Charli XCX is on the rise with new album “Charli”

Photo Courtesy of Charli XCX.

Photo Courtesy of Charli XCX.

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The progression of Charli XCX has certainly been an interesting one to watch. After penning some of the biggest pop hits of the decade (Iggy Azealia’s “Fancy,” Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care”), as well as going three-times platinum with her first solo hit, “Boom Clap,” Charlotte Emma Aitchison stepped away from the Billboard-friendly pop of her first two records in 2016 with the “Vroom Vroom” EP. Teaming up with forward-thinking artists in the underground like SOPHIE, AG Cook and Hannah Diamond, instantly affiliating herself with the underground pop movement/record label PC Music, the four tracks on “Vroom Vroom” sound like a form of pop not quite like anything we’ve heard before, especially coming from a platinum-selling artist. This was supposed to be the predictor of her, at the time soon-to-be-released next record.


Even though it’s taken three years to deliver her promise, Charli hasn’t exactly kept fans waiting for new music. Along with many collaborations and features, in 2017, she released two mixtapes, “Number 1 Angel” and “Pop 2,” as well as her biggest solo hit since “Boom Clap,” “Boys.” The latter of the two mixtapes, “Pop 2,” was aptly titled. Charli’s output since “Vroom Vroom” has essentially been “Pop 2.0,” a sequel to what pop music is today, an idea of the form it could take in the future. In 2018, she released a slew of singles, all but one (“1999”) not making the record, yet many becoming instant fan favorites (“No Angel,” “Girls Night Out”). Not only has this been a prolific period for Charli, but it’s also been a dramatic one, with an entire album being shelved thanks to leak after leak of songs she claimed meant a lot to her.  There are tracks that, to this day, can only be found on the internet, yet fans still know every word. Songs like “Bounce” and “Taxi,” despite their unreleased status, are still performed live. 


While none of those unreleased tracks made it onto “Charli,” the highly anticipated third album is an amalgamation of every side of the artist we’ve seen in the past couple of years. For one, she continues to prove herself as one of the best collaborators in music, period. On “Gone,”  she and Christine and the Queens go hard as hell on a glamorous ‘80s-inspired instrumental, resulting in one of the best pop songs of this decade. From the passionate verses to the final moments, a dance beat that feels less like an outro and more like a victory lap, its bittersweet euphoria does not let up even slightly. Troye Sivan sits comfortably atop the nostalgic, sassy, ear-wormy electro-pop of “1999,” and Charli trades verses with Sky Ferreira on “Cross You Out” for a rare moment in which Ferreira doesn’t sound drab and lifeless. HAIM hops onto “Warm” to assist one of the lightest grooves on the project, and those are just some of the more notable of the 14 guest appearances on this record. While AG Cook co-executive produced the entire project with Charli, their eclectic choice in producers remains, calling on the likes of everyone from underground names such as Umru and 100 Gecs’ Dylan Brady to bigger industry names like Stargate.


A lot of hands were on this thing, and as a result, the songs on “Charli” range from loud and proud bangers to chilled-out slow burners. “Click,” featuring Charli- protege Kim Petras and Tommy Cash, is one of the loudest tracks she’s released in a while, with a noise-esque distorted outro serving as one of the weirdest moments of her entire discography. On the other hand, “Official” and “I Don’t Wanna Know” are much quieter, more subdued tracks, while “Silver Cross” weaves itself in between the two extremes.


Charli’s ability to make emotionally poignant pop has largely gone under-discussed. The Lizzo-assisted “Blame It on Your Love,” a remix of “Track 10” from “Pop 2,” is equal-parts catchy and heartbroken. Lizzo’s little verse is a nice addition, but the real showstopper on this track is Charli’s earnest performance and the sticky, regretful lyrics. “White Mercedes” and “Official” both take a ballad approach and do so relatively well, making for surprisingly revealing tracks that strip her down to true, unfiltered emotions.


There are certainly a few underwhelming tracks here and there. “Shake It,” a sequel of sorts to the “Pop 2” highlight “I Got It,” feels disjointed even with all of the fantastic performances from Cupcakke, Big Freedia, Brooke Candy and Pablo Vittar. “Thoughts” has a few nice melodies, but the production feels too unfinished to look past, and it’s the same case with “I Don’t Wanna Know.” “Click” is an enjoyably bombastic posse cut, but, like “Shake It,” the structure leaves little to be desired. But the problem with these songs is not that they’re bad, it’s just that they had potential that wasn’t fully realized.


However, the record finishes strong with some of the most off-the-wall tracks, “February 2017,” featuring Clairo and Yaeji, and “2099,” featuring, once again, Troye Sivan. Both of these tracks are arranged in incredibly interesting ways, completely abandoning the common verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure most pop songs follow.


Despite having a somewhat awkward flow, “Charli” is likely going to satisfy those fans (such as myself) who have been waiting all these years for a third record. The lows aren’t awful, and the highs provide some of the best pop songs of the year, sometimes of the last ten. At every moment, “Charli” is a welcome looking glass into the future of pop g and is certainly a standout moment for this year.


Best Tracks: “Gone,” “1999,” “Blame It On Your Love,” “White Mercedes,” “Official,” “Silver Cross,” “Cross You Out,” “Warm,” “Next Level Charli,” “February 2017,” “2099”