Charli XCX goes from art school to pop charts 

click to enlarge Charli XCX
  • Charli XCX’s diverse debut recording is called “True Romance.”
British wunderkind Charlotte Aitchison is proud of her artistic alter ego Charli XCX, whose dazzling debut “True Romance” blends pop, electronic dance music, hip-hop and vintage new wave, tinted with gothic flourishes.

To compose diverse tracks such as the panoramic “Nuclear Seasons,” the rap-power-ballad hybrid “What I Like” and the Bananarama-meets-Banshees “Black Roses,” Charli XCX (formerly her MSN Messenger ID) refused to listen to contemporary music.

“I’m not really inspired by notes on a scale at all, and I don’t really get inspired by other artists,” says the 21-year-old, who plays Slim’s in The City this weekend.

Even though her single “I Love It” (recorded with Swedish duo Icona Pop) has been certified platinum, she says, “I’m more inspired by movies and my favorite photographers than I am by other sounds. And I think there’s something really charming and beautiful about reading a book.”

Always creative and on the edge, she remains pleased with cutting-edge projects she concocted two years ago in art school, just as her XCX concept was coming together.

“I was studying fine art and making a lot of installations,” Aitchison says. One was a makeshift re-creation of a teenage girl’s bedroom, plastered with posters of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, then sprayed with blood-red paint spelling the phrase “Britney lives on!”

“Then I would dress up as Britney and perform ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ in this really long, weird, broken performance that everyone in class found very cringe-y and awkward when they had to stand through it.”

Some students appreciated her creativity. Most did not. Undaunted, she kept pushing the parameters.

Her finest hour, she says, was her Barbie House of Horrors, made from a plastic dollhouse and a collection of Barbies. It was not G-rated.

“I took off all their heads and replaced them with animal heads, like alligators and monkeys, rhinos and leopards,” she explains. “Then I cut all their hair really weird and dyed it blue and green, then put them all in this house in really weird positions and I wrote all over the side of it. Everybody really liked that one, so I didn’t have to explain it too much.”

That’s why the singer left the university after one year — she was tired of clarifying her work to professors. “I didn’t enjoy it there, so instead I released an album and then had to explain myself all over again,” she says, laughing.

At 14, she was posting early demo-dirges like “Art Bitch” online. As she began playing warehouse raves later, her sound rapidly matured, as did her tastes.


Charli XCX

Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $19 to $21

Contact: (415) 522-0333,

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Tom Lanham

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