“I’m Done With Being Authentic”: Charli XCX on Funerals, New Friends & the Best Song Ever

Photo by Terrence O’Connor.
“I truly am fascinated with funerals,” Charli XCX announces, voice deadpan down the phone. “I find it interesting that it is like the final party, but people don't really get to plan it for themselves. So I thought I should get some official answers on the record, so that everyone's funerals can, you know, go to plan.”
For clarification, this is not a public service announcement detailing a morbid, full-360 career change from the 29-year-old pop trailblazer. Rather, Charli – Cambridge-born Charlotte Aitchison – is delving into one of the probing pillar questions on BBC’s new Radio 1 podcast Best Song Ever launching on 9th August, of which she is the host.
Tipped as the millennial version of Desert Island Discs, the podcast will see an assortment of famous guests divulging to Charli their ‘best song ever’ for specific universal situations: ‘The best song to get through a heartbreak?’; ‘What tune will always get the party started?’; ‘Guilty pleasure track of choice?’. And of course, ‘what song would be played at your funeral?’.
“Music has always been an important part of my life,” Charli muses, when I question her on the driving force of hosting the podcast. “I have a very intense relationship with it. I know that a song can completely change a moment, whether it’s driving in a car, being completely devastated and crying, or the peak of a euphoric party. I will remember the memories and the feelings because of the song. And sometimes it can completely change your situation. And I think that that's been the case during quarantine and throughout the pandemic, but also long before that. Music has always been an emotional trigger for a lot of people. I suppose I'm interested in that.”
And who better to go down the rabbit hole with the guests than an artist who made headlines last year with how I’m feeling now, a pandemic album crafted at breakneck speed in its entirety during lockdown. A vulnerable undertaking truly of its time (captured on her documentary Alone Together), it saw her fully immerse her fans in the blood, sweat and tears that are instrumental in the making of such a dizzying endeavour, directly communicating with them over Zoom and even allowing them to contribute stitched-together visuals. Pounding club-pop anthems foreshadowed better times ahead on a sweaty dance floor; lyrics resonated with those separated from their loved ones; and for workaholic Charli, a record of true originality and an explosive expression of love for those in her life. Music – for its creator and consumer – has long been a lifeline, and this was the jumping off point.

To be honest, I think I'm done with being authentic. The podcast came about because I really love talking to people. And I'm in a really lucky situation in life, where I'm surrounded by so many different people who get to do so many different things and have varying experiences of music.

“I wanted to create this bubbling online community of people who were constantly making something together," she says. "I think that was one things that people – myself included – were desperate for during the height of quarantine was communication and connection. And that’s still a part of this, with the podcast: a conversation connecting with someone.”
Charli is someone who has become a household name thanks in part to her proudly amorphous pop futurism, and also her ability to manoeuvre in just about every space in the music industry: dominating huge stadiums and small-capacity gay clubs alike; songwriting for the likes of Lizzo and Rita Ora; recently collaborating with No Rome and Matty Healy of the 1975 who called her a “fucking force” in a series of tweets; interviewing Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova about feminism in a lockdown Zoom. Hosting a podcast may feel like the natural next step for the artist, but she's certainly not on any quest for authenticity, let’s get that straight. It remains a touchy word, especially after the singer admitted recently in an interview that she stormed out of an ‘authenticity’ meeting with label bosses after they asked her to post images with her dogs in an attempt to relate to fans.
“To be honest, I think I'm done with being authentic,” her voice flatlines when I mention the word. “The podcast came about because I really love talking to people. And I'm in a really lucky situation in life, where I'm surrounded by so many different people who get to do so many different things and have varying experiences of music. It's about getting to know them and using the songs as jumping-off points.”
And the guest line-up is a starry one, some plucked from Charli’s roster of famous friends, and others, friends-in-the-making.

With the way that I feel about myself and my sexuality and romance, the pandemic hasn't changed that too much.

“It's friends and then people who I want to be my friend,” she confirms. “So it was a mixture of texts and DMS, to be honest. Benny [Drama, Instagram sensation], he's actually quite a close friend of mine. I'm speaking with Barbie Ferreira today, someone who I’ve sort of known for a really long time, so it was really nice she wanted to do this because it's kind of like an official beginning of our friendship. Other people who are coming on are Mark Ronson, Ziwe [American writer and comedian], who is a person I admire greatly. Beebadoobee, Addison Rae. It’s really an eclectic group of people. So yeah, I'm excited.” Chris of Christine and the Queens, Caroline Polachek and SNL star Bowen Yang have also been announced.
For many, the podcast will afford yet another insight into the inner-workings of the pop auteur. But avid stans have only one thing in mind: when the new music is dropping – in particular, the music she was working on pre-pandemic times.
“I think I'll be releasing something before the end of the year, definitely sooner,” she admits coyly. “I don't know why I’m being so elusive, I feel like you know already.” Since our conversation, the singer has announced her new single “Good Ones”, arriving next month.
“I’m just very into making ultimate pop music, and the whole album is is very contrasting from how I'm feeling now,” she continues. “I’m exploring what it means to be a pop star on a major label in a not very current way. And that's really fun to me. There are a couple of songs that have have stayed as a part of this new project. And to be honest, the meaning of them hasn't changed. I mean, they were all kind of about sex. And that's still been quite constant for me throughout the pandemic [the singer lives with boyfriend Huck Kwong]. With the way that I feel about myself and my sexuality and romance, the pandemic hasn't changed that too much. For me, it just didn't feel like what I needed to say at that moment in time, it actually feels more, now. The idea of leaving my house, going back out into the world, wearing provocative clothes, dancing all night, that kind of equates more to the music that I was making before the pandemic.”
It’s been hard times for everyone this past year, let alone a self-confessed workaholic. For Charli, it was clearly never about slowing down, but instead, an opportunity for reflection.
“I started therapy at the beginning of the pandemic,” she pauses. “And that was sort of timely and very fortunate that I was able to do that; it’s been really helpful. I definitely was thinking to myself, okay, I must take a lot of this practice into life when the world goes back to however it's going to return to, but I already feel it slipping away from me. I know a lot of my friends feel the same, like, I made these grand plans, how I was going to change my behaviour and live my life differently. And I'm trying, but it seems like that won't last.”
For the pop maverick, even the intent to instigate changes in her life has been progress in itself; after all, as fans know and the reason for which they adore her, she was always just going to do what she wanted to anyway.
“I’m just bloodthirsty to do things again,” her voice glimmers. “So I guess I'll go back to how I was before… being a bit psychotic.” 
The first episode of Best Song Ever will air on BBC Sounds on Monday 9th August.

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