When the music video for Charli XCX's Boys was released in July, it was impossible to resist. An infectious hook, a beat that sampled Super Mario Bros sound effects, and all those beautiful, famous boys - what more could you want? It was a self-aware viral hit; one that playfully used its star power to celebrate male sexuality and explore the female gaze to its most unapologetic degree.
In short, it was a masterwork of modern pop, and a welcome clap-back at decades of exploitation of women in pop music. I have an extensive list of questions prepared for my interview with Charli XCX, starting with one about whether the song's central lyric, "I was busy thinking 'bout boys," is intended to be liberating or parodic - and almost straight off the bat, she makes a refreshingly frank admission.
"I didn't write the song," she says. "This is one of the few songs that I didn't actually write, so for me it's just about genuinely just thinking about boys.
"Also I'm aware that I'm supposed to lie and say I wrote it or whatever, but I'm terrible at doing that shit."
Such honesty is almost ironic for Charli XCX (real name Charlotte Emma Aitchison). Compared to many pop stars of her ilk, the UK singer rarely accepts songs she hasn't written; conversely, she's written lyrics for a wide range of other artists, such as Icona Pop, Iggy Azalea and will.i.am. In the case of Boys, Aitchison took the song because she had a vision for the video, which she directed. "I needed some kind of ownership over the song," she says.
It's undeniably the lively, provocative video that makes the single so unforgettable - and the muscle power of all those famous men certainly helps. From YouTuber Connor Franta dressed as a sparkling angel in her back garden, to Panic! at the Disco's Brendon Urie being showered in roses, to singer Khalid cuddling blue and purple puppies; the video caters to all kinds of man-crushes and layers it all with a lushly feminine aesthetic.
"The whole idea of the video was to make it as stereotypically feminine as possible - hence the pink colour scheme and the overall softness in everything," says Aitchison.
"I had a list of activities I wanted the people in the video to be doing, from washing the car, or the pillow-fight scene, or eating provocatively; those were always the ideas, I just needed people to fill those roles. In terms of who was in the video, there were people I had to get in - friends of mine who I basically just harassed until they said yes, and then there were some people I had to go more legit routes to.
"I was being very cheeky," she says. "I was pulling a lot of fame in for that video."
Much of the response Aitchison received applauded her for creating a "fresh" video - but she insists the ideas aren't fresh at all. "Guys can be sexy too and guys are sexy too, but it's rarely the focal point of any pop-music video," she says. "That's always considered to be the position that girls should take because that sells more, or because that's more appealing, or because that's the role for women."
But what most surprised Aitchison was the positive reaction she received from men.
"I got a lot of responses from male fans saying that they were really happy and thankful that the video was so diverse in terms of body types for men," she says. "In men's fashion, there's often one body type that is considered good looking for men, which is the buff dude who works out or whatever. It was interesting for me to see how my fans were really happy that all different kinds of guys were represented - like really slender guys, guys who aren't that classic body shape, guys who were a little bit bigger."
Aitchison has a third album on the horizon but in the meantime, New Zealand fans can hear Boys on stage next month. She joins Sia at Mt Smart Stadium in December, which will mark her first time playing to arena-sized crowds on our shores. "I'm really excited," she says. "I've been to New Zealand before, but the show that I did was very small, so I'm really excited to come play with Sia."
In September, Sia announced a phenomenal all-female support line-up for her Mt Smart show; joining Charli XCX is Swedish singer MØ, local star Theia and dancer Maddie Ziegler.
"These shows are going to be so huge. I'm really looking forward to it," says Aitchison. "The line-up's so good; it'll be a good girl gang."
Who: Charli XCX
What: Latest single Boys, performing with Sia
When: December 5
Where: Mount Smart Stadium