British songwriter and musician Charlotte Emma Aitchison, professionally known as Charli XCX, released her third studio album entitled Charli on Sept. 13, 2019. In an attempt to recapture the transcendent success of her second studio album, Pop 2, she drives down the adventurous and innovative road of experimental pop music. Charli XCX subverts mainstream pop conventions by successfully capturing the essence of despondent rave club music with 15 tracks and 14 collaborations. With the style of avant-garde pop in mind, she merges the synthetic and shiny Hollywood scene of squeaky sound arrangements with the powerful internal dialogue of a transgressive queer individual shuffling through a crammed dance floor in order to effectively create one of the most sophisticated and intelligent pop albums of the past decade.
At first glance, the message that Charli XCX is trying to convey with her self-titled album feels conflicted. It’s rather odd that an unconventional artist who produces dark and synthetic sounds would create a traditional, self-titled album that goes through the notions of having an arc, shape and rollercoaster of emotions. Charli XCX manages to make the same kind of work that she seems to be resisting, as there’s a clear contradiction between producing a standard pop album and rebelling against the genre. As Charli flows confidently from stimulating pop tracks to upbeat warehouse jams to soaring ballads, the jarring joyride previously described changes into an exhilarating cruise. Musically speaking, it’s on par with classics of the pop genre, such as Lady Gaga’s The Fame and Taylor Swift’s 1989. Through the brash manifesto of rapid-fire rap singing, Charli XCX showcases the reflection of a high profile pop musician that chases self-expression and constantly contemplates what it would be like to fully enter the mainstream world of pop music.
The flaws within Charli can be easily overlooked because Charli XCX isn’t afraid to dramatically experiment with her sound. To say that Charli XCX is a risk-taker would be an understatement. In the opening lines of “Next Level Charli,” she confidently states “I go hard, I go fast, and I never look back” to capture the attention of her listeners and bring them along on a purely chaotic journey. “Official” and “Shake It” are two completely different pop songs that mix relatively well together. The first one can be described as a minimalistic pop track about falling in love with someone who is hesitant to label the relationship, while the latter is a contorted electronic symphony that transitions from whispered choruses to hard-hitting rap verses. Sonically, the synthetics on Charli are heavy and the production is often richly dark, setting the tone for thought-provoking commentary on tracks, such as the lovesick “I Don’t Wanna Know,” in which Charli sings, “Kisses fall on her lips/kisses that should be mine/I don’t want to know … what you’ve done” and the evocative ballad “Thoughts,” which questions her friendships and using drugs to numb the pain while riding through Hollywood.
Charli XCX is an artist that represents the bright, experimental future of pop music.
Charli, as a record, is boundlessly liberating, decadently indulgent and irresistibly danceable, thanks to the opposing emotions of joy and heartache that are embedded within warped club tracks and intimate ballads. Charli is the most refined and polished project that the artist has produced, and listeners should be excited to see where she’ll go next in her interesting career. It’s that spontaneity — her need for authentic reciprocity and the internal need to embrace and share raw emotions — that will always set Charli XCX apart. She’s a shining example of what it means to take chances with your craft and deliver authentic pop gold along the way.