Interview: Charli XCX Talks Feminism, Fighting With Her Label, and What She Really Thinks of Iggy Azalea

The British powerhouse revises the meaning of pop star.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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There hasn’t been a London pop force as loud, unapologetic and unabashedly charming as Charli XCX since the Spice Girls. We spent a whiskey-soaked night out with her for the October/November cover of Complex last year, where she told us about her dreams of getting into the feminine hygiene industry and worries about losing her cool factor with the newly popified sound on her next album.

It’s clear those fears were unfounded. Charli dropped her third studio album, Sucker, to rave reviews. The Times called it “smart, loud, cheeky,” and the album became Charli’s first to chart. debuting at No. 28 on the Billboard 200. Grammy excitement followed as Iggy Azalea’s No. 1 smash “Fancy,” for which Charli penned the hook, earned nominations for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. That globe-trotting chorus is what brought us to Charli again, as we linked up with her on the set of Pepsi’s new Out of the Blue campaign launching just in time for the awards show. The doe-eyed, sailor-mouthed songstress opened up about what makes her the angriest, her Swedish songwriting getaways with the Sadboys, and women in control of their own careers—Iggy included—being one of the coolest things that happened in 2014.

Are your “periods are punk” tampons in production yet?

No, sadly they’re not. There’s a whole health and safety issue surrounding what people can put in their pussies, so they haven’t been made yet. But I want to. That’s still definitely an idea that I want to explore more.

All in due time. Congratulations on your Grammy nominations. Is being nominated something that means a lot to you?

Yeah, I feel like getting a Grammy nomination is such a huge accolade. It’s such a huge deal. It’s kind of one of the highest honors for a musician. It’s a huge thing for me. I’m totally shocked and honored to be a part of it.

In our cover story, you said you felt conflicted about going really pop with Sucker because you might lose some of the “cool” factor that attracted your fans in the beginning. At the same time, during the last few months so much of what you had going on was massive, pop, and very big budget. How are you balancing those worlds?

I think I always knew with this record that some people were going to like it and some people weren’t. I don’t think that was so much something that I was worried about as something I knew I would have to deal with, because I knew it was going to be the case. After all I think it’s actually been all right. Fans change with the artist. I think people have always known I wanted to make pop music. With my first record, even though it wasn’t a commercial success, I was trying to make pop music. I loved that album. It didn’t sell, but it’s a great record. It was my take on pop at the time.

What’s funny is that even though you said it’s big budget, I still have to fight for those budgets all the time. And it’s really not anyone else doing it but me; they’re all my ideas. The “Doing It” video, for example, is a treatment that I wrote. Up until literally the hour before it got released I was brawling with people trying to get it exactly the way I wanted it. It’s not like someone brainwashes me and it comes out, you know? I mean I feel like a pop star, but I feel like my own kind of pop star.

Time said “feminist” one of the words that should be banned in 2015, joking about its trending status in pop culture. Beyoncé’s outright use of the word is an obvious example, but Nicki Minaj’s un-named dominance in a traditionally male-centric industry fits the theme well too. Your music is sexy and feminine, but doesn’t seem to be tailored to a dude’s point of view. Can you share some thoughts on that?

Let me just say that it’s really amazing that feminism became such a talked-about topic in 2014, and I hope it continues. I think it’s amazing that Nicki was on the Forbes list. I think it’s amazing that Beyoncé full-on used the word on massive 20-foot screens in front of TV audiences of millions. It’s really cool that such high-profile female artists are really doing that and are such straight up bosses.

With my record, to be honest, I didn’t really think about anything when I wrote it. I was kind of just like writing what was in my brain. I always felt like it was very feminine, but not in the stereotypical sense of the word. I felt like it was feminine because it was angry. It’s raw, and it’s passionate. I think it’s cool, especially for young girls, to be able to feel like they can be angry and that’s fine. That was kind of a thing for me in hindsight with the record. This album isn’t just for girls, but it’s definitely not me trying to be sexy for a man; it’s me trying to be sexy for myself. And trying to show girls that there are other ways to be in control and bad ass. You can be angry and be sexy at the same time. You can be punk and be sexy at the same time. And you can also be half naked and be really sexy, as long as you’re doing it for yourself and not for a guy. That’s something that’s become really apparent this year, these high-profile women who are feminists are empowering to women because they’re in charge of their own careers and make their own decisions. I think that’s really cool.

You are, by necessity, having to be a business person.

Yeah, and I really enjoy that. I would definitely call myself a business person. I have to fight, like I have to fight with my record label to get what I want. People treat me like a little girl still, even though I’m in the position I’m in. And I think that’s the case for people who are way more successful than me. I think that’s just a factor of being a woman in the music industry, which sucks, but it’s cool that people talk about it.

People treat me like a little girl still, even though I’m in the position I’m in.

Is there anything you wish you would have known coming into that process?

I mean there’s been an ongoing situation recently, I’ve been arguing with a producer who just keeps playing my songs to people I don’t want him to play them to. It’s like, “Why are you doing that?”​ I don’t need you to do that for me. And he’s like, “Sweetie, there’s an art to playing songs for people.” I’m like, fuck off. Like, fuck you dude. Seriously. If I want to play my fucking songs for people I’ll fucking do it. I don’t need you to fucking do that shit for me, and I don’t need you to fucking patronize me. If I want you to play a song for someone, please. I will let you know and I would be really thankful. But don’t treat me like a little girl. Don’t patronize me and talk down to me just because you’re a 40-year-old man and I’m a 22-year-old girl. Not cool.

The A.G. Cook remix of “Doing It,” recently came out. Isn’t that a sign that you’re still in the “cool” and critical side of the industry?

Actually I was with A.G. Cook the other night, and he’s the nicest, coolest guy. I want to make music with him. I love that remix, it’s so good. For this record, even though I did work with Stargate and I did work with Benny [Blanco] and I worked with Greg Kurstin, it was about balancing that with people like Rostam [Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend], Rivers Cuomo, and people like Cashmere Cat. That’s really important to me. That’s not something that my record label is doing. That’s me. I executive produced this record, I put people in a room together. I took 10 people to Sweden and stayed there and wrote songs. We were literally there again the other week with people like Yung Gud from Sadboys, and I took Wyatt, Pontus Winnberg. We just go and write songs. It’s important for me to be able to make pop music but make good pop music that I still think is cool.

Lastly, why do you think the hip-hop world has been so critical of Iggy Azalea?

There’s a whole hip-hop culture that I’m not a part of. I feel like hip-hop in the U.K. is a very different thing than hip-hop in the U.S., and it’s something that I didn’t grow up around. All I can say is that Iggy’s a very hard-working, sweet person. In my head she’s in a interesting space because she’s making pop music. I mean that’s what I am, and I’m writing hooks for her. She uses rap in a different way, that’s how I see it. I’m not saying anyone else is wrong, I’m not saying anyone is better than anyone else, because I’m so aware that with this kind of argument you can get dragged into so many different lanes. For me, when I see Iggy, I see her using rap as a tool to make pop music. I think she’s aware of that. She’s in control of what she does, and that’s great.

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