The singer tells EW about working with avant-garde producer SOPHIE on her third album

By Nolan Feeney
December 23, 2016 at 04:31 AM EST

Charli XCX is keeping her wish list for 2017 short and sweet: “Do a bad-ass tour, play festivals, party around the world.” But first she has to finish her third album, the follow-up to 2014’s punk-inspired Sucker, which she says is about “80 percent done.” The set is expected in May and features collaborations with producers like BloodPop (Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga), Stargate (Rihanna, Fifth Harmony), and SOPHIE, who produced Charli’s experimental Vroom Vroom EP from February. EW named the EP’s title track one of the best songs of 2016—and from what Charli has to say, there’s plenty more where that came from. For all the scoops on the biggest records coming next year, check out EW’s list of the 35 most anticipated albums of 2017.

The new album is an evolution of the ‘Vroom Vroom’ sound

‘Vroom Vroom’ is a pretty good blueprint for how crazy it gets,” Charli says. “[The album is] split into half a straight-up pop album and half a more club-oriented record. It’s all pop, but some of it’s harder and more aggressive, and you’ll want to take more drugs to [one] half than the other.” And while she’s previously called the record her most commercial to date, that doesn’t mean she’s playing it safe: “I’m always trying to make pop music with an edge, and this record was no different. It’s something I feel is the most universal thing I’ve done, even though I’ve made it with an underground producer like SOPHIE.”

She brings out SOPHIE’s pop side

SOPHIE is known for his avant-garde beats and weird sound effects, but that’s not all he’s bringing to the album. “The thing about SOPHIE that I don’t think a lot of people see yet is he has an immense knowledge of pop music and can produce really next-level pop records,” Charli says. “They’re not alien to the radio, but they are very special and are something that only he could do. There are moments [on the album] that are fully Whoo! This is in the club! but there are also moments of SOPHIE showcasing his skills as one of the best pop producers ever.” One such moment? The tentatively titled “Girls Night Out. “That’s definitely one of my favorites that we’ve worked on together,” she says.

The new live songs probably won’t make the record

Charli says she hasn’t settled on a final tracklist yet, but she says the new material she debuted during a recent show likely won’t appear on the album. “‘Taxi’ won’t be on the album, ‘No Angel’ might be,” she says. “They’re all demos that didn’t have a home, but we still liked them, so we wanted to play them and put them out in the world.” She thinks some of the songs that don’t make the cut could eventually see the light of day in other forms: “I don’t know how many [songs we recorded], but we did a lot,” Charli says. “It’s cool because we can pitch them [to other artists] or leak all of them or whatever.”

She has a few surprises in store

Charli scored a guest spot from rapper Lil Yachty on the lead single “After the Afterparty,” but he’s not the only guest: “There’s one feature on the album — I can’t really say who it is — that I don’t think people will expect and think people will be really excited about.” And while she says her main goal with this album was making “a party album” she could dance to, she hopes to show her softer side as well. “There are moments where things are as aggressive as that bass line in ‘Vroom Vroom,’” Charli says, “but then there are a lot more beautiful pop moments.”

She has a mixtape in the works

With the album expected in May, Charli is hoping to tide fans over with a mixtape she thinks will come out “early next year” — but she doesn’t know yet what will be on it or how it will relate to the proper album. “We’re in a culture now where you don’t just put out an album, you do whatever you want,” she says. “I’m definitely somebody who gets bored waiting [around] to do things. The idea of promoting one song for seven months while it bubbles on the radio, which is obviously what I have to do, that’s so boring to me. I just want to be creating at the same time. Doing a mixtape, which I can just give away to people, is great.”

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