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Charli XCX Revisits Her Roots and Redefines The "Pop Star" Title on BRAT

"Wondering about whether I think I deserve commercial success, it's running through my mind. Sometimes, I really think it would be cool to rewind," Charli XCX confesses on "Rewind," the eighth track on BRAT, the pop star's latest album released today. The record sees Charli revisiting her past, drawing from her roots to create rave-infused, coked-up dancefloor anthems. Navigating "commercial success" on her own terms, she redefines pop formulas with her genre defining experimentalism, in pure Charli fashion.

Photo by Richard Kern

There was a time when Charli XCX inhabited the pop landscape from a more voyeuristic standpoint. With her signature red-tipped bob and penchant for metallic and tulle-heavy outfits, she lingered on the periphery of pop stardom as an anti-pop star. A "visionary" for some and "She's the girl that sings I Love It, right?" for others, she has danced between embracing and rejecting mainstream conventions throughout her career.

In an era where media training turns A-list artists into polished personas capable of seamlessly replacing politicians in terms of how eloquent and never-contradicting their discourse are, Charli remains a refreshing anomaly. When she released Crash, her album with the broadest mainstream appeal, where she was expected to assume the persona of a sell-out pop star, the role didn't quite fit. She didn't come across as a two-dimentional artist spouting rehearsed press releases; her discourse was peppered with contradictions, reflecting her nuanced views on Crash. She openly admitted to wanting to benefit from her label's resources and selling out, yet later expressed a genuine love for the record, later saying that there were tracks on that album she wouldn't willingly listen to herself. With her latest record BRAT, however, Charli appears more assured in her artistic vision and industry position. She isn't playing a role but sticking to herself, therefore, the "Main Pop Girl" title finally sticks convincingly too. The album showcases Charli merging her underground left-field work with her innate pop charisma, redefining the essence of being a pop star in her own idiosyncratic manner.

The opening track 360 not only sets the tone for the BRAT era but resumes her artistic universe up until that point. Despite the in-your-face directness of the lyrics, it perfectly encapsulates her path. Charli highlights her distinct journey within the music industry by singing "I went my own way and I made it, I'm your favorite reference baby," The song's production, reminiscent of her iconic Pop 2 era, pays homage to her longtime collaborator A.G. Cook, affirming their undeniable influence with the line "You gon' jump if A.G. made it." With its blend of past references and poppier sound, the song exudes with a well-deserved self-affirmation. The following track, Club Classic—more like a CULT CLASSIC!—is, in my opinion, her best single from this release cycle. George Daniel's production is unmistakably his, blending elements of wobbly synths that bounce off each other. You can practically smell the sweat of a packed dancefloor.

The aloofness that once defined Charli's lyricism has softened, now revolving around a playful brattiness, as examplified by questions like "Who the fuck are you?!" heard in 365, the closing track of the record. The emotional distance of her earlier work now seems to represent a past version of Charli, as she sips neon orange drinks on the beach and falls in love again and again. Statements like "I will break your heart, I am distant and I am cold" have, for the first time, been replaced with aww-inducing lines like "Should I stop my birth control? I finally met my baby and a baby might be mine."  Another relationship she constantly mentions is the one she has with other women in the industry. In Girl, so confusing where she sings as if she's summoning Uffie back from her Pop The Glock days, we get a closer look at Charli's relationship with a mysterious "girl", a relationship intertwined with jealousy, confusion and admiration. This theme contrasts with the pulsating beats that seem to be taken straight from an indie-sleaze bible, making the track a fully rounded expression on its own. Sympath is a knife rings a similar tone thematically, where Charli shout-sings "I couldn't even be her if I tried" with her highly processed and pixalated vocals.

Gesaffelstein, renowned for his dark and intense electronic soundscapes, lends a helping hand on the album with production credits on I might say something stupid and B2b." In B2b, his signature pounding rhythms and hypnotic sonic architecture create an immersive experience. The track culminates in a powerful crescendo, marked by heavy breaths that echo the frenetic energy of the dancefloor and embody the vibrant, tumultuous life of a party girl, that is Charli herself.

BRAT isn't just another album release; it's a pulsating, green neon-lit manifesto, a vibrant testament to Charli XCX's journey through the labyrinth of pop stardom within the tangled vines of mainstream culture. In an era saturated with formulaic discourses and rehearsed vulnerabilities, Charli emerges as a refreshing specimen of a pop star, simultaneously enigmatic and approachable. BRAT marks an inseparable fusion of her past and present, artist and artistry. It's the Charli XCX that I love, not only breaking the mold but shattering it into a million kaleidoscopic pieces, leaving behind a trail of her left-leaning creativity that still resonates as it pulsates all through the night on multiple dancefloors, a subtle rebellion within the grand scheme of mainstream pop.


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