The Untold Truth Of Charli XCX

The following article includes references to racism.

British pop star Charli XCX was just 16 when she signed a five-album deal with Atlantic Records, per Pitchfork. Five years later, the "Boys" singer impressed critics with her 2013 debut album "True Romance," before following up with "Sucker," a "raw" guitar-driven album inspired by bands like Weezer and The Ramones. Her second album catapulted XCX to bigger things, with the single "Boom Clap" peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

By 2018, she was the opening act on Taylor Swift's "Reputation" worldwide tour, where she apparently made note of the conflicts between her musical instincts and the demands of commercial pop superstardom. Speaking to Vulture, the artist admitted that her song "Break the Rules" wasn't one she was ever fond of, but she knew it helped identify her as an edgy pop star to audiences. Despite Swift's audience loving the tune, XCX told the outlet, "I would never play it at my own show."

The musician continued to experiment with sound and image, scoring hits with hard-charging party anthems like "Vroom Vroom" and "Unlock It." She told Vulture, "I think I've always had — and still do — a very ambitious opinion on what mainstream pop music could sound like." Unfortunately, this forward-thinking mindset came with challenges, including record label troubles, personal struggles, and online harassment. XCX pushed through it all to become one of the most popular and interesting musicians of her generation. Here's how. 

She learned a lot from her family

Before she was singing catchy hooks and inspiring fans to dance, Charli XCX was simply Charlotte Aitchison. Born in Bishop's Stortford, England, a market town north of London, the artist was inspired to embrace her individuality. "My dad always encouraged me to be weird," XCX told Under the Radar. "I think he meant, be yourself rather than follow a trend. He always said that following fashions and following trends was such a terrible trait."

This inclination likely came from her dad's own experiences as a creative professional. After starting out in the screen printing business, he became a club promoter who also dabbled with performing with an experimental performance group called Floppy Gravel. "He was very much the wild one," XCX told the outlet. Meanwhile her mom, who was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda, was more traditional. "She had much more of a strict upbringing," the singer explained of her mother, a nurse who taught her the value of family and heritage.

Per the outlet, her parents quite fittingly met in a nightclub, and their influence on XCX as a young girl could be felt in a myriad of ways. Speaking to The Guardian, she said of her parents, "They started from nothing and worked so hard to be able to give themselves a life they loved," she explained. "Growing up around that has an effect on you."

Charli XCX is proud of her heritage

With a mom of Asian descent who immigrated to England from Uganda and a dad from Scotland, Charli XCX has a mixed heritage she's proud of. However, as she told Under the Radar, she was sadly privy to racism from a young age. "I grew up around people throwing the word P*ki around," she said. "I personally think that's really racist ... and it would always upset me, not because I'm Pakistani, but just because I thought it was really wrong," XCX explained. 

The artist has likewise faced, and responded to, racist comments online. On Twitter, the artist reposted a forum conversation that stated, "XCX always looks dirty." In response, she shared a statement of honor regarding her identity. "i am extremely proud of my indian heritage," she wrote. "i love my roots & my family. don't call me/anyone 'dirty' bcoz of the colour of someone's skin."

Still, XCX enjoyed a quiet life in her hometown where she found herself awakened by music from artists like Electric Light Orchestra, Britney Spears, and fellow Brits the Spice Girls. As she told Under the Radar, while she was never "the popular kid," she was nonetheless content. "I was just quite happy and in my own dream world," she recalled. 

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London's DIY teen idol

Charli XCX was 14 when she started recording her first album. However, the 2006 project was scrapped with the artist later dismissing the recordings as "terrible MySpace music," via Pitchfork. The first song she ever wrote was called "Fish and Chips Shop," about a very British teenage date in a London chippy. Of the track, XCX admitted to Cosmopolitan,  "It was probably pretty lame."

Still, a promoter heard the songs that the teenage artist had posted to the early social media website and booked her to play a show in Hackney Wick, London. Less a concert venue and more a factory that used to make peanuts, she played to an estimated 300 people, including her parents who drove her to the event, Under the Radar recapped.

The set was a hit and the teen continued to play warehouse shows. "That was the first time I felt truly inspired to my core," she told The Guardian about her early performances. "It was like I'd opened Pandora's box." As reported by the outlet, the young singer certainly made an impression on stage where one particularly memorable lyric revolved around "dinosaur sex in a peroxide wig." It was all part of the young artist's experimentation as a DIY musician. Something which led the artist to a fine arts degree, only to drop out when she was drawn more to performance than to painting, per Under the Radar. 

Always on the grind

Though her music can be light and bubbly, the untold truth of Charli XCX is that her work ethic is anything but carefree. The "Fancy" singer is constantly working on projects and has been charging forward at this fast pace for most of her career. "How did I learn that taking a second to breathe is bad? I'm trying to unlearn that," she admitted to The Guardian. In fact, she even started going to therapy to learn how to control her insatiable desire to stay busy. 

One method was to start enjoying entertainment, such as HBO's iconic mob series "The Sopranos." Even though this binge-watch came at a time following the release of an album, she admitted to the outlet that it was difficult to just sit still and enjoy the TV show. "After a week, I'll be spinning out," XCX confessed to the outlet. Speaking of her career momentum she added, "I'm always forward, forward, forward."

In the past, the performer was such a workaholic that sometimes she wouldn't even recognize her past accomplishments. Fortunately, she started to appreciate the career that both her fans and critics praised. "I really deserve it because I've f***ing grinded and I work really hard," the singer told Rolling Stone. Given her internal drive and relentless energy, it's no surprise that XCX is either finishing up in the studio or heading out on tour at any given time.

Some far-out fan encounters

One way for a musical artist to develop a special connection with fans is for meet-and-greets following concerts. These paid opportunities provide a chance for attendees to briefly chat and take photos with their fave idols. Some musicians. like The 1975 frontman Matt Healy, have criticized the events for being exhausting to conduct and exploitative of fans, via MTV. For XCX's meet-and-greets, fans have taken them to the next level.

One time, for example, an attendee brought their mother's ashes in an urn and asked XCX to sign and pose with the item. Speaking to i-D, the singer admitted to being caught off-guard by the interaction. "You can see it in my eyes, I'm afraid," she said. Per Pink News, the artist has also reportedly declined to hold poppers under a fan's nose for a photo, though she did once sign a douche. 

While entertaining, such anecdotes have created a strange reputation for XCX's meet-and-greet events and they've garnered criticism online. On Twitter, the musician addressed some of the "ridiculous and pretentious" articles condemning the interactions. She also accused outlets of using her for "online clout" in accusing her fans of unpleasant behavior against her. "I do not think my fans have been abusive towards me at meet and greets," she wrote. Instead, she suggested, she'd continue to encourage creative freedom in a safe environment at such events. 

Girl-on-girl criticisms

Charli XCX teamed up with Rita Ora for the sapphic party track "Girls" in 2018, with the two British singers appearing alongside Cardi B and sexually fluid singer Bebe Rexha on the tune. However, the song's huge star power couldn't stop it from being criticized by musicians like Hayley Kiyoko and Muna's Katie Gavin for allegedly demeaning the real-life queer experiences of women. On Twitter, Kiyoko shared a note which read, in part, "A song like this just fuels the male gaze while marginalizing the idea of women loving women." Meanwhile, Gavin likewise accused the track of reducing the sexuality of women to a voyeuristic pursuit: "Something to be looked at instead of authentically felt." 

On Twitter, Rita Ora apologized for any offense caused by the song's perspective and argued that "Girls" was true to her authentic experiences as a bisexual woman. Speaking to Rolling Stone, XCX defended her collaborator and suggested the criticisms had made Ora feel pressured to disclose her otherwise private sexuality. "We can all learn from this conversation," she added. 

Writing for Billboard, the artist celebrated the LGBTQ+ community for being a direct influence on the musician she is today. Speaking of what she learned from the LGBTQ+ people and places she discovered as a teenager, she wrote, "The idea that being totally yourself was cool, the idea of mass acceptance and embracing exactly who you are ... I felt very special and honored to be experiencing what I was experiencing."

What does the XCX mean in her name?

Back when she was Charlotte Aitchison and gaining recognition for her live shows, the young teen realized she wanted a stage name. "A promoter asked me what I wanted on the flier," she told Consequence. "And I just told him Charli XCX because it was what I used to sign off of like MSN Messenger."

The singer explained that her name stands for "Kiss Charli Kiss," similar to how XOXO stands for hugs and kisses. The three letters in her name may have had sweet intentions, but the artist wondered if the name was perhaps too cute and uncool for a budding music star. Years later, while aiming for a more DGAF attitude, she attempted to rewrite her origin story. "I went to my record label and said it stood for 'X-Rated C*** X-Rated,'" the singer revealed to Complex. Unsurprisingly, the label said no to the idea.

Discussing her name with Rolling Stone, XCX explained that signing with a major record label gave her concerns that her name needed some deeper meaning. While originally it was simply intended as a memorable shorthand, the name has since evolved to represent something powerful to the star. She told the outlet, "At the moment, it just stands for everything I've done so far."

A complicated relationship with her record label

After gaining popularity in her live music sets, Charli XCX started to meet eager music executives after her shows. Of all her offers, she signed with Atlantic records because she felt it was the best fit for her music, and they seemed to be excited about working with her. 

Years later, after becoming a successful artist, XCX said the relationship with her label was difficult. She also claimed her bad experiences may have been exacerbated because she was a female artist. "I have to fight with my record label to get what I want," she revealed to Complex in 2015. "People treat me like a little girl still, even though I'm in the position I'm in." In 2021, as a guest on Dazed's "A Future World" podcast, via NME, XCX further alleged that Atlantic wanted her to appear more relatable on social media by recommending she post pictures with dogs and talk about her flaws. She promptly exited the meeting.

While speaking to Cosmopolitan in 2014, she further alleged that her label wanted her to be something that she wasn't comfortable with. "I basically just told my record label to f*** off," she explained. "If you want a puppet, just go and get yourself a puppet. Don't sign me to your record label." In 2022, "Crash" would be her fifth and final album with Atlantic.

Alone together during the pandemic

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced people into isolation, Charli XCX had apparently proposed a tour of her 2013 debut album "True Romance," per The Guardian. It didn't happen. However, what the musician did deliver was arguably more exciting. Written and recorded in six weeks during quarantine, "How I'm Feeling Now" was a surprise album featuring an open production process. The artist would post videos and updates to social media for fans to track and support her progress. In 2021, the singer even released a documentary called "Charli XCX: Alone Together," which chronicled the creative process of the experimental project.

In addition to gaining support from her fans and catharsis from her music, her tough time during the pandemic was also bolstered by professional help. "I started therapy at the beginning of the pandemic," she told Refinery29. "And that was sort of timely and very fortunate that I was able to do that." Though XCX confessed that her lifestyle and demeanor weren't adjusted by the sessions, she nonetheless found them helpful. 

Making the album may have been therapeutic for XCX, but it wasn't her first rodeo for such things. In 2017, she'd first learned how to quickly develop a cohesive musical project during a time of emotional turmoil with her mixtape "Number 1 Angel." She told NME, "It's just songs that me and [producer] AG Cook made in two weeks in LA when I was, like, feeling really depressed." 

Charli XCX loves and hates Twitter

For much of her career, Charli XCX has been an active user of social media, especially Twitter. While the platform could be home to many of her thoughts, like getting ready to attend The BRIT Awards in 2015, it was also used to express her frustrations with the industry

In the lead-up to her 2022 album "Crash," a time when many artists increase their communication, the singer said she would instead step away from social media. On Twitter, the artist noted that while she once felt safe on the platform, she'd begun to experience anger directed toward herself. Most importantly, all the negative comments were taking a toll on her well-being. "I've been grappling quite a lot with my mental health the past few months and obviously it makes negativity and criticism harder to handle when I come across it," she wrote. And so, she hit pause on her feed.

About a month later, XCX opened up to The New York Times about feeling boxed in by other people's expectations of her, particularly on social media. However, she found freedom in realizing that not only should she be herself but that her sound also thrives when she steps beyond those expectations. "The truth is, I'm allowed to be whoever I want," she told the outlet. "Because the reason I'm an interesting artist is because I evolve and change."

Who is Charli XCX dating?

For years, Charli XCX was in an on-again-off-again relationship with video game producer, Huck Kwong, according to The Guardian. In the midst of the pandemic, the performer lived with her beau while working on the album "How I'm Feeling Now." Unsurprisingly, their romance appears to be referenced within the album's lyrics, including "7 years" which features the line, "Seven years and it's been you and I, always."

While the dedication is heartwarming, XCX confessed to The Guardian that working and living in close quarters with Kwong felt strange. "[It's been weird] yelling about my relationship into a microphone while my boyfriend's in the other room, doing a puzzle," she confessed. Regardless, the pandemic was apparently vital to restoring their romance.

While she was a guest on Apple Music, via the Daily Mail, XCX suggested that the two weren't in a good place when lockdown hit. She told Zane Lowe, "I'm not going to say like [the relationship was] at the end of the road, but close to it." According to the "Vroom Vroom" hitmaker, the two were as emotionally distant as they could be physically distant too, due to living so far from each other. After almost two months together in the same place during lockdown, their bond became solid. "I finally understand that this person is somebody who I can trust with my life," the singer added about Kwong.

A songwriter, on stage and behind the scenes

Though she's built a successful fanbase for her own music, Charli XCX is also the mastermind behind hits for other artists. As well as writing the hook for "Fancy," her collaborative hit with Iggy Azalea, she also wrote "Señorita," performed by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello. The track gave Mendes his first No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 and Cabello her second. The songwriter was also responsible for "Same Old Love," a Selena Gomez hit that reached No. 1 on Billboard's Pop Songs chart. They may not have been hits for herself, but she remained proud of them nonetheless. XCX told NPR,  "I love those songs because they're really classic, amazing melodies."

Sometimes, however, her songs get bounced back and she keeps them for herself. "Die Tonight" from her album "Sucker" was originally written for One Direction, for instance. Other times, XCX's songs don't end up fitting the style she was going for at the time. In 2012, Icona Pop scored a huge hit with her track, "I Love It," after the performer decided the song wasn't for her. According to The Guardian, XCX gave the tune away after being unable to visualize a music video for it. Despite "I Love It" blowing up for the Swedish duo, the artist insisted to the publication that she had no regrets about relinquishing the smash hit to them. 

She runs with a tight clique of famous faces

Personally and professionally, Charli XCX is connected with a ton of famous friends. According to The Guardian, that's included hosting lockdown Zoom calls with actor Maisie Williams and others like Nadya Tolokonnikova from political punk band Pussy Riot. Professionally, two of her pals — Héloïse Letissier, aka Christine and the Queens, and Caroline Polachek — have also become frequent collaborators in XCX's music. In 2022, the trio released the '80s pop-inspired tune, "New Shapes."

But that isn't the end of her dazzling little black book of celebrity connections. In 2017, XCX released her supremely catchy hit song "Boys," to critical acclaim. Clearly, this was a song the artist could visualize a music video for, and she called up some of her most famous guy friends — including Charlie Puth, Joe Jonas, Wiz Khalifa, and Riz Ahmed among others – to appear in dreamy, pink-hued, slow motion for it. 

The artist also reportedly began an online friendship with Cardi B, following her collaboration with the "WAP" rapper on "Girls." Sadly, it appeared that the rapper was at least a little confused by XCX's stage name. On "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," the singer revealed that the "Hustlers" star had tagged her on Twitter with the username Charli STD. Twice. Luckily, the singer had no hard feelings toward Cardi B about the mishap. She told the host, "She can call me Charli STD whenever she wants."

The host with the most

Outside of recording music, Charli XCX is also the podcast host of "Best Song Ever" on the U.K.'s BBC Radio 1. The format sees the performer chatting with special guests and discussing their musical picks to soundtrack key moments in life. The "Beg For You" singer played a similar game with host Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show," where she explained that she would pick "I've Got a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas as the best song for going through a breakup. 

Speaking to Refinery 29, she explained that music is used as a jumping-off point in the podcast with which to get to know her guests better. Specifically, she noted that she was interested in probing the emotional core behind people's favorite tunes. She explained, "The podcast came about because I really love talking to people." 

Given her wide circle of contacts, her guests have remained varied and fascinating. They've included Australian pop-wunderkind Troye Sivan, industry veteran Mark Ronson, and TikTok star Addison Rae. "It's friends and then people who I want to be my friend," XCX confirmed to Refinery 29. The star further suggested that the impetus for the podcast was inspired by her desire to connect with people following the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can't you taste this gold?

For her prolific contributions to music, both as a solo artist and as a songwriter, Charli XCX has amassed an impressive bank account. As of 2022, she was worth an estimated $10 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Finding success early, the artist was able to use some of her earnings for a more comfortable living arrangement. When she was only 23, XCX set up shop in Los Angeles with a four-bedroom home in the Hollywood Hills, which she bought for $2.815 million, per Trulia. The incredible Tudor-inspired home boasted 4483 square feet of space and included cool design features like a hidden "speakeasy" room and a two-story living room. 

Years later, the musician's popularity continued to grow and so did her choice of real estate. In 2020, she purchased a mansion for a reported $5.1 million, per Dirt. Her purchase continued the trend of musicians owning the residence since it was previously owned by DJ Steve Angello from Swedish House Mafia, and later Calvin Harris, from whom she acquired the property. 

Unsurprisingly, the home features a deluxe recording studio plus other impressive amenities like a well-equipped guest house. While she'll no doubt put her own distinct flourishes on the place, she told Architectural Digest that she loves maintaining its history with her own love of work and partying. "I just like the house to feel busy," she explained. "I like that this house has just seen a lot of stories and fun things happen."