Inside the Life of Charli XCX: Our Branché Cover Star Talks Seeing Music in Color and How She Got That Stage Name

Charlotte Emma Aitchison—AKA pop music's red-lipstick-wearing 22-year-old wild-haired wild child Charli XCX—knows how to party. (See: her music video for "Doing It" with Rita Ora from her latest album, Sucker). Try to keep up.

First things first: "Charli XCX"?

"It was my MSN screen name when I was 14, and it just stuck. It stands for 'Kiss Charli Kiss.' It's kind of cute and PG."

How would you describe your sound?

"When I first started releasing music, people labeled me as "dark pop." My sound now is pop music—but on my own terms. Like, wild pop music."

Tell us about your songwriting process.

"It's a total mess. I am very spontaneous when I write; it kind of just comes out. I never think about what I'm going to write about first … it just sort of comes out like word vomit. Actually, my songwriting process is very selfish—I don't ever think about my audience. I just think about myself."

You don't just make music—you see it through sound-to-color synesthesia, right?

"Yes, when I hear sounds, I see colors. It helps me with my lyrics and to figure out what I want to do for my music videos. It feels electric."

Describe the moment you realized you'd made it.

"The moment I stopped worrying about everything. The moment I realized I could chill out and just enjoy the things that were happening around me."

What inspires you?

"My biggest influences are movies like CluelessThe Craft, and Ladies and Gentlementhe Fabulous Stains. Music videos by Robert Palmer and Britney Spears. I also love photographers like Pierre et Gilles and David LaChapelle. I love the hyperreal."

Biggest difference between your major-label debut, True Romance, and your newest album, Sucker?

"True Romance was definitely, in part, still me finding my voice as a writer. I was nervous, and I was a lot more shy. The album sounds bruised. I feel like, in some ways, I was trying to be someone I wasn't. Sucker is 100 percent me, and I've said things on the record that I would have been too afraid to say before. It's real, raw, and loud."

Craziest thing to ever happen on tour?

"The time someone threw a gun underneath our tour bus in Toronto. We came out of a venue to see our bus surrounded with cops. It wasn't our gun, obviously."

The first party you ever went to—go!

"It was a party in London when I was 15. Specifically, a warehouse party in an old derelict peanut factory. There were people dressed as zebras."

What do you like to do when you go out?

"Drink champagne, hang with friends. House parties, dive bars."

Favorite spots?

"169 Bar in New York City because it's like the inside of my brain in there: tropical and dirty. The Thirsty Crow in L.A. because they have amazing drinks there. And Electric Diner in London: They do the best double cheeseburger."

Who do you bring along?

"Friends, boyfriends, random people I pick up."

Best way to end the night?

"Eating pizza in bed. Or just, like, partying all the way through the night."

And to recover the morning after?

"Watching movies, cuddling, playing with puppies."

You've done some epic music collabs—
like "Doing It," with Rita Ora
(Sucker). What exactly is "it"?

"Working with Rita has been so fun because she reminds me of being at home. I only work with people I like, people I love. We have fun together and cause trouble. She's badass. The "it" is kind of just about being young and being free and feeling like you're "it" at a party, with friends, and not having a care in the world."

Dream collaborators?

"Most of them are dead, like Lou Reed and Marc Bolan. Actually, it was cool to write music with Gwen Stefani for her new album. I don't know what will become of it, but she's a legend. That was a dream."

What do fans most often say to you?

"'Slay/queen/angel for life/hi, I really like you/sign my boobs/you smell like Justin Bieber perfume.' One fan gave me a life-size inflatable Justin Bieber doll. He traveled around America with us on our tour bus."

How would you describe your personal style?

"I've always been very inspired by the '90s. I love Rose McGowan and '90s-era Mariah Carey. Two words: sassy and cute."

What's your go-to look?

"It really depends on how I'm feeling. I like leather. I like going out in slipdresses and dressing gowns. Always a red lip. And I feel like I've had the same eye makeup on since the day I started putting kohl on my eyes—and the more smudged it gets, the better."

How different is your daytime look from your nighttime style?

"It's the same. I'm not good at dressing up fancy; I always just do my thing, which is whatever I'm in the mood for. I never dress for the occasion correctly because I hate fashion rules. They're so boring."

What do you listen to while getting ready for a night out?

"Sophie and A.G. Cook. Any Britney Spears always gets me pumped. And early J.Lo is good, too."

You can have drinks with anyone in the world, alive or dead—who's your pick?

"Bill Murray...obviously!"

You should also check out:

The Spring Issue of Branché Is Here!

Charli XCX Covers Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off,' Turns It Into a Punk Anthem

The Charli XCX and Rita Ora Music Video Has Dropped!

Jen Ortiz

As deputy editor, Jen oversees Cosmopolitan's daily digital editorial operations, editing and writing features, essays, news, and other content, in addition to editing the magazine's cover stories, astrology pages, and more. Previously, Jen was a senior editor at Marie Claire. Before that, she worked at GQ.