What the Kids Are Listening to Next: Charli XCX

by Iman Fears

As a teenager myself, I get insanely jealous when some fresh-faced musical newcomer the same age as me leaps onto the scene covered in glitter and black lipstick that I could never pull off in a million years. Especially when that particular newcomer has clearly been cooler than me since birth.

Londoner Charlotte Aitchison has huge unwashed black hair and a sexy Cockney accent that makes me constantly mistake her for a character from Skins. This already makes her cool, but the fact that her stage name is Charli XCX (which stands for “Kiss Charli Kiss” but originally stood for “X Rated Cunt Rated”) makes her that much cooler.

And here’s the part where she’s way more awesome than I am: while I was still spending my evenings watching That’s So Raven reruns on Disney Channel, Charli was dressing up in raver outfits and sneaking out to illegal warehouse parties to scream out songs with self-penned lyrics “T REX! DINOSAUR SEX!” like some sort of goth-pop jailbait Madonna.

Now, at 19, Charli has one of the most highly anticipated musical debuts of the year. That she’s been featured in Rolling Stone, Interview, and Pitchfork Online is further proof that Charli XCX is growing from a British niche artist into a full-blown crossover hit.

In 2007, the then-14-year-old Charli recorded her first two singles, “Emelline/Art Bitch” and “!Franchesckaar!” hoping to attract the attention of a major label.

After getting signed to Atlantic Records in 2008, Charli began regularly performing at raves in London’s Warehouse District, gathering a growing following among the same disillusioned British teens who rioted in London last summer. But I totally don’t blame them: listening to “Dinosaur Sex” too many times makes you want to set things on fire, in a good way.

In 2011, Charli’s career really began to take off when heavily blogged-about singles “Nuclear Seasons” and “Stay Away” were selected as two of Pitchfork Media’s “Best New Tracks of 2011.”

Both tracks spring from a species of pop music that Charli calls “dark pop” or “goth pop” — haunting, synth-heavy verses, always in a minor key, that open up into power-ballad choruses with Charli’s pleasingly-hoarse voice floating over the electronic symphony.

The effect is definitely “goth” (thanks to Charli’s love of black crop tops and photoshopping pictures of herself to look like she’s floating in a dark LSD hallucination) yet undeniably poppy. It’s dance music AND contemplative music, with the lyrical maturity of someone twice Charli’s age.

Charli’s debut EP, which includes a brand-new and already critically acclaimed single, “You’re the One,” was released in early June under the I Am Sound label.

Charli recently finished up a tour across the American Southwest supporting Santigold, and she’ll be opening for Coldplay in late summer 2012.

So go ahead, listen to this girl who is totally cooler than me in every way possible! You can listen to “Nuclear Seasons,” “Stay Away,” “You’re the One,” and various other songs on Charli’s SoundCloud.

Iman Fears’ essays and short stories have appeared on Minnesota Public Radio, The Holmes Education Post, Underground Voices, Unlikely 2.0., and the Newport review. She also puts a lot of songs online, half of which are Lana Del Rey covers and half of which elaborate on her weird obsession with the book Lolita. Starting this fall, you can find her at Columbia University, where she has no idea what she’s going to study because she loves everything.