Charli XCX's biggest hit isn't even hers, at least technically: The British singer-songwriter, born Charlotte Aitchison, co-wrote "I Love It," then gifted it to Swedish duo Icona Pop, who turned it into a top 10 worldwide hit. In the process, the combo has become much more famous than its benefactor, which to Charli's way of thinking is both good and bad.
Charli, now 20, started releasing music when she was in her mid-teens, gradually cobbling together a series of increasingly good mix tapes, which led to an even better official debut, "True Romance," released in April. A genuinely weird album, it's a love letter to her favorite things: cheesy '80s pop, cheesier '90s pop like the Spice Girls and Shampoo, goth, synths, rap.
Charli has been shipped over to America to promote it; she'll also be opening for her friend Marina's band, Marina and the Diamonds, on a U.S. tour. Most British up-and-comers feign indifference to the idea of American success, but Charli genuinely seems not to care. She's cheery and unstudied and blunt. She has done a lot of interviews.
"It's kind of weird talking about yourself all the time," Charli says. "I really didn't think about that aspect of it, I guess."
Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Q: Were you really in a band when you were 8, like the story goes?
A: No. I feel like that's kind of got blown out of proportion and changed around. I was a normal 8-year-old doing normal 8-year-old, like singing into hairbrushes and pretending to be one of the Spice Girls with my friends. I was 15 when I started making music properly.
Q: You started out performing at raves, which is very strange, because everyone there was probably zoned out on substances and not paying attention to you.
A: Yes, it was a big drug scene. I suppose it taught me a lot about performance. Everyone wanted to dance and was into what I was doing. I used to go with my parents, because they wouldn't let me go on my own. I was always embarrassed about that. One time we were leaving at 5 in the morning, and this dude threw up on my mom's shoes. My mom is a really polite lady, and she was like, "Oh my gosh, are you OK?" I'm lucky I have really cool parents.
Q: What do they make of what's happening to you now?
A: My dad's obsessed with my Twitter. He loves reading it. He'll be like, "Did you respond to so and so? This person really wants to speak to you." I don't think he understands the concept. It's really sweet.
Q: You did some high-profile tours when you first started out. Were you ready?
A: The first show I did with Coldplay was really scary. I'd just come off this tour with Santigold, which was a totally different experience. I'd never played an arena or a stadium before. I was used to playing in clubs, and it's different. At Coldplay … after a while I got used to it, and I was doing quite good toward the end. Now I think I wouldn't mind playing in an arena again. … I like a challenge. I don't mind winning people over.
Q: This album feels like a diary; it's very emotional. All the bands you've (cited) as references don't make very personal albums.
A: I see this album in particular as almost like a closing chapter in my life. I've grown up writing this album, and it's all about romance and love. I fell in love during the process of writing it, and it does feel like a diary to me. To me, it's very emotional and real. It's me growing up from a 16-year-old to a 20-year-old, and that's when most of the drama happens.
Q: Is it frustrating that most people know you from the Icona Pop song?
A: It's funny, most people think that I don't do anything on that song. People are like, "What do you do (on it)?" And I'm like, I sing the whole thing. That song was such a global hit, and I am getting attention from it, and it's great. But I didn't take that song for myself for a reason. I'm getting more attention from it behind the scenes, in terms of the writing world and being able to now work for some amazing artists that I've always wanted write for. That was kind of my plan for that song. I want to keep doing my pop music on my own terms, to make my weird albums. I'll write hits for people all day; that's fine. Just as long as I don't have to sing them.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine Ave.
Price: Sold out; jamusa.com