Charli XCX has the hair of Lorde, the voice of a young Britney Spears, and the backing beats of an early 2000s London electronica club. But what you might not know is that you can probably hum one of her songs right now, because she powered two of the biggest songs of the past couple of years — even though the songs weren't actually hers.
Charli XCX stamped her name on what is probably the biggest song of 2014: Iggy Azalea's "Fancy." In fact, she's the one who sings the title of the song. (She's so fancy. You already know.) And she was the "I don't care! I love it!" behind Icona Pop's "I Love It," a big hit last year. So should you be paying attention to Charli XCX? If you care about pop music and where it's going, definitely. Her new album Sucker came out December 15, and its one of the best albums produced this year.
Here's everything you need to know about Charli XCX is and her impending rise to fame.
1) Who is Charli XCX?
Charli XCX, 22, is an English singer and songwriter who had her first two top 10 hits this summer with the single "Boom Clap" and her appearance on Iggy Azalea's "Fancy." She calls her musical style "dark pop" and often appears like the grungy sister of a more traditional pop princess.
She began producing music at age 14 when she started uploading electronic rave music to her Myspace page. During that time, she told Rolling Stone, she was thrown into the "illegal rave parties in warehouses in London." At 16, she signed a deal with Atlantic Records.
She was already writing, performing, and recording songs like "Dinosaur Sex!" and"!Franchesckaar!" These songs channel the electronica music she was hearing at those raves and in the clubs. She played parties in those clubs and told Pitchfork that she did " a lot of nursery-rhyme rap stuff and pretend to be a 5-year-old and make up beats with a Yamaha keyboard."
Since then, her sound has mellowed out a bit. "!Franchesckaar!" is an energetic, frenetic song with enough of a beat and a groove to dance to, but it's also grinding. Her debut album, True Romance, dropped in 2013 and was produced by Ariel Rechtshaid (Glasser) and Patrik Berger (Robyn). It's a finely curated collection of dark synth-pop sprinkled with a couple of dance-y house party songs.
The problem for Charli XCX, so far, is that she's fallen into a weird spot: she's added musical credibility and catchy hooks to the songs of more standard pop stars. Some stars, like Lorde, are making room for dark pop like Charli XCX's. But the question remains as to whether or not her version of dark pop can blow up charts the way that more straightforward pop like Icona Pop's or rap like Azalea's does.
2) What does XCX stand for?
Charli XCX's real name is Charlotte Emma Aitchison. Charli XCX is a stage name she has insisted doesn't really stand for anything. In a profile with Rolling Stone, she said that it could stand for "Kiss Charli Kiss" or for "X-Rated Content" but that, "Really, at the moment, it just stands for everything I've done so far."
3) How did Charli XCX break through?
Charli XCX has been on the fringes of stardom for years. In 2011, Pitchfork declared her a "rising star," and Rolling Stone profiled her in 2012. But her first big hit was written for someone else. Icona Pop's "I Love It" was released in May 2012 as a digital download in Sweden, but it didn't hit big in the US until after it was featured in a 2013 episode of Girls. The song peaked at no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2013 and hit no. 1 on the U.K. Singles chart in July 2013.
Charli XCX told NME that she wrote the lyrics and the melody to the song in 30 minutes. "I don't regret giving it away. [Icona Pop are] totally owning it. I sang it with them at South By Southwest, though, and it was this real girl power moment," she told NME. When she sang the song in concert in 2013, though, Grantland commented that she announced "I Love It" as, ""This is a song that I'm featured on and that I wrote," Charli announces, which is sort of an awkward thing to say emphatically"
But, really, she became famous when she sang the chorus to "Fancy." Now she's in the fast lane from LA to Tokyo.
"Fancy" held the number one slot on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks, and topped charts around the world. It gained the coveted Song of Summer by Billboard. Charli XCX is the brunette in this video. She sings a chorus that millions of Americans have sung this summer, but no one calls it "Charli XCX's "Fancy.""
4) What songs of hers should I know?
Charli XCX's albums are only getting cleaner and sharper as she matures. With every album, she loses a little more of her messy edge and gains a stronger pop persona. Her songs are catchier now than they were when she was 14, but they are also smoother and have a better musical quality than her songs had two years ago.
Try "Break the Rules":
And then listen to "Boom Clap," Charli XCX's biggest solo hit, which climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also the first single from the soundtrack for The Fault in our Stars movie.
5) Does she have other hidden talents?
Charli XCX can rap. She raps on her song "You're the One" from 2013's True Romance, and on her current tour, she's singing the rap sections of Iggy Azalea's "Fancy." She might even be a little bit realer than the Australian rapper.
6) So is she the next big thing?
Maybe. Charli XCX falls into a difficult gap for musicians. She's not quite alternative enough to appeal to the alt-rock crowd, and she's not quite pop enough to be a Top 40 pop princess. Her vocal range isn't quite on par with Adele's, but she does have a voice and a good understanding of what makes a song a hit.
At this point, Charli XCX's career can really go in a few different directions. She could be the next Lana Del Rey, needing years and a complete image overhaul to rocket to stardom, or like Sia, who gave many of her most famous songs to other artists, then made "Chandelier." Or she could be the next Skylar Gray, another artist who took a while to break into the top 10, then faded after her song "Coming Home."
That said, her sophomore album Sucker came out Monday, December 15, and its easily one of the best albums of the year, and could be the best pop album of 2014. Charli XCX may not be a household name yet, but she's one of the most talented names in pop music right now.