You may know her as the pop singer who wrote the song that opens your girlfriend’s beloved reality TV show Snooki & JWOWW, which has earwormed into your brain, or maybe you don’t know her at all. In spite of everything she’s done up to this point—opening for the likes of Santigold and Coldplay, a feat that some artists never achieve in their entire careers; releasing widely acclaimed mixtapes online; and becoming a fashion icon—she has just released her debut album True Romance on indie label Iamsound. We called Charli up last week to see how she was riding the wave of popularity while she signed 500 copies of her album in her bedroom.
Playboy.com: So the entire internet threw a fit over your ’90s-inspired music video for your latest single “What I Like,” released two weeks ago. Please tell me you got to have some actual fun while filming it.
Charli XCX: Oh yeah, totally! The whole thing was basically decided after we wanted to go and rent a room in a hotel. It was really all last minute because we had been at SXSW not really doing much work but talking and playing shows and stuff. So Ryan Andrews, the guy who directs my videos, realized when we got back, “Shit, we gotta shoot this video, what are we going to do?” So it all just happened quickly. We just said fuck it, let’s just rent a hotel and have a party. That’s basically what we did. We had to sneak the dog in and ordered a bunch of pizza and got drunk. It was really cute.
Playboy.com: SXSW looked like it was pretty crazy for you this year. What was this experience like as opposed to the year before?
Charli XCX: Completely different. The year before I only played two shows where this year I played ten. When I played the year before I was very much unknown, I just had a couple of songs online, whereas this year I felt like I had been working quite hard putting out mixtapes and that kind of thing. It’s crazy seeing people singing along to my songs!
Playboy.com: How many tacos did you eat?
Charli XCX: Oh my god. So fucking many, you don’t even know. My favorite food is Mexican anyway, so I was in absolute heaven. It was pretty good. I definitely enjoyed myself.
Playboy.com: How important do you think style is in the music industry?
Charli XCX: Well for me it’s really important, just because I’m a girl and I love fashion. [laughs] It’s just something that I love to have fun with. I know it sounds really cheesy girly-girl, but I like to play dress up and I like to experiment with all of it. I’m very visual when it comes to writing my music too, actually. When I write, lyrics especially, I always look at my favorite fashion photographers like David LaChapelle or Pierre et Gilles to find inspiration. I feel like I always surround myself with fashion and visuals, so when it comes to doing my music videos I become very hands on. I live with Ryan, who directs some of my music videos, so I have to be immersed in fashion land. I think it’s really important and really fun.
Playboy.com: Tell me a bit about your new album.
Charli XCX: True Romance is my debut album. I’ve always wanted to make a pop record! It’s basically a coming-of-age album, at least for me. I’ve been writing this album for quite a long time now. One of the songs I actually wrote when I was 15 and I’m 20 now. I think I’ve really grown up through the process of making this album, so for me it’s very raw and emotional. It’s all about my experiences on love and how my views have changed on that how I’ve got older. It’s all about romance and love; it’s very dreamy. I hope it makes people dance and cry at the same time.
Playboy.com: Was it strange for you to go back and record pieces you had written so long ago?
Charli XCX: Not really. Obviously this is a really stupid statement, but I only record songs that are good. So if the lyrics are good, it’s not weird. People always bring up that it should be so weird having a song that I wrote when I was 15 on the album, but for me I really feel like it stands out. A lot of people say that it’s the best song on the record, actually. I feel like if a song stands the test of time, then it stands the test of time. I really tried to make this album as emotional and as real as possible, which is why I thought it was really important to include that song because it is real for me.
Playboy.com: You also got to support Santigold and Coldplay last year, which is something that not a lot of people get to do, let alone those who haven’t put out a record yet! Did they give you any words of wisdom?
Charli XCX: Words of wisdom not so much, but both of them were really nice and really helped me out. Touring with Santi was really cool because you can see how professional and in control she is, which is really inspiring. It was really cool to be on the road with another strong female. And with Coldplay, I mean they are the realest guys ever. They’re just real normal guys. I remember Chris Martin told me that he had one of my songs on his iPod, and I was like, “Oh my god that’s so cool! You and Gwyneth listen to my song!” It’s so weird. I just learnt that you always have to be on your A game and do amazing shows all the time and bring your shit every day.
Playboy.com: And now you’re touring with your friend Marina and the Diamonds!
Charli XCX: Yeah, she’s my home girl, I love her. We’re going on tour in the States in May; it’s going to be really cute. Loads of tiaras, magical baby cakes, pink sparkles, fun and rabbits. Everyone thinks she’s my older sister. People always comment on how much we look alike. So it’s kind of funny.
Playboy.com: You also get to do two festivals too. Is it your first time at Bonnaroo?
Charli XCX: Yeah, it is my first time! It’s weird, though, because I don’t know anything about it but everyone always freaks out about it and tells me it’s amazing. So I said that to a journalist and they were like, “No, it’s like the worst festival ever.” [laughs] So I was really looking forward to it. I know that Ariel Pink is playing and I am a really big fan of him; he’s such a freak and I love that. So I really want to see his shows! I think he’s going to be incredible; I’m going to be really blown away by it.
Playboy.com: What’s your…
Favorite drink: My favorite drink is vodka Red Bull, which is really bad for my teeth. I like cocktails like margaritas and pretty drinks. Vodka and glitter!
Favorite tour memory: Probably SXSW, actually. It was just so much fun, a really good experience. I got to perform “I Love It,” a song I wrote for the band Icona Pop. It was the first time we ever got to perform it together so it was really great for the both of us.
Worst pickup line: “Are you a parking ticket because you’ve got fine written all over you.” How terrible is that? How would anyone think that would work? Unless the person was like a fucking idiot.
Most embarrassing moment: Well I was really embarrassing on the Coldplay tour. When I met Chris for the first time we actually bumped into each other backstage in this car parking lot, which is kind of weird in the first place. We both looked at each other and were like “What are you doing here?” “I don’t know, what are you doing here?” Then I kind of basically invited him to his own after-party and pretended it was mine. So that was great. I was like, “Hey, we’re having this after-party at House of Blues, you should come, it’s going to be really fun!” and he was like, “um, that’s my party.” And I was like, “Yeah…okay cool, I’m going to go now.” I don’t know why I said it, I guess I felt like I was really nervous and needed to say something.
First memory of Playboy: My parents have this bookshelf right by their bedroom door and I always remember when I was younger this book with a bunny on the side. I always thought it was a cute cartoon book about animals. I didn’t know what Playboy was when I was six or seven! I actually went back over the bank holiday weekend and picked it up for the first time. It was a book about life inside the Playboy Mansion. I’ve taken it home and I’ve started reading it, I’m really interested.