Fitting with the roguish spirit of her songs, Charli XCX's release schedule has never really lined up with other pop stars. Her album rollouts are long, protracted, and prone to reshaping; in lieu, she writes and records mixtapes, one-off singles and features on a whim, supposedly butting heads with label brass because of it. Recently, she’s taken to stamping a robotic “XCX” on most of her songs, in the style of Mike WiLL Made-It’s producer tag or Travis Scott’s “Straight up!” It’s a nod to her place in the pop landscape: slightly too abrasive and far too avant-garde to really compete on a Swift-level, Charli has become pop music’s premier tastemaker, curator and trendsetter.
Last year’s Number 1 Angel and Pop 2 mixtapes were testament to that role as a kind of A&R rep; handfuls of avant-popstars and forgotten treasures were pulled seemingly from nowhere to feature on those records, from Brazilian drag queen Pabllo Vittar to Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek to goddamn Uffie. Like Willy Wonka building his ideal world in a hermetically sealed factory, Charli’s music is a space where she redraws pop how she feels it should look, pulling former and future stars together in order to create a bizarro-world pop universe that’s simultaneously 90s-leaning and aggressively futurist.
Today, Charli is dropping “1999,” a collaboration with Australian pop star Troye Sivan. Another exercise in meta-pop, “1999”—written by Charli and Troye, alongside Noonie Bao, Brett McLaughlin, and producer Oscar Holter—takes a step away from the pop Eurotrance of recent singles “Focus” and “Girls Night Out”, and slots in nicely with Charli’s other 90s throwbacks like Number 1 Angel’s “Babygirl” or this year’s “No Angel”. Replete with references with references to Britney Spears, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Eminem and MTV, “1999” finds Charli and Troye waxing lyrical about bubblegum pop’s golden age over hi-gloss synth stabs and a typically thick bassline.
Charli describes it as “UR NEW FAV POP SONG” on Twitter, and while she’s fond of hyperbole, this one might be the real deal. Speaking on the phone about “1999,” Charli is charismatic and confident (“We’ve filmed a video for ‘1999,’” she teases, “I’m keeping it a secret but it’s really good. How’s that for a hot exclusive?”), and audibly excited for the track’s impending release. And while she doesn’t know whether her long-awaited third album will materialise in 2019, she’s got a pretty good idea of what the year might involve. “Probably more music, and more partying. Knowing me.”
NOISEY: You were born in 1992, so you would have been seven in 1999, and Troye was born in 1995 so he would have been 4. Why do you think you’re nostalgic for a time you kinda barely lived in?
Charli XCX: When I was writing this song I wasn’t like ‘You know what, I wish we could all go back to 1999.’ I wasn’t really thinking about it in such a serious way. I just thought that “1999” is a cool title and there’s definitely a really fun cool video to be made alongside the song. But when I was seven I was having fun, I was pretending to be Baby Spice, I was obsessed with Britney Spears. That was a pretty good time.
What’s your favourite ‘90s song?
Probably either Whigfield’s “When I Think of You,” or Whigfield’s “Saturday Night, which is more of the big hit, I suppose. I also really love “Believe” by Cher.
How did you and Troye connect initially?
Troye and I have known each other for a while—we’ve got a lot of mutual friends—and a while ago, when I first moved into my house in LA, I was having a lot of house parties all the time, and a lot of people were just showing up. It was really cool, it was a really good vibe, and the first time I met Troye was when he came to one of the parties. We hung out a little bit and that’s how we first met.
From there, I’ve just grown to be such a huge fan of his music. I know that he’s also into some of the stuff I’ve done, especially my recent mixtape Pop 2. We got each others’ numbers, and we spoke about doing a song together in the future, and when I wrote “1999”, I sent it over to him to see if he’d be into it, and he was. It’s cool because I wasn’t sure whether I was gonna keep it for myself, but the fact that Troye was into it made me reconsider. I feel like he has really good taste, and I was really into him as a pop star—I just think he’s so great—and I really trust his judgement. He did a verse and wrote his middle eight and then it just… happened.
In the 90s, pop music was kind of an oligarchy, with just a few stars, but now with social media and niche fanbases it’s kinda like anyone can be a star. Do you think that’s good or bad for the form?
I think it’s been great. Pop music now is just a melting pot of so many types of artists writing so many types of songs. I think pop music is about personality now, and actually having something to say. Before, especially in the 90s, pop stars were basically marketing vehicles. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are my favourite pop stars—I love 90s pop music—but I think there’s a lot more freedom and scope for different types of pop stars now. I think that’s really positive and really fun for the genre.
Last year you released two mixtapes, this year you’ve released four standalone singles, with “1999” being the fifth. Why have you chosen to go with less traditional release formats?
I feel like it gives me more freedom, and I just like to do things on my own terms. I like to release a lot of music quickly, because I write a lot of music very quickly, so doing it this way feels very good for me. It feels like a very creative, fast, disposable process, which is how I like to work. It feels like the right thing to be doing.
Last year you said you wanted to make the best pop album of 2017—do you think you did that?
Even though I technically called it a mixtape, I do think Pop 2 was like, really really good. I don’t know if I’d say the best, because that’s very cocky, but I’d definitely say it was in the top five best.
Last year, a whole heap of your material leaked. How does that affect you on a personal and professional level?
On an emotional level, it was absolutely traumatic. It was really heartbreaking and made me feel really sad and depressed. On an everyday level, it’s just something where I’m like ‘ Okay, that happened’ and now I have to get on with my life. It’s out there, it’s the internet, you can’t really stop it. It is what it is. It was definitely stressful but I find that the less I talk about it, the less satisfied the people who did it are. So I try not to mention it too much.
You’ve done big tours before, but this Reputation tour schedule is really grueling. How do you deal with that?
It is, and I’m also throwing a lot of parties afterwards on my own with Banoffee and Ceci G, who are also in my band, so it’s a lot. But it’s cool—the tour is long but it’s an experience I’m only ever gonna have once, because I think after this tour I won’t open for anybody again. I’m really happy to be a part of it. Taylor is a really incredible artist and person who’s made me and Camila feel so welcome. It’s been long, but it’s definitely been worth it.
You curate this monthly playlist called ‘The Motherfucking Future’. Of everyone working right now, which artist is the motherfucking future?
Rosalía, who’s an artist from Spain, is incredible. I went to see her perform at the Hollywood Bowl. I’m not someone who gets blown away by people with really incredible voices, but she does have an incredible voice. I had shivers. On top of that, she’s a really incredible performer with a real eye for staging, and her music videos are really amazing. And I’ll always think SOPHIE is the future. She, to me, is just such a groundbreaking producer, so special and unique in the way she creates sounds and writes songs. That recent album that she just released is so amazing. I cried when I listened to it for the first time, because it’s just so beautiful.
You said that last year was emotional for you. Has this one been better?
Last year, especially towards the end, I was dealing with a lot of emotional stress with things sort of relating to music, but sort of outside of it. I think I’ve definitely gotten more in touch with my emotions, which I think in turn has made me a lot more excited to go back into the studio and write. I’m quite a fragile person, which means there’s always gonna be good days and bad, but today I’m good. It’s good.
"1999" is out now via Asylum/Atlantic.
Shaad D'Souza is Noisey's Australian editor. Follow him on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey AU.