Words by:
Photography: Wade Schaul
Styling: Sachiko Clyde
Makeup: Micka O
Hair: Kazuto Shimomura
Photo Assistant: Diego Salcedo
Stylist Assistant: Amy Dannielle
Production Support: Dasol Kim

On her latest album, Charm, the American musician, songwriter and vocalist Clairo is mining a deeper, inner well of interpersonal love and sonic confidence 

When she walks into the diner, Claire Cottrill could be any woman sitting down for coffee and eggs on a Saturday morning. Or indeed any woman who lives in Brooklyn with a facial piercing and coquette tattoos (she has both). But she’s not: she’s Clairo, a pop star. She’s also ten minutes early. She sits down, brushes the hair out of her eyes and introduces herself. Clairo is a new kind of pop star – a former viral teen sensation who is no longer terminally online.




She’s having breakfast with us to talk about her new, third album, Charm. When she sits down, her little tattoos come into focus. Some are of her album titles: Sling is on her wrist in cursive; Charm is on her knuckles. When she talks about the music she loves, she is warm and effusive. Sometimes she’ll monologue in a way that is like, I am so obsessed with this thing I would like to tell you all about it. Other times, she’ll look out the window of the diner and pause, for almost a minute, before starting back up again. Between bites of her Greek omelette and hash browns, she tells us, with a straight face, that one of her favourite albums is the Popeye soundtrack. It’s not a bit, though: when she starts talking about Harry Nilsson’s work on it, you know she’s sincere.

Sincerity has been a through-line in Cottrill’s work as Clairo. Her music is close to the chest and wistful, earnest but never corny. She started out by uploading songs to YouTube and SoundCloud in the 2010s, at a time when everyone was on social media and streaming was just starting to take hold. For girls like Cottrill, coming of age in the first half of the decade meant reading Rookie Mag after school and learning about the Cocteau Twins on Tumblr.


On her YouTube and SoundCloud channels, she posted songs she’d written herself, alongside covers, like Sea of Love by Phil Phillips, which was made famous by Cat Power (on that one, the caption reads: “i want to become a jazz singer”). In an interview for Rookie Mag in 2015, she spoke about her song Sweet 17, which is about having a crush on an older man. The song sounds close to Frankie Cosmos in its folksy earnestness, and was written and recorded in one burst. 

Then there’s 2018’s Pretty Girl, where Cottrill transmutes small and prickly intensities and rejigs them through her own curated aesthetic. She wrote and recorded the song on GarageBand, aged 19. The video for it was recorded on a computer webcam. In the song, she rejects the patriarchal impulse to always be perfect and pretty; its feminism was palpable. “I could be your pretty girl,” she sings with louche self-awareness, “Shut up when you want me to.” It nails the Sisyphean hell that is trying to please men when you’re young. With TikTok yet to blow up and in the era before – to paraphrase the writer Amanda Petrusich – the “Moneyball-style game of statistics” infected A&R departments, the track went viral organically. She went from a Syracuse University freshman making Casiotone pop in her dorm room, to a gen Z breakout artist. Pretty Girl changed her life.


“Honestly, I look back at those two records and see someone trying to become an adult and doing it in front of a lot of people”


Clairo could have been a flash in the pan. But where many artists combust under that pressure of a viral megahit, Cottrill got to work. Immunity, her debut, came out two years later, co-produced by former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij. It was a revelation: a quiet and lovely study of being young and exploring one’s sexuality. Sofia, about an imaginary hot girl, sounds like a song by The Strokes with its baroque guitar and drums filtered through lo-fi noise, and is partially inspired by the director Sofia Coppola – which makes sense, because it sounds like the missing track from the Marie Antoinette soundtrack. In 2021, she released the understated Sling, made with superproducer Jack Antonoff, who counts Lorde (who sings backing vocals on Blouse, Sling’s lead single), Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift among his collaborators. On working with Clairo, Antonoff remarked in a Rolling Stone cover story: “One thing that is particularly interesting about Claire is her lack of armour. She has an incredible toughness through sensitivity.”  

Sling engulfs you like a wave slowly rolling on to the shore – it sneaks up on you; quiet, until it isn’t. It’s a departure from the more electronic Immunity: no vocoders, no chirpy R&B. Instead, Sling is all wide-open spaces, concerned with interiority, beauty and the horrors of becoming famous very young. It’s less like The Strokes and more like Carole King or even Karen Dalton – a record of expansive and ornate soft rock.



Growing up with everyone watching was really hard, she says. “Honestly, I look back at those two records and see someone trying to become an adult and doing it in front of a lot of people.” It must be jarring to be in the public eye while you’re figuring it out, we ask. “I always wonder what would have happened if I finished college,” she says. “It kind of haunts me, but it kind of doesn’t. I guess I won’t ever know. I don’t think it was a bad thing. I think it was really cool, the way everything happened.” 

Cottrill is now 25 years old. When we chat, it is mostly about Charm, a record she made with the producer Leon Michels in various studios in upstate New York and in the city. Charm opens up new emotional and sonic ground for Cottrill: it’s warm, sexy and lived-in. It’s lounge pop by way of old soul music recorded to scratchy 45s; close in tone and effect to the tracks she plays on her NTS Radio show, Baby Benz Radio, which features everything from Thai jangle rock to the kind of music that would play when Elmer Fudd is stalking Bugs. “Charm,” she says of the title, “is a feeling you have. When you’re charmed, it’s that perfect blend of being goofy-eyed over a person – platonically, romantically – and not knowing how long it will last.”


“'Charm' is a feeling you have. When you’re charmed, it’s that perfect blend of being goofy-eyed over a person – platonically, romantically – and not knowing how long it will last”


For a long time, this was a feeling Cottrill felt closed off from. “I forgot it was a part of my life,” she says. “When you have a lot of people paying attention to you, you can feel like your body or your own sexuality is controlled by them. It was overwhelming for me to the point where I swore it off. I didn’t think I needed it. But then eventually, I realised, ‘Actually, I need this – everyone needs this.’”

“It matters,” says Cottrill, about the interplay between desiring and being desired, charming and being charmed. “It’s really nice when someone can see you.” Longing, and all of its loveliness, is the cerebral terroir of the record’s lead single, Sexy to Someone; how it’s normal to want or need validation from someone, to want to feel beautiful, sensual and seen. In the song’s opening lines, she sings: “Sexy to someone is all I really want!” among grand piano keys, winds and a crisp bass. On the phrase “Checking out of the hotel,” she sounds punchy, her mezzo-soprano apple-skin crisp. 

Charm feels like Cottrill’s first grown-up record. It’s a self-possessed and elegant collection of songs, brought to life in part by Michels, a formidable collaborator. “He helped me find the sound I’ve always wanted,” she says. “When I listen to the records he’s worked on, I don’t know how he does it – I can’t recognise anything, it all sounds so different.” Michels and Cottrill connected a few years ago, after Sling came out. Cottrill lives in the mountains of upstate New York. Michels, she found out, does too, so she wrote to him and asked if he would like to work together. When he said yes, “I started driving over to him all the time to write and cut demos,” she says.



“Leon doesn’t dwell,” she says of the recording process; there was an immediacy to it. In practice, Charm almost sounds like it was recorded live. Nomad, the record’s opener, is all tape hiss and twangy guitars, and anchored by the shudder of an upright bass. Cottrill sounds breathless, as if she’s sighing away a heavy weight. In the song’s final minute, the key switches. The strings dip and course-correct, like collapsing onto a couch in reverse. On Juna, keys and synths evoke the feeling of seeing softly lit faces on a ferris wheel ride, or waiting with your egg cream at the soda counter when your crush walks in. “You make me wanna go buy a new dress,” she sings, “You make me wanna slip off a new dress.” 

Charm was recorded almost entirely in analog. It’s not the first time Cottrill has done this. When she worked with Antonoff on Sling, they ran the album through tape. But on Charm, the stakes were heightened. Some of the songs were recorded directly to tape, which is its own beast in the studio, surrendering post-production perfectionism for real-time focus. A cast of session musicians were also recruited. Many of whom are members of the Menahan Street Band, a Brooklyn-based instrumental group who are, low-key, some of the best people in the city at what they do. “I let a whole team of people just do what they do best rather than doing it all myself,” she says. “I’d be like: keep going with that feeling.” It’s funny that she says this. When we speak to Michels about working with Cottrill, he emphasises the clear, exacting vision she had for Charm. “I’ve never worked with an artist like Claire,” he tells us. “She’s so sure of what she wants and what her music is supposed to sound like.”




But then again, relinquishing control doesn’t mean a lack of control; it means you are willing to do a ‘trust fall’. “Maybe,” Cottrill says. “Control is the wrong word here for what I’m trying to say.”

You’re just letting people cook?

“Yeah,” she laughs, “I’m just letting people into the process and the music is better for it.” 

After a walk to the riverside, passing big old houses and kids on scooters, we arrive at a view of the Manhattan skyline; all of its bridges and skyscrapers are hovering, right there, in front of us. This is New York on the cusp of summer, alive and sweaty. Cottrill pulls out a clementine from her purse and asks if we want to split it. Outside of making music, what does she enjoy doing? She reels off some hobbies – renovating her house upstate, baking bread, collecting 45s, going on walks in nature – and it sounds like she’s become an adult. “I don’t think I’ve fully succumbed to it yet,” she says, “but I guess 25 is really middle ground. You’re still young enough to be wild.” 

Charm is out 12 July