Charli XCX and friends go speedin’ past her pop peers with the release of 2019 record ‘Charli’

Categories:  Music    The Arts
Friday, September 27th, 2019 at 11:01 AM
Charli XCX and friends go speedin’ past her pop peers with the release of 2019 record ‘Charli’  by Livia Homerski
Press Photo: Atlantic Records

In a genre that grows more tired, repetitive and behind-the-times, and as aging moguls continue to beat pop radio listeners over the heads with their predictable formulas, Charli XCX becomes more and more important with each passing year. Released on Sept. 13, “Charli,” the newest full-length effort from the artist, is an album that rises above, galloping toward the future of what pop could be if said moguls would let artists create for themselves.

A continuity of attitude, themes and aesthetic has built XCX’s body of work, and the opener, “Next Level Charli,” embodies what she’s all about: the magic of a moment, the extremes of good and solemn feelings, and the thrill of speed. The booming energy and promise of thematic collisions sets us up for the rest of the record.

Charli XCX has a knack for collaboration with other producers and artists, and “Charli” has features from over 13 artists and producers from over 10 different countries, a progressive power move of racial, cultural and LGBTQIA+ representation.

“1999 (feat. Troye Sivan),” originally released as a single in 2018, is the most traditional pop song on “Charli,” and definitely the most radio-friendly. It’s nostalgic, upbeat, catchy and gives the ’90s kids of the world another dance anthem to play between *NSYNC and Britney.

The following song, “Click (feat. Kim Petras and Tommy Cash),” is by far the most explosive song on the record. Very unlike the 2017 track “Unlock It (feat. Kim Petras and Jay Park),” which was a bubblegum-coated love song (and still my favorite Charli release), “Click” drops the rose-tinted glasses of love and goes harder. This song drips in gold and a bad-girl attitude thanks to German popstar Kim Petras and Estonian rapper Tommy Cash. Of course, the only way to go out with a bang on a song as commanding as “Click” is by ending with a shattering glassy and metallic sound collage thanks to popular PC music producer A.G Cook.

A few songs later, we get to “Blame It On Your Love (feat. Lizzo),” which is a much bouncier, friendlier version than its glitchy, emotional predecessor “Track 10” (from “Pop 2”). Where “Track 10” expanded and explored various dramatic electro-pop and PC music-inspired breakdowns, “Blame It On Your Love,” is more of a dance party bop.

Lizzo’s carefree and sparkling personality is wonderfully displayed in her feature, but it felt too short. She comes in toward the end of the song to do her verse, throws down some subtle ad-libs in the chorus and then the song is done. Even if we needed more Lizzo, the overall brevity was welcome on the 15-track release, so “Blame It On Your Love” can be chalked up as short but sweet.

My favorite track on “Charli” would have to be the experimental and infectious “Shake It (feat. Big Freedia, CupcakKe, Pablo Vittar and Brooke Candy).”

The song begins sparsely, with XCX repeating, “I shake it, I shake it, I shake it, ooh,” in various sound effects like pitch modulation, Auto-Tune and a wild liquifying effect. Bounce pioneer Big Freedia then kicks off the features: “Oh, it’s a migraine, make them pupils dilate” she booms. After a quick transition, Miss CupcakKe whisper-raps before showing off her commanding cadence and humor with one-liners like, “Told ’em this a** a miracle, like my name Watts.” Brooke Candy and Brazilian drag queen and rapper Pablo Vittar then take turns spitting raunchy bars in English and Portuguese, respectively, before the song wraps up by repeating XCX’s chorus over rhythmic snaps.

As much as goes right for “Charli,” I felt like some songs weren’t as developed, or just didn’t show enough star power to stand out compared to others, particularly “Warm (feat. HAIM),” “White Mercedes,” “I Don’t Wanna Know” and “February 2017 (feat. Clairo and Yaeji).”

“Warm” feels soft, to the point of being off-putting, and too low-key considering the sonic war that just popped off during “Click.”

Similarly, “February 2017” just didn’t really stand out by the end of the album after the powerhouse “Shake It.” The middle of the album is where much of XCX’s emotional solo music like “White Mercedes” and “I Don’t Wanna Know” kind of drags on until we get something upbeat again, like the optimistic and candid dating in the social-media age anthem of “Official.”

Although the album flow is a bit choppy, it seems as though XCX tried to juxtapose her highs and lows, but with a 15-song tracklist, there’s more room for a progression or more of a storyline. But Charli XCX does what she wants, and as she says on “2099 (feat. Troye Sivan),” the last song on the record: “I pull up, roll up, f**k up. Don’t make decisions for me, you don’t know nothin’.” This is her vision, her world and her expansion of what a pop record in 2019 can be.

Tags: music review

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