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Charli XCX on her new album 'Sucker' and getting angry at pop music: An EW Q and A

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CHARLI XCX
Dan Curwin

At last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, Charli XCX was one of the evening’s stealth victors. Though she did not cash in on any of her five nominations (four for her turn on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” one for Artist To Watch), her pre-show performance of “Boom Clap” ended up being one of the most compelling of the evening.

She also dropped some details about her forthcoming album Sucker, which will arrive on October 17, and unleashed the video for the album’s second single “Break the Rules.”

The clip, which features actress Rose McGowan, is a timely piece of back-to-school anarchy—one last summer tantrum before the leaves fall off the trees and beach jams start sounding passé. 

EW caught up with the 22-year-old Brit to talk about her forthcoming album, working with Iggy Azalea and Rivers Cuomo, and why every little girl just wants to be Cher from Clueless sometimes.

EW: How would you describe your summer so far?

Charli XCX: Uh, weird. That’s probably the best way to describe it. Really, really weird. But good! The more exciting stuff that happens, the more I kind of distance myself from the whole idea of fame. I like just staying in my own little brain and my own little inside world, because otherwise I’d turn into a crazy person. So I’m just on my own planet the whole time, and I’ve been on my own planet even more these past couple of months. It’s really nice. It’s liberating to not be worried about all this crazy s— I was worried about a year ago when things weren’t this weird.

So what is Planet Charli XCX like?

My own planet is so great. After I worked on [Icona Pop’s] “I Love It,” I feel like I got kind of caught up in the whole idea of writing a hit, and it made me kind of hate pop music for a while and it made me unable to write any good songs. So I kind of shut down, and that’s when “Fancy” came around and that’s about when I finished “Boom Clap.” It felt better to not worry about it. I’m just not caring what people think. I’ve never meant that more than right now, and it feels pretty good.

What was the process of crafting “Boom Clap” like?

That song was actually written probably a year or so ago. I was in Sweden with Patrick Berg, a longtime collaborator of mine. We had been listening to loads of French yé-yé pop and lots of Flying Lizards and Bow Wow Wow, and we were saying how all those songs have dumb, hooky, shouty choruses. They’re all sort of childlike. So we wanted to make a song like that, and that’s how “Boom Clap” came about. Then we kind of left it for a while, and a year later went back to it and thought it was cool and finished it.

Did you have a sense it would be a hit? Do you get that sense when you’re writing?

I never know with any song, ever, to be honest. I kind of like not knowing. If I began to know when I’d written a good song, like a hit, I’d become like a factory and wouldn’t enjoy what I do anymore. I always know when I like a song and when I think a song is cool, and I’ll only release music that I think is cool. But I never know if it’s a hit.

I don’t think you can really in this day and age. Everyone in the studio will be like, “This is a hit!” And I’ll be like, “Is it? I don’t know. It sounds really dumb to me, but I like it.” I think that’s a f—ing stupid thing producers say to make themselves feel better. No one f—ing knows.

Both “Boom Clap” and “Fancy” have been radio staples all summer. Do you still get excited to hear your songs on the radio?

Always. I was in the car with my manager the other week in Los Angeles, and I was like, “Oh my God!” because “Boom Clap” came on the radio. I never try to play it cool, either. I always scream and freak out. I hate playing it coo — it’s the worst thing ever, anyway.

What did you think when Iggy Azalea pitched the “Fancy” video to you?

She said she wanted to do Clueless, and I was like, “Of course, that’s amazing.” I don’t think Clueless has ever really been recreated in such a great way. I know it’s been done in photo shoots, but I don’t think anyone has ever nailed it as much as she did.

She just puts her all into everything she does, and she went there and she killed it. When she told me I freaked out because it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s just great. She didn’t do it half way; she did it the whole way, and I think that’s what’s important about that video. Every little girl wants to be Cher Horowitz at some point in her life. I think that’s why it’s so good.

How did that song come together in the studio? How much of it existed when you came on the scene?

When I went to the studio, they asked me to hear some stuff and write some hooks. She had already done the rap to “Fancy,” and when I heard that rap, I immediately liked it. I thought it was really tight. I was super into that “Who dat who dat/ I-G-G-Y” bit. I knew I loved the song, and then when I met her, she’s just super funny. She’s one of the funniest people I’ve met. She’s so dry, and she’s 100 percent doing her, and I really admire that about people when they just don’t give a f—. She’s one of those people.

What can you tell us about your new album Sucker?

I’m just finishing up my album right now. I’ve been working with Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend, I’ve been working with Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. I’ve been working with Stargate, Benny Blanco, a real mixture of people, but it all started off earlier with me and Patrick in Sweden getting really angry at pop music. That’s how this whole album started.

There’s definitely a punk energy that runs throughout the record. Some people will hate it, but I’m really excited about it because I know some people will absolutely love it as well. I feel like that’s what a good album is. It’s very feminine, it’s raw. I see it as being like the color red when I listen to it.

What was your experience like with Rivers Cuomo?

He’s from a totally different world than me, and a totally different time. But he is so interested in pop music and pop formulas. Pop formulas don’t interest me, but I find it interesting that they interest him, if that makes sense. It was cool to work with him and let our brains collide. We just kind of jammed at his house for a few days. We made two songs. It was cool to see how he worked.

What made you so angry at pop music?

I think it was just after that time period where me and Patrick kept kind of getting asked to replicate “I Love It,” and we felt stuck, like we weren’t being creative. People just wanted a formula that worked. So we kind of felt shut down.

And also I had seen a lot of people around me change. People get crazy once they have a hit. So I went to Stockholm, turned my phone off, and made some angry music. That kind of set me free, and I could go back and make pop music again. I think I became really uninspired for a while, and that happens — I just needed to find a way to get inspired again.