Charli XCX interview: “I kind of suit a global pandemic”

Charli XCX interview: “I kind of suit a global pandemic”

On March 15 Charli XCX posted a note titled ‘Quarantine Diary Entry 1’ on her socials. In it she posed various questions about what would happen to music in the coming months. “What happens to the intake of music?” she asked. “Do people want to be fed a marketing campaign? Or is the timing a bit off?” Two weeks in quar­ant­ine, she added, “is gonna feel like FOREVER”.

Four weeks (forever x2) later things are starting to make a little more sense, at least for Charli. She’s announced How I’m Feeling Now, an album to be recorded during lockdown and semi‑A&Rd by fans, which will be out in May. And it turns out she was onto something with the forever pre­dic­tion: the first release from the album ended up being titled Forever, and it came out on Friday.

But how is she feeling now? Let’s find out, via the magic of Zoom.

How are things with you?

Things with me are actually… Pretty good? I’m honestly quite enjoying this time period, actually. I kind of like the fact that I’m being forced to stay at home. I’m usually never in my house — that’s one thing I’ve learned from this time period. I actually feel like my house is my home now whereas before, and I didn’t realise this at the time, it was just this place I kind of slept in occa­sion­ally. I do actually feel very connected to where I live right now. Also: I haven’t worn jeans in four weeks, but I decided to wear them today and they’re fucking uncom­fort­able. 

What’s the best thing you’re sad to have missed due to The Current Situation, and what’s the worst thing you’re glad you’ve been able to get out of?

I’m sad about a headline show in Mexico which got postponed, just because I have a lot of really hardcore fans there and I don’t get to go there much. That show would have been really fun — I had some friends who were going to come with me, and we were going to do a whole thing. And… Well, I’m not actually glad this got postponed, but hear me out. I’m very glad I got asked to play Coachella but — BUT! — Coachella is, like, you have to really amp yourself up. It’s like: “Okay, guys, we’re not going to sleep for 72 hours, we’ll do a lot of bad things, and we’re not going to do it once, we’re going to do it twice!” It’s very fun, and I’ve never been invited to perform there before, but I knew doing Coachella would leave me feeling like shit until May. But that’s just because I’m an irre­spons­ible person and I can’t go to something like that and not over­in­dulge, so that’s my own fault. I’m glad my body got a break from that.

What an amazingly dip­lo­matic answer. 10/10.

You won’t catch me out!

When you announced your lockdown album you were talking about your need to do something authentic right now. The thing you’re doing that’s authentic is something you’ve simply decided to do, and that makes me wonder whether authen­ti­city is a thing you can man­u­fac­ture, just by deciding to do something.

Oh God. That was a big of a headfuck question. 

I mean, you’re doing something authentic, but only because you’ve decided to do it. So what if we all just decided to do STUFF. 1

Fuck. Er, yeah, sure. But, like, wait. How am I even going to answer that?

In fairness it wasn’t even a question, was it? It was just a statement. 

I mean, I don’t know. I guess for me, ‘this time’ feels very RIPE for me to be creative. Being the kind of artist that I am. While I wish it wasn’t happening, I kind of suit a global pandemic.

It’s very on brand. 

It’s very on brand — let’s call it that. I’m stuck at home, in my house, the producers and artists I normally col­lab­or­ate with are very self-suf­fi­cient artists, we don’t rely on our record labels to get us together and get creative. In fact we kind of run for the hills when they try to do that. This time is very much suited to artists like me who thrive when they’re left alone. Who thrive when there’s nobody around to ‘try and be involved’ or tell us what to do, or tell us we need these assets for Spotify or these assets for Apple and these assets for fucking whoever else. This type of creation is very singular. It’s about myself, the things I’m able to write about, and who I’m able to connect with online. It’s also done in a very fast way which isn’t the normal way of a major label and it really is about the artist, in my case, being left alone to do as they wish. And that feels very real and authentic to me, and it feels like the right way for me to be creating. 

So, there will be artists out there who will be wanting to do exactly what you’re doing…

Is that another non-question?

What you’ve done there Charli is you’ve inter­rup­ted.


There will be artists out there who will be wanting to do exactly what you’re doing and their man­age­ment will be saying: “Hm, we need to run this by the label.” And the label will be going: “Do you know what, it’s not a great time to be doing this.” For artists who are going through that struggle, do you have a message for them about how they can be creative and authentic when everyone around them is sug­gest­ing they just play Scrabble?

I think it depends on what sort of artist you are, and what you care about. If you care about having a Number One album and selling a lot of copies and having a billboard in Times Square in doing a lot of promo: don’t put an album out now! Now’s not your time. Because you can’t gain all those things you might want. You know? It’s not easy for labels to fulfil all those oppor­tun­it­ies for you, and all the rest of it. It’s tough, because you can’t be in the same room as people! But if you don’t care about that, and you just want to be creative, I would say to any artist who wants to: it’s your art, it’s not anybody else’s art, the people who are around you are there to support your cre­ativ­ity and your vision and if you feel like now’s the time to release music because you have things to say, or even if you don’t and you just want to make stuff, then do it! You’re in control. You can convince people. That’s why you’re an artist. 

To use Lady Gaga as an example — but you could just as easily say Foo Fighters or whoever — I keep going backwards and forwards between two positions. First, I totally under­stand how a big major album release is like a house of cards where everything needs to be in precisely the right place or the whole thing collapses, and so I therefore totally under­stand why an album has gone back to some unspe­cified date. And at the same time I think: why not just whack it out? 

I can sym­path­ise with that, actually. Before quar­ant­ine I was making a different album. The pro­duc­tion needed work but the songs were done. I had this whole visual vibe for the album that I hadn’t really started creating yet. Then when quar­ant­ine happened I just knew that the whole visual world was not going to be created during this time. I’d really wanted to transform myself, not into a different person, but I guess the album was more concepty and char­ac­ter­ish than anything I’d ever done before. Dressing up! Referencing a time! And that’s not something I could recreate in my home. But, after that album I’d wanted to do another album in December, which I’d already spoken about with AG and Sophie, and the idea there was: “Let’s just do it in four weeks! We’ll go somewhere, it’ll just be the three of us, we’ll just make it.” So when quar­ant­ine came around I knew I couldn’t do the album with the big videos and me in crazy blonde hair and wigs, so I thought: “Let’s do the other album now.” Because it would essen­tially have been me and AG and some other people isolating ourselves anyway. The thing with Gaga is that she’s obviously an artist who’s extremely 360 in the way she presents her work. Even though her last video was shot on an iPhone, her videos are BUDGET. Maybe she had some really incred­ible visions she wanted to execute and she just wasn’t able to do the music justice. So I get it. 

It’s inter­est­ing from what you were just saying that even before lockdown you were already planning to do an album in isolation and in four weeks. So you’d already been con­sid­er­ing the logistics of what you’re doing now. 

Yeah. To be honest, even though there’s been time between my releases, generally I make things very quickly. The last album, Charli, was the longest I’ve ever worked on an album, and that was January to March of 2019. Pop 2 was made in two weeks in New York. So I know I can do that. I actually prefer it that way — I don’t find it fun to work on the same thing forever. That’s so boring to me. 

I guess one dif­fer­ence here is that you’re present­ing this new project as an album rather than as a mixtape. And in a way of course, who fucking knows what the dif­fer­ence is, but it’s inter­est­ing that you’re pitching this as not simply being a col­lec­tion of songs. 

Yeah, totally. 

I know you’re rising to the occasion by making this album but are there any points when you just have a bit of a cry because the whole world’s terrible?

(Laughs) Um… Actually, not yet, but I’m very surprised, because I thought I would be really strug­gling with this time. Because I need to be pre­oc­cu­pied. I’m actually really surprised with myself. Before I decided I’d make the album I had two weeks when I was not doing much, and I thought that would be the time when I’d collapse on the floor and cry, but it hasn’t happened yet. YET! It might. As of yet it hasn’t happened. 

Looking ahead to two years from now, how is the music industry different?

I don’t know! Live is def­in­itely different but in two years it’s maybe getting back to where it was? I don’t under­stand how long these things take but in two years a lot of the venues we all know, par­tic­u­larly smaller venues, all across the globe are closed, I imagine. Which probably means that artists of a certain level can’t perform or have to find a new way to perform. Maybe agents will cap­it­al­ise on platforms like this — Zoom — or things like it. Which feels crazy. I don’t think that’s a good thing. Maybe virtual festivals become more of a thing, like the festivals that are in Minecraft at the moment. Everything else: I don’t know. Like, isn’t streaming down at the moment? Which is really inter­est­ing to me, because that tells me people are listening to music when they’re on their way to work and when they’re in their car.

When they’re doing something else. Which is sad, because it shows music is a secondary activity.

I do that too though. I really don’t listen to too much music other than my own. The only time I put it on is in the car. That’s it. I don’t put on an album at home and listen to it. 

Do you not?

No! I don’t have the attention span to be like: “I’m going to sit down and listen to this album.” I have to do something else. So that’s inter­est­ing. 

But for the record, you do have an album coming out and people should probably give it a listen.

Yes! Exactly. That. 

Of the songs you presented as options the other day, can I just say: the second one, Enemy — that’s the one.

I KNEW you wouldn’t like the first one I played. I was like: “He’s not going to like this, it’s too noisy.” That one’s coming next. But I’m glad you like Enemy.

What are you doing for the rest of today?

I think I’m going to try and watch three episodes of The Sopranos. 

I mean it’s good to have goals in life.

It is!

I thought you would have been working flat out making this album?

I won’t lie — we’re going for a ten-track album and I’ve done six, so I’m not that stressed. I checked the timer today and I was like: “Oh, there’s thirty days left. No problem!”

Forever is streaming now; How I’m Feeling Now is out May 15. Seasons 1–6 of The Sopranos are on Now TV.

  1. This is what we in the trade call ‘doubling down on a terrible question’.↩

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