Charli XCX recently landed her first No.1 album in the UK.
Now she’s playing her biggest headline show to date at the 10,000-plus Alexandra Palace (May 19) in north London.
Atlantic co-president Ed Howard spoke to Music Week to mark the success of the Crash campaign in the UK and globally, and the touring business ahead of tonight’s huge Ally Pally show.
“What's exciting is that everyone involved thinks it could have been even bigger potentially,” Howard told Music Week. “The way that the tickets sold, there’s a sense that next time she should be able to immediately level up into bigger rooms. That's been the noise from all over the world.
“For the last five years, Charli has consistently played amazing shows and thrown parties that people have loved in tandem with putting out amazing music. She's done the festivals, now she's playing in a really big room. I think she'll bring the same amazing vibe and energy to that space. It’s probably the perfect space, actually, Ally Pally can be quite clubby - it will be really fun. She has worked very hard, she has toured hard, she’s put out a lot of music, and I think you're seeing that pay off.”
Charli XCX is managed by Brandon Creed, Twiggy Rowley and Sam Pringle.
“Charli’s touring business is extremely significant to her growth and connection with her audience,” Brandon Creed, co-founder of LA-based Full Stop Management, told Music Week. “She has a unique and very strong connection to her audience and has created a special space for everyone to enjoy the party. No matter how big the venue, it’s an intimate, personal, safe connection with Charli and everyone in the room. Charli’s ambitions are arenas and beyond and she is well on her way. We will be there soon.”
Howard promised a spectacular night for Charli XCX fans.
“I saw one of the two nights [she played] at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York,” he said. “You're going to get that classic adoration from the fanbase, high energy throughout the whole show from fans and from Charli. There’s a whole element of choreography that she has brought to this campaign, which she's really enjoying. She said that it’s an extra challenge on stage, which keeps it really exciting for her each night. She basically seems to have learned to dance incredibly well in the last eight months.
“It's quite faithful to the album, in terms of it shining a really strong spotlight on Crash, but obviously there are some fan favourites and some big hits reinvented and mixed in in a brilliant fun way. So it should be brilliant.”
With the summer approaching, Howard also spoke about Charli XCX’s prowess as a festival artist. As well as BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Coventry next week, she’s lined up appearances at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Southside and Hurricane in Germany, Lollapalooza in Chicago and Glastonbury.
“She smashes festivals,” said Howard. “She's closing the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury. You probably could put her on a bigger stage, but the timing of that and the atmosphere in the tent is good [for Charli]. It's really the energy that she brings as a performer that lends itself to festivals really well.
“Obviously, she’s got a catalogue of songs spanning more than 10 years, which people know and love, and not just in the UK, internationally too, which makes her a very attractive festival booking. She always brings that energy. She could be on a stage after an indie band, or before a massive pop star or amongst rap stars; she has the attitude and energy to stand up with any of those genres. So I think she’s the perfect festival act.”
Charli’s ambitions are arenas and beyond and she is well on her way
Crash has further established Charli XCX as a long-term career artist. The album debuted at No.1 with sales of 16,117 (Official Charts Company) and has sales to date of 26,764. Surprisingly, her fifth album was her first Top 10 entry.
“The message is more important than the chart position and that is that Charli understands her audience and knows how to connect and expand with them,” said Brandon Creed. “She set out with a mission on this project to bring her culture and community together with the more mainstream pop world and the result was a brilliant body of work that people are connecting to, therefore it went to No.1. We were all thrilled with the outcome.
“The album and campaign is resonating globally. It was No.1 in Australia and garnered Charli her highest chart position and debut in the US at No.7 among other territory bests, once again highlighting the success of her mission.”
Charli XCX will be touring globally through 2023, playing headline shows and festivals, Creed confirmed to Music Week.
Beg For You feat. Rina Sawayama (151,649 sales so far) peaked at No.24 on the singles chart, where Charli XCX has appeared over the last decade with big hits as a featured artist (2013 No.1 I Love It with Icona Pop; Iggy Azalea’s Fancy; Out Out with Joel Corry & Jax Jones) and solo singles such as Boom Clap. In contrast, the leftfield tunes from 2020 lockdown album How I’m Feeling Now seemed more about credibility than chasing chart placings.
“Charli is a trailblazer and pioneer in the pop universe,” said Creed. “Her career to date is a testament to her talent, instincts and respect that she has for her community and that they have for her. It is quite an achievement, almost 10 years later and multiple albums in to have your highest charting album and to be playing sold-out shows in your biggest rooms to date. It signals that this is just scratching the surface and there really is no limit to where Charli goes from here.”
Ed Howard and Charli XCX go way back to 2009 when he signed her to Asylum/Atlantic. Here, he opens up further about her career, restless pop creativity and the future…
How would you sum up Charli XCX’s career so far? It’s not been that of a typical pop act…
“If you look back, the first album that she made, True Romance, was very critically acclaimed, quite leftfield. She was very young and they were brilliant songs that she wrote. There was also very progressive production, futuristic production with some amazing producers like Ariel Rechtshaid. So she actually started off in a very credible space. And then, through her crazy songwriting ability, she had these off-the-hook, massive pop hits in I Love It, Fancy and Boom Clap. She wrote these massive songs which were undeniable, and that brought her a mainstream pop [audience]. It wasn't totally planned but she was ready for it. She grew up in public, because she started from such a young age.
“So it started off in a very credible space, then broadened out quite quickly. In some ways, over the last five years those two things have come together somewhat. So she has this mainstream appeal at the same time as all of the leftfield credibility. But I think in the last five years in particular, you've seen her really taking increasing creative control, and exploring what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. And now it's all come together in this brilliant campaign in Crash, where you're seeing all this experimentation and creativity and also a large dose of mainstream appeal, all existing in one space.”
How important was the No.1 in terms of a statement about her artistic achievements - and how can she build on this?
“It feels to me like all of her powers have peaked at the same time. It is obviously a huge message to have a No.1 album. With the volume that Charli achieved, it speaks to how much her fanbase are now galvanised behind her, how well supported she is, with media as well, she's really genuinely loved by people. Artists love her, all of our partners love her. So it's great that all of that support and all that love has come together in one moment and really coalesced for her.
“The campaign was a brilliant team effort between Atlantic, Charli, her managers Brandon [Creed], Twiggy [Rowley], Sam [Pringle]; Huxley on the PR side; Beautiful Digital on the digital side; And there’s Brandon Davis [SVP] on the A&R side in the US too. It’s really come together, you've got a visually stunning campaign, great songs and great videos; social media is brilliant, touring is brilliant. Everything came together and became more than the sum of its parts.”
The best work that we've done as a team has happened in the last two or three years
How did you achieve that level of week one sales performance with Crash, with both strong vinyl and streaming?
“Yeah, it was a big result. It felt to us like it was heading in a really positive direction even from well before with How I'm Feeling Now and from the mixtapes. It felt like there was a fanbase that understood Charli and it was growing month-on-month, year-on-year. With this last campaign, we've been able to pull in a bit more of a mainstream fanbase, together with that hardcore Charli fan base. Then there were some of the technical aspects of this campaign that seemed to work really well. We had a long pre-order window, we had ticket bundles, we had signed copies, multiple formats. But I think really the most important thing is you've got a brilliant visual campaign and Charli being exciting, interesting and creative.
“You've got a very collectible physical product because it looks so great, right? You've got an artist where people want to own a piece of [physical product] because they care about her enormously. But then you've also got a No.2 airplay record in Beg For You, which is huge exposure for the album. And you've got a massive global plan from DSPs because they love her, care about her and they’ve been in the Charli business for so long. So you're seeing all of those different factors come together really to drive that result. We were chuffed, very happy.”
How will this campaign continue? She’s clearly quite creatively restless and wants to do new things…
“Yeah, you're spot on in that. The different threads and strands of Charli's career show she's always active. The massive Roblox and Samsung campaign is an example of something that's going on - it's linked to the album but going on from there as well. There's a really exciting feature that is in the works, which I think will be brilliant, and hopefully will drop quite soon. And we'll certainly have another big single moment from this album for probably later on this summer. There's definitely a lot of life left in Crash yet.”
Has there been a good amount of international growth with this album, including an Australian No.1?
“Yeah. Again, I think Charli's got a huge history in lots of different territories through various different records over the years. We’re seeing that history plus all the good touring base that she’s laid, and all the work that she, her team and Atlantic have done in those different territories, coming together. We had a Top 10 album in America with this album, a big record in Australia, in Ireland, and in a bunch of different territories. So the overall trajectory across everything really is heading in a super-positive direction.”
How important has TikTok been, particularly during the pandemic?
“Thinking back, it seemed that artists with lockdown either went into their shell or came up with interesting ways to exploit the situation creatively. And with Charli that came to the fore really with that whole campaign [How I’m Feeling Now]. She started to have fun with TikTok in particular, but also with her whole exploration of how to communicate with fans online and how to give of herself creatively. What I enjoy as a fan of Charli online is how funny she is, how creative she is. But also, she can talk to the campaign and the commercial side of it. She can talk about signing vinyl products, but in a way which feels [genuinely like] her and funny. I think the socials really came to the fore and were a big part of why this campaign felt really exciting.”
Where do you think Charli XCX can go from here, and how can Atlantic support her?
“The bottom line from an Atlantic perspective is that, you can think of How I'm Feeling Now and Crash and how different those campaigns are, and we were able to support her in both. She was very much leading at all times, of course, and we were well able to support what were very different campaigns. I think both were great examples of partnership between artists and management, and the wider teams.
“In terms of the possibilities for Charli, I believe she's extremely relevant. We've touched on live, touched on festivals, DSPs, social media, TikTok, all extremely relevant. And touching on perhaps Web3 and where things are headed again - a super leaned in fan base, super creative, super progressive. You know, I think with the fans that she's built and the belief that's there, she can pretty much go wherever she wants. There can be huge commercial growth still to accompany the massive creative growth that's going on. And I genuinely think that the sky's the limit, and everything we're seeing is pointing to that. Essentially, she can go where she wants to go is the answer.”
What can you say about any deal with Atlantic beyond this album, would you like to extend the partnership?
“Absolutely. Who wouldn't want to be in partnership with Charli? From our perspective, we’d like to be in business with her for absolutely as long as possible. And I think the best work that we've done as a team has happened in the last two or three years. And like I say, it’s only heading in a really positive direction.”