While she was preparing to release “Crash,” the glossiest album of her career as a solo pop artist, Charli XCX found herself in the doldrums. In December, the British singer and songwriter hosted a high-stakes “Saturday Night Live” performance with two of her friends and collaborators, Caroline Polachek and Christine and the Queens. After a labyrinth of plans, rehearsals, and boomerang travel, the whole thing was wrecked for air hours due to the Omicron wave. Charli XCX navigated this disruption and other big questions about what could be coming. “I felt really, really low in January,” she said, “and very sad, and cried a lot and wondered a lot of things.”
Finally the fog lifted; her public bravado began. “My album is so good,” she says tweeted last week: “It’s just true, I can’t help it.” “Crash”, which arrived on Friday, is the fifth and final LP released under the major label contract that Charli XCX, 29, signed as a 16-year-old. After breaking through in 2014 with the single ‘Boom Clap’ and gaining a reputation as a hooky, hit-making writer for other artists, she became more experimental and plunged into hyperpop with Sophie and AG Cook, such as her mixtape ‘Pop Out 2017’. 2.” But she never lost her will to work together.
“She is the queen of features,” said Polachek, an old friend. Indeed, she and Christine and the Queens, French artist Hélöise Letissier, who goes by Chris, can be seen on “New Shapes,” a synthy single from “Crash,” in which each wrote a verse about relationships — a topic they have. long discussed in DMs and on podcasts. “I think we all fall in love very differently,” Charli said.
The relationship songs on “Crash” could serve as a story about Charli XCX’s up-and-down time in the music industry, she added. She wanted the album to be her last, most packaged push for pop stardom — just to see if she could do it. “For me there has always been an eternal question of, could I be the greatest artist in the world,” she said, “or am I not made for it? Am I too weird, too left, too cocky, too unsympathetic, too different, whatever, whatever?
Charli XCX got a new shot on “SNL” this month, albeit without her friends. Now she wonders what the next stage of her career could be. “Who will I become? What will I look like? What shall I wear? How will it sound?” she said.
Transformation and evolution were recurring topics when Charli XCX, Polachek and Chris got together in December to discuss recordings and performances on different continents. They each approach music from different directions, as Polachek, formerly of the Brooklyn indie band Chairlift, put it: Charli on the social media fueled pop front (she started on Myspace); Chris, who has been holed up in Los Angeles lately working on a new Christine and the Queens album, arrives with a stubborn theatrical and performance background. “I love making music on my own, but I really find myself coming alive when I share a space with them,” said Charli.
In joint interviews and individually, they talked about their careers and friendships, and why they work well together as collaborators. “We’re feelers, you know,” Polachek said. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.
How they met
POLACHEK Charli and I met 12 years ago in Australia. I played double-decker synths, sang from behind the band – I wasn’t even really the lead singer for that band. And Charli wore platform sneakers that were a foot high, with rainbow stripes, and she sang on an iPod and stomped on stage. The paradigms were so different. She said, Caroline, I want you to produce music for me. I had never made music for anyone at the time, let alone for myself.
CHARLI XCX I remember seeing the chairlift perform and Caroline’s singing was incredible, and I think I was really in awe of her. And I still am. I felt intimidated by her coolness, not that she was an intimidating person. She was very nice. I was maybe 18 and still going back and forth on trips from my parents’ house.
POLACHEK I was doing a mega story on Instagram when Chris released the “Girlfriend” video, I was just blown away by it, and I think you responded to that story and said, “I’m a fan” and I was like, “I’m a fan. ” We dated a pen pal for about a year and a half, and a pretty deep one, before we actually met. Just DM on Instagram. We talked about love and pain.
CHRIS I can have a deep conversation with you and I appreciate that in our friendship.
About gender in the music industry
CHARLI XCX Now, and for the past few years, I’ve loved co-writing. I see it as a real skill to be able to sharpen the ideas of several people into one sensible thing. But what I did experience [from outsiders] was a feeling of disbelief that I could possibly write a song. Perhaps that’s a lack of training in the details of the music industry and the various roles – the songwriter; the producer; the artist who sometimes acts as both. I think there’s still a story of people thinking, oh, did Olivia Rodrigo really write that song? Or did Taylor Swift do that?
It seems there must be a question about the validity of women and whether they are worth their space when it just doesn’t seem to be a question for men.
POLACHEK I roll my eyes when people point to female pop singers as an example of change in music. New. Women’s faces and women’s voices have been prominent since the dawn of pop music. It’s who has their hand on the dial. That is what is changing.
CHARLI XCX There are more ways to be an artist because there are more platforms – there’s TikTok, there’s SoundCloud. There’s that girl in your bedroom, putting out songs and building a fan base organically through your own memes. Those things are all true, but unfortunately, and maybe calling myself a pessimist, I feel like there are still boxes that women should fit into.
And there are certainly moments that break that pattern – Billie Eilish becomes the greatest artist in the world. A great artist creates a great world that people can access. I feel like sometimes people don’t want to accept that female artists evolve. Billie put on a gig using Auto-Tune, and the world imploded. And it’s like, that’s an artistic choice†
I’m the weird girl on the fringes who made “Pop 2” and people loved me for it, and I’m eternally grateful for that support. That helped me to pursue a career that, after 2014 to 2015, was not very commercially successful. I found a new lease of life by playing closer to the underground, more avant-garde sounds. Maybe this is just the Twitter discourse, I probably need to get my head around this, but sometimes it feels like I’m being told, no, you can’t be anyone but that. And the truth is I can be whoever I want because I’m an interesting artist because I evolve and change.
CHRIS I’m not social anymore, stopped in July. My mental health is better. My connection with the present is better. I think sometimes social – when it’s hyper-filtered and it needs to be punchy, catchy and immediately digestible – is something encouraging that I, as an artist, don’t always understand. Sometimes I want to take more time to express an idea.
My journey with gender has always been tumultuous. It’s raging now, as I’m just investigating what else is out there. One way of putting it might be to switch between she and she. I actually want to break down the system that led us to label genders in such a strict way. I remember speaking in France in 2014 about being pansexual – it was a conversation few opened, and I was advised in offices to maybe tone it down. I’m really trying to get it right now, and I’m sometimes pressured to give an answer. But I think the answer is to escape flashy, flowing.
I don’t want to rush that conversation, and I may never answer again. But in my work I find ways to make that journey joyful. I believe the real gestures are artistic, because the real discussion about queerness is also a discussion about the society we live in, about capitalism, about social justice. It’s not just about me asking myself every morning, am I male or female? It’s all-encompassing.
About what they appreciate in each other as artists
POLACHEK Chris has a sense of speed and total commitment. Most people, when they’re in exercise mode, do things with 50 percent energy because you don’t want to exhaust yourself, you’re just doing it for your brain. Chris is at 100 percent, 150 percent every time and just increases the level of dedication and energy flow for everyone around.
CHRIS I’ve always been a fan of Caroline. I love how artistic everything is, how intentional everything is. There’s an elegance, it’s demanding, but also super melodic.
CHARLI XCX I think Caroline sees the potential of pop music as all it can shape. She can create and make anything sound or look or do whatever she wants because she has all the skills to do it.
Frankly, with Caroline and Chris, sometimes I’m just jealous of their music. When I heard ‘Girlfriend’ I thought: God I want to work with [Christine’s collaborator] Dam-Funk. And I did and I thought, I don’t have a magical connection with this person, even though he’s great. I wish Chris was here to sort this out for me.
CHRIS Charlie, I feel very deeply connected to you writing the song. I can see you making music with what you’ve been through and the feeling you’re going through. There is something very serious about your writing.
CHARLI XCX You were my therapist for a while. You give good advice.
Especially in recent years I have been able to turn to both of them for many personal matters outside of music, and also for personal matters related to music. Sometimes I think it’s hard, as an artist, to say you’re having a hard time, because of course we’re so lucky to be able to support ourselves from the things we create. But everyone also struggles. It’s nice to talk to others who are in the same kind of situation as you, to confide in them about things they’re getting. I’m really grateful for that.