Charli XCX knows you’re obsessed with her

Charli wears bra KATYA ZELENTSOVA and briefs and socks stylist’s own

She's pop music’s fearless trailblazer, a committed experimentalist who’s navigated the music industry machine and kept her integrity intact. Now, Charli XCX is back with a rowdy, ravey record which laps up the drama of friendships, fall-outs and fame.

Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.

Charli XCX’s home in Hackney is a simple, white, terraced flat. She bought the East London pad a year ago, but only properly moved in recently, because she spends most of her time in Los Angeles. Decor is minimal. A white Togo couch, the god-tier status symbol for chic millennial one-percenters, has been squeezed around a heavy wooden coffee table. Jars of flowers are dotted around, as are neat stacks of books by Rachel Cusk, Sean Thor Conroe and Barbara Marstrand. A tiny decorated tree sits in one corner, a concession to the holiday season from a self-confessed workaholic who once tweeted that she doesn’t like Christmas because no one replies to emails.

The space is as tranquil as a spa. But when Charli, who’s sitting on the floor in blue skinny jeans and an oversized, grey, V‑neck jumper, hits play on her phone, that serenity dissipates.

We’re not allowed to print the title of her forthcoming sixth album, nor more than a couple of song titles, because Charli is particularly susceptible to leaks, so let’s call it XCX6. It features irresistible club-pop made by a dyed-in-the-wool party girl. Some of the tracks I hear recall 00s-era Ministry of Sound compilations The Annual and Rihanna’s 2010 masterpiece Loud. Its lyrics are shady and bratty, but tender and heartbreaking. Charli writes about herself, her friends and, occasionally, her rivals with such openness that it feels like you’re listening to transcripts of her iMessages. She’s excited that it’s so bold, but punctuates our interview with a caveat: I’m prepared for people to think I’m a bitch, but I’m not that.”

Cover 1: Charli wears bra KATYA ZELENTSOVA and briefs and socks stylist’s own. Cover 2: Vest, underwear and shorts GUESS USA. Cover 3: Shirt COURRÈGES

XCX6 makes the brazen pop of her last record, 2022’s Crash, seem like child’s play. At breakfast earlier, she’d told me she’s over this idea of metaphor and beauty in art – I just want directness from me. I want things to feel quick and fast and dirty.”

For one song, Charli wants to make the opposite of the [Prodigy’s] Smack My Bitch Up video”, starring her it-girl friends Gabbriette, Julia Fox, Paloma Elsesser and Alex Consani. As she plays me the track through her Sonos, which fights for its life against the album’s blown-out bass, someone knocks at the door. She springs up, terrified a neighbour has come to complain about the noise. The door closes and I hear her laugh from downstairs. It was a champagne delivery!”

Since Cambridge-born, Essex-raised Charlotte Aitchison started releasing music in 2011, aged 19, she’s been a scorched-earth pop star, forever burning it down and starting again. She followed I Love It, the 2012 Euro smash she co-wrote with Icona Pop, with the moody synth-pop of her debut album, 2013’s True Romance. Her 2014 feature on Iggy Azalea’s Billboard No. 1 Fancy was followed by a punk-inspired album, Sucker, on which she mocked pop hitmaker Dr. Luke, by name. Then there was 2016’s SOPHIE-produced Vroom Vroom EP, which was so confounding to critics that one compared it to non-Euclidean geometry.

Dress DION LEE and shoes BLUMARINE

Ever since then, the 31-year-old has managed to drop both cutting-edge classics and commercial smashes – 2017’s Pop 2 crystallised the nascent hyperpop genre, a term that induces cringe now but once felt like the future, while 2020’s How I’m Feeling Now, frantically written and recorded in the early weeks of the pandemic, was the first and best example of lockdown pop. Life, then, imitated art with Crash, a concept record about becoming a sell-out pop star which topped the charts, while 2023 single Speed Drive was a hyperactive highlight on the Barbie soundtrack.

Reports that she was co-writing Britney’s comeback album turned out to be fake news, but Charli has written so many hits – including top fives for Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello – that they were believable nonetheless. Now, a decade-and-a-half into her career, Charli is reintroducing a crucial ingredient into pop and mainstream celebrity that’s been missing for so long: put plainly, she’s fucking cool.

I kinda miss the time where pop music was really volatile and crazy. I miss the Paris Hilton days. Everybody is so worried about everything right now, how they’re perceived, if this art they’ve created is going to offend”

When we have breakfast at a café near her flat, she describes her look – the above fit, worn with no makeup, a scarf, a bulky leather motorcycle jacket and a khaki leather clutch – as bitchy skier”. In the vape era, she still smokes Parliament Lights. When a flash of recognition crosses the face of the waiter delivering delicate charcuterie plates and cold brews, she smiles at him slyly and winks. Although she’s dressed incognito, Charli’s sheer star wattage radiates through the wintry Dalston gloom.

I kinda miss the time when pop music was really volatile and crazy. I miss the Paris Hilton days. Everybody is so worried about everything right now, how they’re perceived, if this art they’ve created is going to offend anyone,” she says, spreading the yolk of her soft boiled egg on a piece of bread like Marmite. It limits creative output to think like that.” (She later muses, in her arch, irony-rich drawl, I’m also just into this idea of lying all the time. Being really truthful, but also lying. Fuck it!”)

As she puts it, aside from her relationship with her fiancé, music producer and The 1975’s drummer George Daniel, the main relationship in my life is the relationship I have with the industry I’m in, and the way it makes me feel. Sometimes it makes me feel incredible and sometimes it makes me feel like nothing.” With Crash, Charli set out to make a commercially viable record. Now, she’s sick of the vanilla palatable flatness” in the pop landscape. There were songs on Crash that I would never listen to,” she admits, picking out smooth disco track Yuck as an example. I needed to switch after Crash – I wasn’t born to do radio liners,” she says of the call-outs that appear between songs on stations. That’s not who I am at all.”

Charli’s earned the right to follow her own path. Swedish pop legend Robyn, who’s been a friend since they toured Australia on the same festival bill in 2012, says she’s inspired by the fearlessness of the new record. She’s coming to this place where she’s able to be transparent with herself more, with her real feelings,” Robyn tells me. She’s conjured this storm over the past few years, reading the culture and her fans, and knowing what fans react to. But it’s done in this way that’s not strategic. She’s lived and breathed and done everything in the name of pop music for the last 20 years.”

For her part, Charli describes XCX6 as her most aggressive and confrontational record”, but also her most vulnerable.

Being a musician is fucking twisted and hard” and she wanted to make a record which spoke to that. One track that’s sure to send Deuxmoi and Discord servers into overdrive finds Charli singing about the fraught relationship she has with an unnamed female artist. Another interrogates society’s fascination with mean girls”, inspired in part by Dasha Nekrasova, co-host of controversial podcast Red Scare, and by Charli’s interest in why succubus-looking, dead-eyed women” like herself and her friend Gabriette are often coded as mean.

Charli was raised on spunky, fearless music like this. Growing up, she loved Lily Allen, who was outspoken and ran her mouth, and had the songs to back it up. She was a fully- formed, flawed person.” She still finds that archetype attractive. I remember my dad saying: You know, Charli, you should be like Tom Hanks. He has a reputation for being nice,’” she recalls. And I was like, yeah, but I don’t know that people think Tom Hanks is cool.”

Lead single Von Dutch, produced by Speed Drive collaborator EasyFun, is a perfect introduction to her acidic, freewheeling new mode. The track is a throwback to Charli’s teens, when she was on MySpace and first began thinking my taste was cool”. Paired with a wild video shot at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, in which Charli jumps off the wing of the world’s largest passenger plane, an Airbus A380, the song plays like bravura tweets fired off after a glass of champagne: It’s alright to just admit that I’m your fantasy /​you’re obsessing, just confess it cause it’s obvious”.

Charli used to write lyrics like an industry songwriter, stringing together nonsense vowel sounds then matching words to them on a second pass. For XCX6, though, she had to have this specific feeling or narrative ahead of time”. Von Dutch, for example, was written about being an object of gossip or obsession for people around you and embracing it.

I was sharing my process with friends and people who don’t make music, and [the lyrics] were becoming conversational, like things I would text people,” she says. It was beginning to feel gossipy in a fun way, so I leant into it.”

XCX6 largely focuses on friendships and rivalries, as opposed to traditional pop themes of romantic turmoil, partly because of Charli’s genuinely really nice and happy” relationship with George, who co-produced a number of tracks. The couple live together in Charli’s place in LA and her flat in Hackney is only five doors down from his London home – which, she insists, is simply a coincidence.

Charli first realised she had feelings for George when she and The 1975 were touring Australia in 2020, co-headlining Laneway Festival. I think Matty [Healy] suggested to George that maybe I had a crush. I wasn’t privy to that,” she says, dryly recounting the saga. They kept in touch during lockdown, talking a lot about music and our pop culture theories”. When the relationship Charli was in at that time ended, her new relationship with George had this whirlwind”, with the pair announcing their engagement last November.

I feel very inspired to be with someone who’s unbelievably talented. That’s really sexy to me”

Keen fans will have noticed that many of Charli’s relationship songs, like 2018’s No Angel and 2019’s February 2017, have centred around her struggle to commit. (“You can call it infidelity, I’m not embarrassed.”) But her relationship with George, she says, is stronger on the basis that it feels a lot more equal than what she’s experienced in the past.

I think there’s been a power dynamic in my previous relationships, where I was the powerful person. Whether it be my personality, or financially, or ego, there was an imbalance,” she says. It helps that George shares her line of work. We do the same thing, we understand the same world, we challenge each other. And I think he’s really hot and funny. I feel inspired to be with someone who’s unbelievably talented. That’s really sexy to me.”

She has, however, had to adjust to spending so much time around one of the world’s biggest bands. One thing that’s interesting about being in a relationship with someone who does what I do is that you’re in their orbit a lot – sometimes when you’re not prepared, or when I’m in this total dry phase where I’m not feeling inspired. Sometimes you’re watching your boyfriend’s band sell out arena after arena, and that can make me feel small.”

When you’re an artist, you can pretty much choose when you want to be around other people with big egos who are performing,” she says. But when you’re in a relationship with another artist who’s part of a band with quite a, let’s say, controversial frontman, you suddenly don’t get to choose when you’re subjecting yourself to someone else’s environment.”

As Charli implies, Matty has caused no little controversy in recent years. In February 2023, he appeared on an episode of The Adam Friedland Show podcast, during which he laughed at and encouraged the hosts’ jokes about Asian and Inuit people, and watching extreme porn. Charli was dragged into the backlash when, in August, fans noticed she’d unfollowed Rina Sawayama, a collaborator on Crash and signee to The 1975’s longtime label Dirty Hit. From 2018 until April 2023, Matty was a director of the label, and he remains a shareholder. At Glastonbury, Rina called out Matty while introducing her song STFU! with, Tonight, this goes out to a white man that watches Ghetto Gaggers and mocks Asian people on a podcast. He also owns my masters.”

Charli says unfollowing Rina was over a personal disagreement between friends” and that it wasn’t even a falling out, we’re good”. She’s quick to say Rina never asked her to take sides. But she acknowledges the masters conversation annoyed me and I told [Rina]”.

It’s common for record labels to own artists’ masters, which hold the copyright to original recordings of their music. But the subject has become the source of emotionally charged discussion among fanbases, perhaps because of Taylor Swift’s highly publicised dispute over the ownership of her first six albums.

When Charli signed a five-album deal with Atlantic aged 16, she owned about 15 per cent of her masters and the label owned the rest. I’ve been in a position for a long period where I didn’t own a lot of the music that I made, so it’s hard for me to see that word [masters] being weaponised when it’s not the case,” she says of an ownership setup that is, by and large, standard industry practice.

With Crash she fulfilled her Atlantic deal after nearly 15 years and re-signed with the label. She talked to Interscope but realised more of her masters would be kept if she stayed with Atlantic. She’s emphatic that the decision to stay was not in any way because I was backed into a corner to do so, or because I’m a victim. That [narrative] really bothers me.” The Swift debacle is really unfair” but not representative of the situation faced by most artists, not least herself. I don’t want people to be like Oh my God, they trapped her because they own her masters.’ Like, yeah, they own my masters – that’s a fucking record deal. That’s what they’re paying for.”


Having weathered the storm of the music industry with her integrity intact, Charli is the blueprint for a new generation of artists. An inspiration, yes, but also a mentor and confidante. Case in point: her friendship with TikTok star-turned-musician-and-actor Addison Rae. Charli was an early supporter of her music when sceptics initially brushed it off as manufactured pop, eventually collaborating with Addison on her track 2 Die 4.

Charli has been not only a great mentor for me but also a big sister, in a way – the coolest, sickest, nicest, most fun sister you could ever have,” Addison tells me with near-breathless reverence. In this industry, you find a lot of people making you second-guess yourself, or doubt your abilities, and she’s constantly believed in me. It’s been such an honour to have someone like her [in my corner], because she’s got so much credibility. And likewise, I’m one of her biggest fans. It’s truly a gift from God.” For all of her gripes with the music industry, Charli treasures her relationships with collaborators who she truly connects to.

One song on the new album is a knotty exploration of her grief about SOPHIE, who died in 2021 in a tragic accident. Far from a eulogy, it’s about the shame Charli felt when reflecting on their relationship. There was a lot of distance between us because I was in awe of her and wanted to impress her,” she says.

She believed in me in ways that I didn’t believe [in] myself. But I felt like I would never be interesting enough to operate in her world outside of the studio, which was the safe space where we could connect and bond over music.”

I didn’t feel like I was magical enough for this unbelievably magic person. And that makes me ashamed now I don’t have the opportunity to experience that anymore, because she’s gone. I feel ashamed for being a coward. It’s hard to write about. I’m sad for myself that I didn’t experience all this person had to offer.”

I get tired of behaving in a way that people expect me, or expect pop stars, to behave. I’m not a role model – and I never did this because I wanted to be”

The push-and-pull between vulnerability and braggadocio is at the heart of XCX6. Because, despite her brash public face – and the pure ease with which she, say, shit-talks the Brit Awards from its own red carpet – Charli has often felt like an outsider in the industry. I’ve always been very embarrassed by myself, like I’m the girl who’s got her dress tucked in her knickers after she comes out of the toilet.”

She’s anxious about releasing the new record, in part due to the intense scrutiny her music receives on social media. Releasing an album is sometimes totally triggering,” she says. While promoting Crash, she responded to fan criticisms of lead single Baby with a string of tweets, ending with a swiftly-deleted message that instantly became gay Twitter canon: Bitch BYE. I will NEVER understand what possesses people to be such C*NTS online.”

Oh my God, I felt so bad. But then I was like, wait, that’s actually kinda epic,” she says, laughing witheringly. A fan was being mean to me and I think I’d just had enough. I was rehearsing for SNL. It was fucking stressful. As soon as I sent [the tweet] I was like, Oh my god, I called this probably, like, 15-year-old gay boy a cunt. What a nightmare!’”

Charli, clearly, still feels terrible about the Baby incident. But she’s also feeling empowered by her prediction that we’re about to be done with niceness being currency”.

This is the energy – defiant, bratty in an empowered, drily funny way – that’s inspired XCX6. Charli, unsurprisingly, believes it’s her best album. I get tired of behaving in a way that people expect me, or expect pop stars, to behave. I’m not a role model – and I never did this because I wanted to be.” She pauses, then offers a caveat. But I understand it comes with the territory. I am a role model for a very flawed, genuinely real, non-perfect person. And that’s all I would ever want to be.”

Bodysuit and skirt COURRÈGES and jewellery talent’s own


HAIR Matt Benns at CLM MAKE-UP Yadim Carranza at Art Partner SET DESIGNER Robert Doran at Frank Reps PRODUCER Christo Arsenio PHOTOGRAPHER ASSISTANT Olivia Parker STYLIST ASSISTANTS Hollie Williamson and Emilia Fishburn MAKE-UP ASSISTANT Joseph Rios SET DESIGNER ASSISTANT Matthew Tyler Ray

UP next

More like this

00:00 / 00:00