Meet U.K. pop sensation Charli XCX

This 20-year-old British singer and songwriter of Top 10 hits is lovely, and she’s in town tonight. Read about her and see her new video inside.

Charli XCX

At 20 years old, and already six years into her music career, Charli XCX is the kind of pop star you want to like.

On last July’s cover of V Magazine, she completed a pop triad that had Grimes and Sky Ferreira as its other points. Of course the make-up masks and matching sci-fi costumes rendered the British, Canadian and American ladies homogenous when they’re quite distinct musically.

That said, Charli XCX is a fitting middle point between Grimes’s more outré dance music and Ferreira’s melancholy ’80s pop stylings. You can hear echoes of ’80s and ’90s Top 40 on her album True Romance (and even more so on “I Love It,” a hit she wrote for Icona Pop) but there’s also ample evidence of her crush on French electro and some of the darker currents that run through contemporary music.

I spoke to Charli XCX (born Charlotte Aitchison) late last week, ahead of her show tonight supporting Marina and the Diamonds.

Charli XCX (bottom) with Grimes and Sky Ferreira

Lorraine Carpenter: If you had to choose one, what has been your career highpoint so far?

Charli XCX: Hmmm, either doing the Coldplay tour — touring with one of the biggest bands in the world is pretty cool! — or “I Love It” winding up on the Billboard Top 10. That was so crazy, and it was really weird ’cause it feels like I haven’t really done any work for that. I mean I wrote the song, but that’s it.

Also, Uffie followed me on Twitter a couple of months ago, and she was a big influence on my music, so that was really cool. I’ve never said that before ’cause I thought it might sound lame.

LC: Hey, if my favourite band followed me on Twitter, I’d freak out. [Come on, guys, give me some sugar!] Your sound seems derived from two strains of music, light and dark, pop and, I don’t know, goth maybe. Have you always gravitated to the extremes, or music that brings them together?

CX: Ooh, I’d say both, really. Having those two elements creates a drama, and especially with writing this record, I was really inspired by the ’80s: Martika, T’pau, Kate Bush. That kind of dramatic ’80s sound has a split personality; it’s very emotional and can be euphoric, but it’s very dark as well.

The album became about romance and it became about love, and there are two sides to love, so I guess that’s why I gravitated towards that drama.

LC: Your first singles sound pretty different from the new stuff. I imagine you went through something of an identity crisis, especially starting out so young.

CX: Yeah, totally, but I think every 14-, 15-year-old has an identity crisis. I remember wanting to be Britney Spears really early on [she wrote her first song at age eight], but as I got older, I realized I didn’t want that. It was just something I was fascinated by, and am still fascinated by.

When I really found myself musically and felt comfortable with the music I wanted to make and really fell back in love with music was when I wrote the song “Stay Away.” That was a real moment for me.

LC: How are you dealing with the pitfalls of fame, the lifestyle choices that musicians are always faced with? Are you learning from watching what’s happened to others?

CX: To be honest, I’m a very closed-off person when it comes to the fame game — it freaks me out. My friends are my real friends, and I have trust issues, so I keep my crew very small. I’m young and I like to party, but I dunno, it’s weird. I guess I’m closed off to that whole scene. I’m also very awkward and get intimidated easily by shit, so I like to keep myself to myself. ■

Charli XCX opens for Marina and the Diamonds at Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine E.) tonight, Friday, May 24, 9 p.m., $29.95

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