“Right now, I’m still very much restless,” Charli XCX tells Apple Music. “Because I know that I would be an excellent humongous pop star. But I also unfortunately know that there’s a vision of who I am in the mainstream’s mind. It’s a constant headfuck, to be honest. While I’m a very defiant person, I’m also a human, and sometimes I do just want to be accepted, and I don’t understand why I’m not totally—even though sometimes I relish in the fact that I’m not.” Charlotte Aitchison is one of pop music’s more self-aware, self-deprecating, and self-examining artists. CRASH is her fifth studio album, and the final one to be released as part of a longtime record deal. It’s partly, as Charli says, an experiment. An opportunity to utilize a major label’s resources and dress up her left-leaning pop in something ultra luxe. A bold and refreshingly transparent attempt to move up a few rungs, it’s a considered move also designed to clear up some of Charli’s nagging what-ifs. “I’ve always questioned myself,” she says. “And it’s why I’ve made this entire album, really. I ask myself, am I a likable artist? Am I too opinionated? Do I look too weird? Am I too annoying? If I shut up and put out certain songs and do the right features, will I become more accepted, more liked, more commercial?” Of course, Charli’s notoriously engaged fanbase—with whom she exchanged ideas, including song lyrics, directly online for 2020’s quarantine album how i’m feeling now—would argue she doesn’t need any such validation. “It’s a blessing and a curse, to be extremely honest,” she says of her “Angels.” “I’m very lucky to have the fanbase that I have, who are extremely invested in literally every breath I take. They are very vocal and very smart, which draws me to them, because they’ve got great taste and amazing ideas—as I found out when doing how i’m feeling now. But you can’t please everyone. I’ve done so many different things that people are always going to gravitate to certain eras. Plus, I think that there’s an element where they like to root for an underdog, or an on-the-fringes personality like mine. Because we feel like we’ve been in it together for a really long time, the online discourse can be so vigorous. So I can’t lie, sometimes it’s a bit of a headfuck, because whilst I absolutely adore them, I don’t make music for them specifically when I’m sat in the studio—I’m making it for me. And I don’t think they would admire me as the artist I am if I just kept giving them what they expected.” It’s time to listen for yourself. Explore Charli’s premium pop with her own track-by-track guide. “Crash” “Until maybe a week before I made this song, the album was going to be called Sorry If I Hurt You. But one day, I was driving in my car and CRASH just came to me, and I called A. G. Cook. Even though he wasn't a huge part of this record, he's still very much my creative confidant. He agreed it made sense with the constant car references in my work—and I like the onomatopoeia, I like how it references [2014 single] ‘Boom Clap,’ and I like how it feels much more punchy and in-your-face than how i’m feeling now. I felt that the title needed a song, so A. G. and I got in the studio pretty quickly and knew we needed to make it sound extremely ’80s—if you could bottle the album into one song, this is it. We—plus the song’s co-producer George Daniel—had been sending a lot of new jack swing beats back and forth, and I knew I wanted this guitar solo, and to add these crazy Janet-esque stabs.” “New Shapes” (feat. Caroline Polachek & Christine and the Queens) “Caroline, Christine, and I had worked together many times in different forms, and it was time for the three of us to come together. And actually, this song was recorded a long time ago—pre-pandemic. I like how it's an antihero song. We’re saying to the love figure, ‘I haven't got what you need from me, because I am not typical. I don't operate in the way that you want me to. I want multiple partners. I want somebody else. I want no convention within sex and love.’ And I like that as a statement right after the sound of a car crash in the previous song. To do that song with them—two artists who I really feel have such a unique, defiant, and topsy-turvy vision of what pop music is—felt really classic and right for us. There’s a true connection between us now, in music and in our personal lives.” “Good Ones” “I think this song deserved to be bigger, but I will always think that of my work. But I do think it established the Cliffs Notes version of what the record is—it's got a darkness to it, and it's very pop. I like how drastic the jump was between coming out of how i’m feeling now into this, both sonically and in how they were made. how i’m feeling now was obviously my quarantine album made in my living room over five weeks by me and two trusted collaborators. This song is produced by Oscar Holter—an extremely active part of the Max Martin camp—and not really written hugely by myself but by two amazing topliners, Caroline Ailin and Noonie Bao. So it’s the absolute polar opposite.” “Constant Repeat” “This song features an imaginary scenario I created in my head, where I fell for somebody but imagined that they didn't want me—which turned out to not be the case. But it was this fear that I had, and my prediction of the situation. I think it's interesting that you can convince yourself of that. When you are falling for someone, unfortunately, I think human nature just crushes in on you and tells you you're not good enough, and fills you with doubt and dread and fear and all of those things. This song really poured out of me quite late in the album process, and it just felt so real and natural.” “Beg for You” (feat. Rina Sawayama) “Rina wanted to do something uptempo together, and give our fans a bit more of a moment. So when this song idea bubbled up, I called her immediately. She rewrote the second verse, and sounded incredible on it. It’s a very perfect-storm moment, because we’re two artists operating within the pop sphere, but always challenging it and doing something a little bit more left. She also has that hardcore, diehard fanbase—there’s a lot of crossover. Whilst maybe some of them were expecting something a little bit more experimental from us, I think, in a way, you can't deny that this actually is the perfect song for us in that we are paying a homage to a gay anthem [‘Cry for You’ by September]. She's queer, I'm a queer ally, we're coming together to really just live our best lives and sing an iconic pop song.” “Move Me” “This song came from a writing camp that I was invited to by [US producer and songwriter] Ian Kirkpatrick. I hadn’t done a very classic camp for a while. Not because I'm anti them—I actually think I thrive quite well in them and enjoy them. I ended up writing this with [US songwriter and producer] Amy Allen. We’re actually polar opposites in terms of our styles, which is why this song ended up being so beautiful—the aggressive parts of the song where I was basically yelling into a mic are very me, then you have the balance of Amy’s gorgeous verses. As we were doing it, everyone kept talking about how it’d be a great song for Halsey. I was like, ‘No, I love Halsey, but this is a great song for me and I’m fucking keeping it.’ People talk about writing-camp songs being fake and constructed in a test tube or whatever. But it’s very real. We write from our reality. That’s why we’re good songwriters.” “Baby” “This was one of the first tracks I made for this album, probably pre-pandemic, and with Justin Raisen—who was a very crucial part of my first album, True Romance [2013]. So it felt really good to be going back and working with him in the same house where we made part of the first album. This was a song that I always felt was so passionate and fiery and sexy. And I think the making of this song helped me feel powerful, and want to explore the sexier side of pop music and my artistry. It’s the song that helped me decide that I wanted to dance for this campaign, because I just couldn't stop wanting to move to it whilst we were making it.” “Lightning” “It began as one of those half demos that I took away and lived with. I then called up Ariel Rechtshaid, who was also a huge part of the first album, alongside Justin Raisen, and said, ‘OK, I have this song. I want to do True Romance in 2022 with it.” And while I know he’s not really on that hype currently, I told him he was the king of the ’80s and if he felt it needed to go down that road, I trusted him because he has the most impeccable taste. So he sent it back to me, and there was a question mark over the Spanish guitar moment, which goes into a chorus. I sent it to A. G. to ask his opinion. He was like, ‘It's insane. I laughed out loud.’ And I was like, ‘OK, great. We're keeping it.’” “Every Rule” “It's the true story of me meeting my previous partner, and both of us being in relationships but knowing that we were meant to be together. I think that that's a story that a lot of my friends have also experienced—and obviously there's a lot of controversy that comes with that circumstance. People are afraid to talk about it. People feel shame. But it's also, it's really real. I think you have to be really brave to admit to yourself that you're not in love with maybe the person that you're with, and that you are in love with someone else. It's cruel on both sides, and I think you can really hear that. It was a song that I really only felt comfortable enough to make with A. G. He would never judge me for saying these things. It’s another pre-pandemic song, and A. G. was living in a place with a studio in his garage. There was a tree outside that was always covered in crickets. You can hear the crickets in the recording, which I think is really sweet and charming. Once we’d lived with the song for about a year, A. G. had the idea of asking Oneohtrix Point Never to add some things to the song, which I loved.” “Yuck” “I like the drastic gear change here. I like that it makes you laugh. I like those jarring moments on albums and in live shows where you're going from the most intimate, quiet song to the most hilarious or poptastic. That was the reasoning behind putting ‘Every Rule’ and ‘Yuck’ back to back. I really struggle with that feeling of being smothered. It's probably an only-child thing, or something. When you're like, ‘Get away from me, give me some fucking space’—that is seriously how I feel 50% of the time. It also reminds me of that gang vocal element of ‘Boom Clap’ and ‘Boys.’ Not sonically, but more in terms of the way that I'm singing. I'm definitely not the most technical singer ever—if you put me next to Ariana Grande and made us both sing the same song, I would sound absolutely insane, and she would sound absolutely gorgeous—but when it comes to singing like this, I feel pretty confident. That’s really nice for me, just in a technical way. It's really fun to be like, ‘Yeah. You know what? I can sing this song.’ Which I know sounds stupid because I am a professional ‘singer.’” “Used to Know Me” “I was trying to emulate myself on ‘Fancy’—or get back into that headspace. I really remember searching for the chorus melody to ‘Fancy’ in a way that I hadn't really searched for a melody before. Normally I'm very instinctual and spontaneous when it comes to melodies, but with ‘Fancy,’ I had to really maneuver my brain around different corners to figure it out—to understand the formation of the notes. I wrote this on my own at Stargate’s studios, which probably made me feel like I had to write a really big pop song, and then when I was listening to it on repeat in my car, I just started singing the synth line to ‘Show Me Love’ by Robin S. So I called a few people and was like, ‘Is this possible?’ And everyone said, ‘Yes, but do you care about publishing?’ And I was like, ‘I guess not.’ It feels to me like a big song—it’s about reshaping who you are after a breakup.” “Twice” “I had reservations about making this the last song because it's such an obvious choice with the key change and outro. And generally speaking, I'm anti the obvious choice. But then George Daniel, who is very good with tracklisting, simply said, ‘You're an idiot if you don't put this song last.’ It’s actually interesting lyrically, because it's about the end of the world and that you shouldn't think twice about intimate moments, or these off-the-cuff moments. Essentially, YOLO, and enjoy delving into these once-in-a-lifetime situations that everybody ends up in. I was picturing the scene from [Lars von Trier’s 2011 film] Melancholia where Kirsten Dunst’s character is sat on a hill waiting for the end of the world. It’s a perfect closer, and I also think it’s a very beautiful song.”

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