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Exploring Charli XCX’s main pop girl motif

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SOMA CHU | STAFF

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AUGUST 09, 2022

“I’m a hot girl/ Pop girl/ Rich girl,” sings Charli XCX on her electrifying latest single, “Hot Girl.” She chants these three boastful assertions with an intoxicating conviction, selling her listeners the illusion of evocative confidence. But the central submission — her self-proclaimed status as one of the pop girls — stands on more than her cadence. 

Charli’s adoration for pop iconism is familiar to her dedicated fandom. During the press run for her last LP Crash, she welcomed an alluring “main pop girl” persona. She formulated an album brimming with radio charm and complete with celestial sounds and vocoder effects. Following this design, Charli sculpted her talents into the songstress mold, but what is this prominence she chases on Crash and declares on “Hot Girl”? 

According to the pop aficionados and fervid tweens on Reddit and Twitter, “main pop girl” stature is achieved via household success. Imagine the artists who circuit the charts, selling millions of albums: the Adeles, Dua Lipas and Olivia Rodrigos of the world. Although not to the same level as Grande or Gaga, Charli did cultivate some commercial success. Her earliest features and singles — the EDM-filtered “I Love It” and the cinematic “Boom Clap” — landed her on the A-List for some time. But as fast as she rose to attention, Charli soon reverted to the electronic roots of her debut True Romance and abandoned the Billboard Hot 100.

Her brief run with the charts could elucidate her current releases. If the fashionable sounds of “Good Ones” and “Hot In It” were to shatter through the Top 40, might she join the coveted “main pop girl” roster?

This argument falters, though, when one ignores the high-gloss advertising of Crash and listens to the material. Here, Charli XCX is still Charlotte Aitchison, striving for pop ingenious. “Lightning” unites the chaos of Pop 2 with ’80s melodrama, and “Used to Know Me” hints at an outlandish ’90s dance revival. Her nostalgic innovation did not derive from current trends — it reinvigorated them. Rather than emulating an aesthetic, Charli’s pop girl exterior aims for higher ground. 

Accordingly, Charli holds her ear to the internet. Amassing more than four million followers on Instagram, her fans repost upcoming glitch-core creators; and on Twitter, newsletters promote unsparing articles about her music. At once, she can see both the extensive influence and ruthless assessment of her catalog. 

In 2016, Pitchfork condemned her enigmatic EP Vroom Vroom with a score of 4.5, yet five years later, the publication admitted to not understanding the pleasure in her music and rescored it as 7.8. Popularized by the hyperpop record label PC Music, the duo 100 gecs released their album 1000 Gecs & The Tree of Clues in 2020. Cat Zhang of the magazine celebrated their futuristic record as “wild” and heeded the warning to listeners: “It’s fun. Don’t think too hard about it.” Yet, despite also producing at the pinnacle of this genre, Charli did not receive the same warmth. Perhaps the public acclimated to her musical surrealism — or her critics failed to forecast her influence.

The “main pop girl” motif is her form of recognizing this cultural shift. It is not her aiming for another radio hit or pining after ultra-fame. It is her laughing at publications for ever discrediting the minds of A.G. Cook and SOPHIE — because now, their sound infiltrates the mainstream.

Therein lies the drive behind Crash and her latest singles: Charli XCX is reasserting as well as commenting on the power of hyperpop. “Hot Girl” proclaims her status as one of the pop girls, for she not only envisioned but also shaped how modern musicians sound. 

Her satirical narrative is incomplete without her co-pioneers as context. A.G. Cook, one of Charli’s dearest collaborators, slinks behind mainstream song credits. Lady Gaga enlisted his foresight on her remix album Dawn of Chromatica, and on the record, he camouflages the demanding synths of hyperpop with the contemporary writing of “911.” And Gaga is not the last star to borrow from the genre either. Just last month, Beyoncé secured Cook’s writing on “All Up In Your Mind,” an anthem off her house-flair album Renaissance.

An icon and foundational artist of the glitch-core genre, SOPHIE also partnered with pop stars. Madonna enrolled her abrasive aesthetics in the 2015 single “Bitch I’m Madonna.” Adorned in unapologetic confidence, she glamorizes fame to comical heights — a trope SOPHIE established in 2013. SOPHIE parodied romanticism in the song “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye” with visions of naive love amid high-pitched vocals. Her intuition to revere cliches predicted the most fabled minds in music, even at the beginning of her career.

Although the superstar image Charli flaunts is ironic, the substance it carries is not far from the truth. Sure, critics and consumers might detest their ecstatic vision at the moment, but the pendulum will inevitably swing. Along with her PC Music innovators, Charli prophesied the sonic framing for chart-topping hits and artists. Number One Angel painted the silhouette for ’80s reinvention, and Pop 2 presented paradigms for what music could be. 

Her capturing of the “main pop girl” aesthetic is not an imitation — it is an oracular impulse.

Contact Dominic Ceja at [email protected].
LAST UPDATED

AUGUST 09, 2022


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