Charli XCX breaks down her Rina Sawayama duet 'Beg For You': 'It was a long time coming'

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·4 min read
Charli XCX breaks down her Rina Sawayama duet 'Beg For You': 'It was a long time coming'
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For Charli XCX, making her upcoming project Crash, the final album in her five-album deal with Atlantic Records, was an exercise in expressing both the "emotions that I feel as a person when I'm falling in and out of love and hating myself" and "commentary on my space in pop music and my journey through the major label system."

One track that exemplifies those concepts is her rapturous new single "Beg for You." A flip on Swedish performer September's aughts club anthem "Cry for You," the song features a love-drunk Charli insistent on having her partner stay by her side as long as possible. While the preceding singles for Crash — "Good Ones" and "New Shapes" — position her as a "classic avoidant," "Beg" captures her at a moment when she's feeling desperate.

"It feels to me like one of those songs that comes on at the height of a party where you are a little bit f---ed up, you maybe want to cry, but you also want to dance," she tells EW. "When I was driving through L.A. listening to this beat for the first time, I felt a real sense of euphoria — but also this quite nostalgic thing. Because it's a garage beat, it reminded me of being at home in the U.K., at a house party with my friends who I've known since I was 12 years old."

For Charli, one of the major decisions in making Crash was working more closely with Atlantic and her A&R rep Brandon Davis. She describes the process of making "Beg For You" as "very much like an early/mid-2000s way of making a song. I just heard [the rough demo], fell in love with it, changed a few lyrics here and there, and sang it."

While she's previously refrained from joining the recent onslaught of artists reworking hits from older eras, Charli says the single's "Cry for You" nod in particular was part of a "sick desire to play this weird game" with this chapter-ending album. "I felt like Crash wouldn't really be a truthful representation of what it's like to be a female pop artist signed to Atlantic Records without doing an interpolation song, so I did it," she says.

Additionally, "Beg for You" doubles as Charli's first duet with singer Rina Sawayama. "It was a long time coming," Charli says of working her cerebral pop peer, who fans have been begging her to collaborate with. The pair originally cut a ballad for the 2019 album Charli, but switched gears after Sawayama thought their first collab should be a pop banger. After shooting a few ideas back and forth — including one that involved "a song like the Ying Yang Twins" — Charli forwarded Sawayama "Beg for You."

"S---. This is it," she recalls saying to Sawayama. "I think this could be really right for two British artists."

Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama
Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama

Courtesy Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama Rina Sawayama and Charli XCX

The track also offered an opportunity for Sawayama to show off a bit. "​​This is one of the more straightforward pop moments that she will have done," Charli says of the often experimental "XS" singer. "It was quite interesting to hear her on more of a clean-cut pop record where her voice — which is actually really classically a pop voice, she can sing like a diva — takes the forefront."

Shortly after agreeing to do the song, Sawayama sent back a verse she wrote and recorded that includes Charli's favorite moment in the song: "There's this one part where [Sawayama] says, 'separated by a degree,' and I just love the switch of the rhythm in that line. And it's more a tonal, phonetic thing than the actual lyric. I find that that rhythm is really catchy. So her verse is actually a part that I really freak out at, and feels oddly satisfying to me."

"Beg for You" is produced by British DJ Digital Farm Animals, with most of the lyrics written by burgeoning songwriters Sorana, Rollo Spreckley, and Alex Soifer. The track had been pitched to Charli rather than written with her in the room, something many artists of her ilk stray away from. "I don't really have an ego around pitch songs because I know I can write a hit song if I want to," says Charli, who has co-written No. 1 singles like "Señorita," by Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes.

Having been on the other side of the equation, working on music for other artists, Charli sympathizes with her fellow songwriters. "I don't think it's a very easy business for songwriters anymore, because there is this need for quote-unquote 'authenticity' within the major-label pop space," she says. "Artists want a writing credit. Artists want to be considered a full, all-around creative — not just someone who takes a song and sings it. And I totally get that. I am that. But I also just don't really care."

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