Since her debut, Charli XCX stays ahead of the game. This remains apparent in her long-awaited third album “Charli.” She’s always trying to break boundaries in mainstream pop, while learning and growing during the process. Whether it’s being one of virtual pop’s pioneers or thriving under her experimental pop record label, there’s no doubt why everyone eyes this young pop mogul’s hustle.
And for us to keep a keen eye, we need someone on the field. Enter Angela Stephenson: the British-Filipino photographer/filmmaker currently documenting Charli’s best tour yet.
Meeting on Charli’s MV shoot for “Gone,” featuring French-pop sensation Christine and the Queens, Charli’s team requested Angela to shoot its behind-the-scenes. She went in with a set of fresh eyes and no particular expectation. “I had no idea what the video was going to be until I caught a glimpse of the production call sheet which had a fire scene, pyrotechnic scene, and rain scene written into the schedule,” she tells us.
“For me, there’s really no one else in pop doing it like her.”
It’s an unusual setting for a meet-cute moment between these two creatives. Still, her fly-on-the-wall, intimate style of documentation shone through. Charli loved Angela’s work for “Gone,” so they asked her to tag along in Charli’s short run of festivals in Europe. “I was just happy to be part of the release’s excitement in a small way, hearing Charli perform some of these new songs on tour and capturing the energy of those festival performances, which are a very different beast to headline shows.”
Taking a peek behind-the-scenes, we talked to Angela on what it’s like covering the tour video on celluloid, dealing with the singer’s hijinks like toenail injuries, and binging “Homeland” together while on the road.
What is it like following Charli around in her European tour?
Honestly quite relaxed. My style of shooting is pretty fly on the wall, so being comfortable around the crew is what’s most important, which was very easy because everyone on the tour was so kind and welcoming.
Did you have any specific direction in mind when doing her tour video?
Charli wanted me to come and document the tour as it went along, with the videos being instant uploads the next day. I mistakenly turned up with my massive 16mm film camera, which made next day uploads impossible because I wouldn’t be able to get the footage developed until I came back to London, but we persisted with shooting everything this way and I’m really glad we did.
Because you’re limited in film, it really forces you to save shooting anything until there’s a real moment in the set, so all the footage is really precious to me. I feel show Charli in her element.
How was it working with such a young experimental pop icon?
Kind of a dream come true. Before I met her, I was such a big fan. Her music is so undeniably good and so groundbreaking. I went to her “Pop 2” show in London last summer and got hooked after seeing her perform live. I’ve absolutely loved that mixtape, as well as the “Focus/No Angel” single that followed. I really enjoyed editing the tour video to “Focus” because it’s one of my favorites.
“When you’re limited with film, it really forces you to save shooting anything until there’s a real moment in the set.”
I kept that pretty close to my chest, but I felt instantly at ease around her. Her team is made up of friends that she’s grown up with, who know her best and work just as hard to support her career. She’s one of the most down to earth and hardworking musicians I’ve met. For me, there’s really no one else in pop doing it like her.
Did you get to know Charli more onstage and offstage?
We’re the same age and have similar backgrounds also being mixed British/Asian. There was a Pitchfork interview that came out a few days before I joined them on the tour where it mentioned her toenail fell off during the interview and I just had to laugh because my toenail had also fallen off two days before.
Just funny synchronicities like that made me feel like all of this was supposed to happen, as weird as that sounds.
Any memorable or hilarious tour stories we need to know about?
We all just talked about boys and binge-watched “Homeland” on the tour bus. It was pretty chill!
“It really struck an emotional chord with me. Charli bared it all on this [album].”
Is there anything else we can expect from your collaboration with her?
The album just came out. Since then, I’ve just been listening to it loads and I was just as excited as everyone else. It really struck an emotional chord with me. Charli bared it all on this one. And as a result, a lot of it is really relatable. She’s a talented songwriter and this album displays that. I’m sure we’ll work together again when our schedules align. I’m quite proud of the work I’ve made with her.
Photos by Angela Stephenson