Charlotte Aitchison didn’t listen to Top 40 when she was first exploring her musical interests in her early teens. Instead, the Hertfordshire, England native better known as Charli XCX was rummaging through CD crates for punk CDs and wearing defiant outfits to school — “five belts instead of one,” she recalls — in order to demonstrate her overall rebelliousness.
“I was a massive fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and I also bought loads of like really rubbish punk compilation CDs, and [albums] from bands like Sham 69 and the Vibrators,” the U.K. singer tells Billboard. “I was really into that for a period of time because I loved that whole spirit that punk was about… I’ve just always liked that ‘break free’ kind of thing.”
Fast forward a half-decade, and the 20-year-old Charli XCX has morphed into one of the most promising new talents in pop music, all while maintaining a decidedly punk attitude. For instance, “You (Ha Ha Ha),” her latest single released earlier this month, is a deliriously catchy piece of bubblegum, but with a music video that features the singer wearing a spiked collar and traipsing around a weapons factory. After months of blog hype due to killer solo singles like “Nuclear Seasons,” “Stay Away” and “You’re The One,” as well as a featured spot on Icona Pop’s single “I Love It” (which has sold 71,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan), Charli XCX will release her debut album in “April or May,” and hopes to breach the mainstream pop scene in the States — while still frequenting punk shows in Chinatown, as she did during her last visit to New York City.
Although “Stay Away” and “Nuclear Seasons” will both be included on her forthcoming album, Charli XCX’s debut will be led by “You (Ha Ha Ha),” which samples Gold Panda’s 2010 track “You” and will receive a remixes EP release in February. The original track’s music video, which has racked up 276,000 Youtube views since its Jan. 10 release, is an homage to “Grindhouse girls,” with a kick-ass collection of ladies manufacturing and then dancing with automatic weapons in hand.
Charli XCX acknowledges that the timing of the clip’s release was a bit dubious due to the recent swath of shooting tragedies in the U.S., but says that “You (Ha Ha Ha)’s” video is meant to herald girl power, not violence. “From Jessie Ware to Azealea Banks to Grimes, I think it’s a really good time for girls [in music] at the moment,” she says. “I’ve always been a fan of standing up for what you do, and just doing shit your own way. I think it’s important for girls to not get sucked into the whole idea of being perfect, because sometimes, the pop world is very perfect.”
If tracks like “You (Ha Ha Ha)” and “Nuclear Seasons” are any indication, Charli XCX’s debut LP will challenge the conventions of female pop music in 2013. The singer says that Ariel Rechtshaid, the pop whiz who helmed Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing” and scored writing credits on Usher’s “Looking 4 Myself” album, is the main producer on the album, after helming “Nuclear Seasons” and “Stay Away.” Charli has also logged studio time with Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow and Clams Casino, the cloud-rap maestro responsible for some of A$AP Rocky and Mac Miller’s best beats.
“He’s one of my favorite producers and I love the sound that he makes — it’s so luscious, angelic, and kind of drugged out at the same time,” she says of Clams Casino. “We did the session and the stuff that we got sounded really cool. We haven’t finished yet. I never know [if it will make the album] until it’s at least finished, and I have like five weeks to listen to that one song on repeat and then I’m like, ‘I know, it’s going to be Track 5 on the album!'”
As she pairs down her debut album’s track list and picks 10-12 songs that best represent her sound, Charli XCX is also furiously honing her stage show, after scoring a spot on Coldplay’s 2012 tour alongside fellow opener Santigold. The singer hopes to kick off a proper headlining tour in the States sometime in the next two months, and plans on being at South by Southwest in March.
“I’m working like a crazy bitch on my show at the moment, because I want it to be fucking amazing,” says Charli XCX. “I’m basically making a music video of every song … we’re going to use all these film samples from my favorite films, like ‘The Craft,’ ‘Clueless’ and ‘Carrie.’ So it’s going to be incredible.”