Charli XCX Isn't Here to Appease Anyone

The pop star talks authenticity, her new album, and taking care of herself while on tour.

Charli XCX wearing Pandora's new festival collection
(Image credit: Pandora)

Charli XCX has a permanent spot on most of our Spotify playlists—a spot that was solidified by the release of her latest album, Crash, in March. The album—which alternates between openly rebellious and achingly vulnerable, in Charli's unique, pop-infused style—is a testament not only to her talent but also to her commitment to marching to the beat of her own drum. Outside of music, the international star has earned a place on all of our fashion mood boards as well, thanks to her edgy-meets-vibrant style. (Think: Black leather and metallic fabrics one moment and bright, bold shades the next.)

That ability to eschew predictability for irreverent playfulness melds seamlessly with  Charli's work as a brand ambassador for Pandora for the second year in a row—this time, for its #PandoraME festival collection, which dropped in May. While the singer explained to Marie Claire that she enjoys wearing the mix-and-match pieces on- and off-stage, it wasn't the jewelry itself that led to the collab. Instead, it was their matching mindsets.

"They're very into self expression and being true to yourself through your style, jewelry choices, and so on," she said. "And expressing myself honestly truly is something that's been really important to me from day one, whether it's via music, style, or just the way I live my life."

In the midst of the new Pandora collection, her new album, and a world tour, Charli found a moment to sit down with us, keeping it refreshingly real about everything from her creative inspo to authenticity to balancing hustle with self-care.

Charli XCX performs on the John Peel stage during day five of Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton on June 26, 2022 in Glastonbury, England.

Charli XCX performs at Glastonbury Festival in June 2022.

(Image credit: Getty/ Matthew Baker)

Marie Claire: I've always loved the way you express yourself musically and are unafraid to be your most authentic self. How  do you use fashion and style to express yourself on a day-to-day basis?

Charli XCX: I really always dress for my mood, you know? If I wake up and feel like I want to wear really colorful clothing, and I want to be maximalist and eccentric, then I will. But if I wake up and want to go the more minimal route, I do that… When it comes to jewelry, sometimes I'm into lots and lots of layers, but sometimes I'm in a more minimal zone. It's always just about dressing how I feel, whether that's on-stage or in daily life, and amplifying the mood that I'm in.

MC: What advice would you give other women who are trying to be their most authentic selves—especially in a society that often tells us that we're either too much or not enough?

Charli: It's really difficult. You really have to feel it yourself. And when you're on that journey, sometimes it takes a really long time to feel like you're honoring your true self, and speaking your mind, and putting yourself out there in the most authentic way because—as you said—there is so much [criticism] around everything that we as women do, so it can be quite nerve-wracking to be totally open and honest. We do come under a lot of scrutiny. 

But in my personal experience—as cheesy as it sounds—I've just followed my heart and my gut instinct, whether it's a work choice or a music or song choice or even an outfit choice that's going to be photographed. I ask myself: Do I feel like my true self will be proud of this song or this moment or whatever for years to come? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then I go ahead, and if it's ‘no,’ then maybe I need to think about it. You should only be doing things that please you and not anyone else, but also [I] think it definitely takes time to get into that mentality. 

MC: You've referred to the concept of your new album as evil pop star. One of the aspects I love about it is this embrace of duality and contrast within femininity. How do you manage societal expectations that women behave a certain way, when in reality we're all filled with such contradictions?

Charli: My whole latest album is essentially a walking contradiction, which is quite fun for me. My narrative as an artist has been so based in authenticity and doing what I want, almost to the detriment of my career sometimes. I'm continuously contrasting myself with changes in direction, look, and so on… I like my pop stars to be frantic and messy. I don't need to know what they had for breakfast or about the inner workings of their personal lives. I just want a show and a story. So that's where I was at with this album—just trying to do that while still being dynamic, and also being honest while also telling lies. I like to mix it up.

You should only be doing things that please you and not anyone else, but also I think it definitely takes time to get into that mentality.

MC: What has it been like to become that type of pop star that you just mentioned—as in, people want to know what you had for breakfast, but you're just trying to put out music?

Charli: For me, I feel like I can play into it when I want to, but it's also very easy to avoid because I don't feel the need to impress or please people. And I don't feel bad about keeping certain elements of my life private because it's my life. I just tell people what I want to tell them, and keep things that I want to keep to myself to myself. I don't feel pressure to overshare, which is quite nice.

MC: Your visual and musical inspiration on this album spans from the '80s to Marie Antoinette. What are your sources of creative inspiration right now, and what is it that draws you to these topics?

Charli: For this album, I was so inspired by a lot of '80s pop culture moments. I think that the idea of the stereotypical pop star—and in many ways the female stereotype of what a pop star is—was born in aspects of '80s pop culture. Think of artists like Madonna becoming this global cultural, political phenomenon. So [the album] was about referencing elements of that, and then also the darker world of selling one's soul to the devil, and more macabre elements, which can be seen as tongue-in-cheek or as serious, depending on which way you want to go. But generally, it was about this vampiric, femme fatale take on pop music. 

The title is playing into that idea of fast life, danger, and living on the edge, and it's also the title of a Cronenberg movie, so all of those things would be on my mood board. I'm not sure what, in particular, makes me gravitate towards things, but I think it's all inspired by the sounds and the music. The music, to me, is what really matched that world, and I'm not quite sure how I got there, but it happened.

MC: I love that you brought up the Cronenberg movie, because I did think of that. That film doesn't shy away from gore and the body, and your album imagery also doesn't shy away from corporeality or even just vulnerability.

Charli: Yeah, that Crash reference, to me, is multifaceted. I've always referenced cars within my work, across multiple songs and campaigns, because I really like the idea of the car as a symbol in pop music. And I like the idea of the title “Crash,” not even because of the Cronenberg movie—which was an afterthought...I knew people would think that it was the main reason I called the album that. In reality, it was more self-referential: I called my first album “True Romance,” and that's also the title of a movie, so it's all one big self-reference to the beginnings of my career…. And “Crash” is also a good title because it's related to the idea of "crash and burn." When you look at the cover, I'm actually on top of the car, not in the car. So who's driving the car? Who has the crash? Am I the immovable object who pounced on the windshield, or am I the victim who got crashed into? It's supposed to be a puzzle for those who care to dive into it.

MC: What's next on your professional bucket list?

Charli: Honestly, top of my mind of my professional bucket list right now is to take time off, because I feel like that's not something that I've done much before. I actually feel like my best ideas come when I'm rested, so I'm looking forward to taking time off so I can then come back feeling more inspired and more creative.

MC: How do you find that time to take care of yourself while you're on tour?

Charli: It's pretty hard. I've been on tour since the end of March...I'm dancing every night for the entire show—which is a new thing for me, actually—so my body is definitely worn out. I'm learning how to nourish myself and make sure that I feel good both mentally and physically. It's definitely a challenge, but I'm trying to learn as I go and take moments of peace when I can… I'm doing festivals this summer and did Glastonbury, which was the biggest deal ever, so I'm also trying to have a lot of fun and party while also taking care of myself. That's a bit of a conundrum, but I'm doing my best.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Gabrielle Ulubay
E-Commerce Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.