Published Sep 13, 2019It's taken Charli XCX five years to follow up her last proper studio album, 2014's Sucker. But the Charli that made that album is not the Charli found on Charli.
In the intervening years, across a handful of singles, EPs and mixtapes, Charli XCX, born Charlotte Aitchison, radically rearranged her approach to music. Where she was previously known as a dependable writer, guest artist and hit-maker in her own right, she's now taking on a new role: that of convenor.
Charli boasts 14 different collaborators across 15 tracks. On the surface, there's little to connect artists like soft-rockers HAIM, the multi-hyphenated Lizzo, trans pop sensation Kim Petras and dance producer Yaeji, but dig a bit and it becomes clear that these are artists with very specific visions of what pop can (or should) be. Opener "Next Level Charli" one of the few songs on the record without a featured performer, lays out the vision in its rapid-fire opening lines: "I go hard, I go fast, and I never look back," she sings. "Roll wit your friends 'til 7 a.m."
Rather than play favourites, Aitchison — a fan at heart (most of the artists that appear on Charli were previously featured on her Spotify playlist "The motherfucking future") — gives each artist the space to make their case. Lizzo adds her "juice" to "Blame It on Your Love" the original version of Pop 2's "Track 10" that's anchored by a beat eerily similar to Lumidee's "Never Leave You (Uh Oh)." "Shake It" is a booty-shakin' showcase for Big Freedia, cupcakKe, Brooke Candy and Pabllo Vittar, while Sky Ferreira helps Aitchison make a break with her past on "Cross You Out." The result is a big tent vision for pop's future, one that is notably predominantly queer and/or female.
Paradoxically, Charli is simultaneously Aitchison's most personal album to date. Aitchison has never been one to speak in metaphors; her work is more about straight talk. "After the After Party," "1999," "Boys" — each is about exactly what its title implies. That she retains this approach when singing about her fears, anxieties and struggles with fame and mental health, while still delivering the kind of dance-floor bangers she and her fans love, only adds more weight to lines like "I try real hard, but I'm caught up by my insecurities" and "I feel so unstable, fucking hate these people."
Despite the disparate styles and messages, there's a seamlessness to the record that can only be credited to Aitchison and frequent collaborator and executive producer A.G. Cook's deft songwriting and production. They've created an Event Pop Record with purpose, pointing the way forward while positioning Aitchison as a pop artist with something to say.
"Don't make decisions for me, you don't know nothin'," she sings on the record's penultimate track, "2099," before laying out her agenda one more time: "I'm Pluto, Neptune, pull up, roll up, future, future." (Atlantic)