Charli XCX and the Rules of Pop Stardom

There’s a great article up at Grantland about the liminal space in the pop-star universe currently inhabited by Charli XCX, young mistress of throwback UK doom-candy (cf. the above video). Amos Barshad investigates: why is a pretty girl with serious stage presence and an album stuffed with pop anthems playing Glasslands in Brooklyn rather than arenas all over the world? And why would someone ever write the ubiquitous “I Love It” and give it away, thus catapulting a different band from the Pitchfork circuit to the very top of the charts?

For alt-pop stars — the pretty young things with radio-friendly aspirations and support from the machine who insist on writing their own material — there are facts with which to contend. Lily Allen had it for a while, and maybe could have kept it had she really wanted it. Robyn had the charts, disappeared, then came back, smaller and on her own terms. Diplo’s still bummed that M.I.A. stopped listening to him after “Paper Planes.”

There is another side of the divide: the polished, corporate artists. Fresh off a seven-albums-in-seven-years run, Rihanna is a malleable cypher and increasingly celebrated for it. Nicki Minaj forced down producer RedOne’s screwdriver-to-the-cortex single “Starships” and grinned right through it. Stalwart Britney Spears was chewed up by the system and spat out. But after her 2008 conservatorship, she reentered the frame. Her reward: maintaining her A-list status. There are rules to pop fame.

Charli XCX is incredibly talented. I remember watching her do “Nuclear Seasons” at SXSW in 2012, and she was spellbinding even though it was all of 1 PM and 100 degrees out and she just had a guy on keyboard backing her up in the stage corner of a tiny bar. I love that she gave “I Love It” away to Icona Pop, and that she’s sure she can do what she want how she wants it, and that she likes “fucking punk-ass gigs and shit.” She’s been doing this since she was 14, and as she says to Grantland, “I’d rather have fun than be a cunt.”

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