Words by:
Photography by: Karolis Kaminskas
Styling by: Chris Horan
Hair by: Erol Karadag
Nails by: Honey
Makeup by: Holly Gowers using Pat McGrath Labs at The Wall Group


“I’ve always thought that funerals were such a fucking pop image,” declares Charli XCX. “It’s very Warholian to me.” She is speaking over Zoom from her home in Los Angeles, explaining the rationale behind her newest video, Good Ones, in which she nails a dance routine in a brutalist church in front of some twink’s open casket, rides the coffin as it’s carried to the cemetery, dances on a headstone marked with her own name, and finally, dramatically, dies in front of all the other mourners in the middle of the wake.

It’s a perfect example of the kind of arch humour that’s come to be her signature in the contemporary pop landscape. In another world, the artist – born Charlotte Aitchison, in Cambridge, UK – might be one of the biggest names in music by now. It’s hard to say exactly which deviation from this reality might have led her there. She could have homed in on the winning formula of songs she’s given away to other artists, like 2012’s breakthrough hit I Love It, performed by the Swedish duo Icona Pop to chart-sizzling success. She could have tried for another Boom Clap, the 2014 platinum single that’s currently her only solo song to have cracked the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. She could have sanded down the idiosyncrasies that have made her, over the past decade, a cult favourite among fans who love what pop sounds like when it starts to split apart and bleed at the joints. But she hasn’t yet. And now she’s thinking she might try.

Bra: VEX Bra
Tights: Mugler
Shoes: Jimmy Choo


Since releasing her 2016 EP Vroom Vroom, Charli has secured a reputation as one of the most voraciously collaborative and experimentally-minded pop auteurs working. Her full-length releases are studded with guests like Carly Rae Jepsen, Mykki Blanco, CupcakKe, Troye Sivan and Yaeji – voices from the centre as well as the margins. Charli easily conducts energy between these two spheres. What matters most to her in a collaborator isn’t the size of their marquee but the sparks they send up.

Across her albums and mixtapes, Charli has cultivated a gripping sound that’s instantly identifiable as hers alone. There’s her voice, whose coarse, expressive grain set her apart even when she was making relatively digestible pop fare in her late teens and early 20s. She has a winning penchant for melodrama in the way she sings, in how she holds her words so tightly that the gravity of her tone splits back into humour. Ever since she started working with avant-pop producers like PC Music founder A.G. Cook and the late visionary SOPHIE, her recorded voice has gone through especially chaotic mutations – mangled, melted and crystallised by pitch-shifting and Auto-Tune.

She has always been a daring songwriter, the type to swing for feelings so outsize and complicated they won’t slide into a pop song’s usual arc. Her forte is heartbreak that glows around the edges with exhilaration, anger dripping with pathos, disappointment whistling through the clenched teeth of a forced grin. Her stance is, and has always been, one of brazen confidence marbled through with self-loathing. Feeling one thing at a time doesn’t cut it. And so, over the past five years, she’s teamed with producers and performers who could meet her in her complexity, who could shatter her conflicting sentiments into even smaller granules, and help her hold each one up to the light as if it were a world unto itself.

Full look: Vex Latex
Shoes: Jimmy Choo

It’s a mode she has down – and that’s why she wants to leave it behind. “I was beginning to feel a little bit like something was expected from me – a certain sound or list of collaborators,” she says. “But there’s nothing I hate more than being put in a box. So really, my main drive was to do the opposite of what people expected from me.”

She goes on: “I’ve worked really hard to show people a different side of pop music. I feel like I’ve earned the right to do whatever the fuck I want because I’m good enough. I’m better than a lot of people, so I wanted to flip the script and not be the bleep-bloop girl. And show that I can play pop games if I want to.”

In the Good Ones video, as Charli XCX dances on her own grave, the headstone shows two dates. The first, her actual birth date, is 2 August 1992 – she’s an archetypical Leo. The second, her death date, is 18 March 2022 – a Friday, and so maybe a tease for the release of her as-yet-announced new album.

Bra and underwear: Busted Brand
Sleeves and legs: Tableaux Vivants
Shoes: Rosa
Necklace and earrings: Austin James Smith

“It’s my most powerful version of myself, the kind of demonic, B movie vamp. That sounds like something that a male journalist would write, but I’m actually kind of into it”

That album will be her fifth, and the last one required by the record contract she signed with Atlantic when she was 16. She’s 29 now; the camp and glitz of the video’s funereal aesthetic makes it easy to read as commentary on the disposability of women in the music industry, how when they hit 30 they might as well be dead. But the fake headstone and the grim procession also hint at what might be the end of an era. Charli’s under no obligation to keep making music after album five. She hasn’t really decided if she will.

“Why did I want to dance on my grave? I guess it’s the snarky troll within me coming out to play. I’d like to leave that to the interpretation of others,” she says. “But also, it’s my final album. Will I continue doing this afterwards? Will I disappear forever? Will I be reincarnated as a different version of myself? I honestly don’t know the answers to that yet.”

Before she closes the curtains, or doesn’t, on Charli XCX, she’s giving the pop machine one more swing. “I have connections in the mainstream pop world, which I’d never really utilised before because I didn’t want to,” she says. “And I felt like maybe now I did. I wanted to explore going to Max Martin’s studios and working with those people.” For Good Ones, she enlisted Oscar Holter, who, along with Martin, co-produced The Weeknd’s all-time record smashing hit Blinding Lights. That song played out last year like a darkened echo of A-ha’s 1985 classic Take On Me, a callback to peak MTV and 80s escapism. For Good Ones, Holter and Charli gestured to a different 80s touchstone. The single’s main synth line is a clear nod to Eurythmics’ 1983 single Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), a gothic earworm in contrast to A-ha’s treble-heavy fizz.

Bra and underwear: Busted Brand
Sleeves and legs: Tableaux Vivants
Shoes: Rosa
Necklace and earrings: Austin James Smith

Charli’s video plays up the song’s bleaker undertones. It’s her most polished, choreographed visual yet – “I was scared to do that because I’ve never really danced before,” she confesses – yet one that still recalls some of her earliest videos, when she was channelling Siouxsie Sioux in glimpses of post-apocalyptic psychedelia. In a way, she’s come full circle. Done up like Elvira in black chiffon alongside her fellow mourners, Charli makes a nightclub of an open grave. “That’s who I am,” she says. “And it feels good to go back to her with ten years of experience in the industry under my belt, to be that girl again with the dark eyes and big hair. It’s my most powerful version of myself, the kind of demonic, B movie vamp. That sounds like something that a male journalist would write, but I’m actually kind of into it.”

This rebirth as death incarnate comes after a hard year. Charli released her last album, how i’m feeling now, in May 2020, right as the reality of Covid-19 began to sink in; not a momentary pause from normalcy, but a devastating, ongoing pestilence. As someone whose natural environment is the party after the afterparty, Charli felt suffocated by anxiety. She coped the best way she knew how: by throwing herself into her work. Early in lockdown, she gave herself five weeks to make an album from scratch, promising her fans a May release date to put the pressure on. Unusually for a pop singer, Charli decided to open certain aspects of the album up to decisions by committee. She hosted Zoom calls and Instagram live sessions with fans to ask for input on demos, lyrics and cover art while she worked at home in LA, living with her boyfriend Huck Kwong and her managers, collaborating with producers over email and FaceTime.

Bra, underwear, legs and sleeves: Tableaux Vivants
Shoes: Rosa
Jewellery: Artist and stylist’s own


She documented the process of making her fourth album with three digital camcorders that she and her housemates could pick up whenever they felt like it. The result is the documentary Alone Together, directed by Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler. The film, which debuted at SXSW in March 2021, tracks the creation of an album born out under intense pressure; it also casts light on the way Charli’s fans find meaning in her work and in each other. Multiple Angels, interviewed over Zoom, were in the process of transitioning genders while stuck at home with unsupportive parents when they became involved in Charli’s work. They found catharsis and communion among other fans. Their part in the creation of how i’m feeling now gave purpose and shape to seemingly bottomless empty time.

The experience was powerful for Charli, too. Severed from her usual workflow, isolated from other people, she found herself in an abscess of self-doubt. “I find it really hard to look back at my achievements and be proud of the things that I’ve done,” she says in voiceover in Alone Together. “I’m supposed to be confident and inspiring, but I’m not and it makes me feel like a liar.”

Speaking directly with her fans shifted something in the way Charli conceptualised her work. She chokes up when she talks about it. “Being an artist, you always know that your work means something to the people who communicate with you or show up at your shows. But in that time, I really did realise, ‘Wow, my songs can really help shift somebody’s mood,’” she tells me. “Or maybe it’s not the songs, but the process of being involved in the creative process that gave someone something to look forward to. I’m sure that my fucking stupid album wasn’t the only thing. I’m sure there’s a million other things. But it was really amazing.”

“I wanted to make a major label record. In a way, it’s very much honest and earnest, and in a way it’s me completely trolling. Pick whichever angle you want”

It was a form of intimacy that transcended the typical fan/artist dynamic. “Being public-facing, there always is an element of validation that you get addicted to. I think anyone who says they don’t care about that is a fucking liar,” Charli says. “But with this, it was more, I respect these people so much. I wouldn’t be the artist that I am without them. They saved me, you know? When I was lost, they showed me who I could be.”

Charli’s not afraid of losing the die-hards in her latest heel-turn toward crowd-pleasing pop. The question is whether she can multiply them. How many new ears can she draw into the fold?

Despite its glossier trappings, the next album sounds like it offers a lot of what Charli’s excelled at for years. “It sounds sexy and provocative and at points sad and empowering,” she says. “This album, to me, is about romance and sex and love, but it’s also about my relationship with myself and my relationship with pop music and my relationship with my journey in the industry.” She speaks about herself as if from outside herself, rooted in a vantage beyond the frame. “How I’ve felt at times used, empowered, high, low. And I think all of those feelings really just fit this visual world, this darkness. This wind machine hair, fucking gravestone funeral shit.”

Full look: Vex Latex
Shoes: Jimmy Choo

The themes of the music might be familiar, but more than anything, Charli wanted to keep people on their toes. She knew she wanted a departure from her codified future-pop sound as early as 2019, after the release of her third album, Charli. Lockdown kept her in the groove for one more release, which concluded an era by crystallising it utterly. how i’m feeling now was a balm for many; its songs rang out in the Zoom raves that sustained queer nightlife in digital form. Charli loves the album. But, creatively speaking, her favourite thing to do is the opposite of whatever she’s just done.

“I wanted to make a major label record,” she says. “I think that was the one thing that people would never expect from me. In a way, it’s very much honest and earnest, and in a way it’s me completely trolling. You can pick whichever angle you want.”

Does she feel like she can do both at once? “Now, yes, because I’m smart and I don’t get as angry as I used to. Navigating a record label in the music industry is just about being a good manipulator – being able to play the game and being able to control your temper,” she says. “When I was younger, I couldn’t do that. I felt so hurt and hard-done by. When you’re in it and you’re putting your emotions and your energy and every drop of substance that you have into music, and you feel like the people you’re working with don’t understand you, it can be really frustrating.”

“And then I realised – wait, it doesn’t really matter. It’s all just a game.”