While they may try, few artists can make music that appeals to both mainstream and underground scenes. English pop star, Charli XCX, does it by not shying away from the bizarre, nor looking down on the popular. On Thursday, after releasing a steady stream of singles over the past few months, Charli released her anticipated studio album, Charli.
“Next Level Charli” kicks-off the album with glittering synthesizers, reminiscent of 2000s pop-greatness. It’s the quintessential Charli dichotomy which meshes the sounds of earlier pop divas and the electronic future. “Gone” — one of the singles which landed on the album — is a catchy, bass-heavy track featuring Christine and the Queens.
Like her other projects, Charli is packed with featured artists, several of whom are frequent collaborators. Charli often works with artists in the LGBT+ community and is known for her carefree, fun-loving attitude. The nostalgia-packed-track “1999” with Troye Sivan is the best standalone single that embodies this ethos of hers.
Charli teams up with chart-topping Lizzo for “Blame It On Your Love,” which samples “Track 10” of the album Pop 2. This song was made for the radio by shortening the sample and adding a rap feature. Hearing “Track 10” recontextualized to be listenable to the masses is a letdown. The original was experimental and textured with layer after layer of vocals and noise. This version does not hold up to the iconic, original track.
Since getting her start on MySpace, Charli XCX has stayed true to her digital roots by embracing PC music and its aesthetic. This subgenre of pop music emphasizes early internet culture, exaggerated and manipulated vocals, synthesizers, bright colors and femininity. The community has been around for a few years, but artists like Charli, Carly Rae Jepsen and SOPHIE are revitalizing its style and exposing it to a larger audience.
“Shake It” features regular PC collaborators: Big Freedia, cupcakKe, Brooke Candy and Pabllo Vittar. The track combines upbeat New Orleans bounce dance appeal with experimental elements like heavy voice manipulation and unconventional structure. And, per usual, cupcakKe delivers signature raunchy, pun-filled lines.
The album is built around its dance bops, but Charli takes a few breaths to make space for subtlety. “Thoughts” juxtaposes processed vocals with genuine lyrics in the chorus, “Drivin' 'round in Hollywood, I can only think 'bout you, Everlasting pain and it weighs on my body, it's you.” “White Mercedes” cuts through the noise but then explodes into an emotional chorus that has serious Spice Girls and Britney Spears vibes.
“February 2017” may feel understated at first, but it is a testament to how well Charli collaborates. She and Clairo take turns telling a story, complimenting one another's soft vocals. Just when it seems the song is over and the music dies, Yaeji sings a stunning outro in Korean. Charli is never overpowered by her features, though she puts them in a position to shine.
The album wraps up with another Troye Sivan feature — but fast forward 100 years. “2099” is extra-terrestrial. It has ultra-clean production with sharp metallic synthesizers. A minute through, the beat switches and bubbles erratically while Charli and Troye sing about space. “I’m Pluto, Neptune, pull up, roll up, future, future, ah.” The two had a vision. It’s the kind of technical, complex production and amusing lyrics that make Charli XCX one of the most innovative pop stars.
On Charli, Charli XCX created her best sound. She did not deviate from what she does best, but amplified the electricity, energy and inclusivity.
Final Grade: B+
Molly Carmichael is a music columnist for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of their work, click here.