Commonly proclaimed to be “the pop star of the future”, Charli XCX has had a lengthy career that’s taken a number of turns. Whether her experimental brand of music is suited to your tastes or not, one thing can easily be said: Charli knows how to craft an earworm.
Her name has proudly been attached to hits like Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It”. Songs like Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love” and the currently popular Mendes-Cabello track “Señorita” are indebted to Charli’s writing. From her own musical catalogue, she found a radio anthem in the pure bubblegum pop of “Boom Clap” in 2014. Charli XCX knows pop music inside and out and on her third studio album, Charli, she’s decided to turn it into something else completely.
Charli’s first two albums are pure pop. She’s only found her own unique sound in recent years, which came to be with the release of a handful of mixtapes since 2016. PC Music innovators A. G. Cook and Sophie’s fingerprints were all over these releases. The sound they’ve lent to her music has carried on to Charli, finally reaching full potential on this album.
As Charli took nearly five years to come to fruition, rumours had been swirling that this new brand of experimental avant-pop now associated with Charli’s name was to blame. Her music had been markedly pop for years; Charli may be a big leap for the fans who came for songs like Break the Rules.
But, the sound on Charli comes together quite naturally, as if Charli’s been at this for years already. It’s the effort to experiment and explore the boundaries of pop music that make every song Charli XCX puts out under her own name so memorable. Her newest release is no different.
Charli features a series of songs that feel like the audio equivalent to an anxiety attack followed by ones that serve as a soothing calm with occasional aftershocks.
As always with Charli’s recent releases, many collaborations are noted. A number of rising artists — Lizzo, Clairo, Haim — made appearances on the album, as well as past collaborators of Charli’s — Kim Petras and Brooke Candy both have a turn on Charli, while Troye Sivan appears on two songs.
Listeners have already been ushered in by the album’s two lead singles, “1999” and “Blame It On Your Love”, featuring Sivan and Lizzo respectively. “1999” was an all-in, danceable track many — including myself — had on repeat in anticipation for this album. “Blame It On Your Love” was a summer anthem concocted by Charli’s ability to perfect the pop genre. Listening to the album in full, these songs do not even seem to have a place on Charli — it’s as though they were made to ease people into the uniquely XCX sound of Charli. Other songs, like “Click” with Kim Petras and Tommy Cash, are loud, overstimulating and in-your-face, sounding like they’re about to break your headphones — of course, from these songs, it’d be worth it.
For the first time in a while, though, some of Charli’s best is when she’s on her own. The album opens on a song dedicated to the fans, “Next Level Charli”. This song is pure experimental 80s-inspired production with lyrics that encapsulate Charli’s entire philosophy (“I go hard, I go fast and I never look back”). It’s the ideal album opener with a title that could be the brand of the entire album’s sound.
The middle of the album primarily features solo Charli in earnest, heart-wrenching songs. “White Mercedes” and “Silver Cross” are tied for my favourites of the bunch, both featuring a familiar and accessible brand of pop with futuristic sounding PC Music detailing. “Silver Cross” in particular sees Charli take a break from her frequent distorted vocals and talk-singing style to showcase her voice at full capacity.
Charli has taken her “pop star of the future” title to heart and it’s clear on Charli. She is as unapologetically herself as her lyrics claim her to be and even her sound showcases this. Charli is something you’ve never heard before and, for that alone, it’s worth a listen.