, whereas you tend to work with more emerging or contemporary artists, rather than people who could be described as ‘legends’ or ‘icons’. Is that something you do deliberately?
Charli XCX: I don’t really think about it. It’s more like, if I had Britney Spears’s number then I would hit her up to collaborate – but I don’t, and I don’t know how to get it. I’m definitely open to collaborating with people who are icons and who have been around the world creating for a while, but sometimes it’s just that I can’t DM them on Instagram. But I’ve been lucky to work with people that I would consider icons, like Debbie Harry. I’m so thankful that I got to be a part of Blondie’s last album – my mum was crying when she found out, it was like her peak moment.
I’ve not heard of Heji Shin. Can you tell me a bit about them?
Charli XCX: Heji Shin is a German-Korean photographer. My friend first put me on to her work not too long ago. He told me about this series of portraits she had done of Kanye West. I actually just went to the Whitney Biennial in New York and read a little bit about the collaboration that they’d done together. They’d been communicating about doing a collaboration, and Kanye came to sit for the portraits, and they were taken in a really, really short amount of time. It’s really interesting to see work created so quickly. I like to work very fast when I write my music. Obviously songwriting and photography are two extremely different fields, but I really like the idea of spontaneity.
In the Whitney Biennial, I also saw this other series of photographs that Heji Shin had taken of mothers giving birth. The photographs are so intimate, and obviously very spontaneous, in the sense that this is a moment that only happens for that moment. I think the images are really powerful and peaceful – and scary, honestly. They’re depicted in a way that’s not often seen. It’s truthful, you know? Her work is very truthful. I think that collaborating with somebody like that would be extremely fun for me.
I recently bought one of her pieces. It’s up in my house now and I look at it every day. She’s on my mind.