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Charli XCX Reanimates Her Popstar Past on CRASH

The underground pop icon’s self-described “sellout era” still contains the work of a well-studied pop historian. 

by Ben Boddez

Even when Charli XCX, an artist typically regarded as one of the most forward-thinking pop stars on the planet, half-jokingly refers to her latest album as her “sellout era,” you can still expect a couple subversive twists alongside the catchy, stadium-ready hooks that she’s so experienced at crafting. While the British alt-pop sensation’s latest certainly doesn’t have the same hyperpop-leaning tunes to tide over her cult following, Charli’s latest sees her deconstructing the idea of the mainstream major-label pop star, rather than the sounds they typically make.

Charli intentionally handed over writing duties on her lead single to Swedish superproducer Oscar Holter and starred in product placement-heavy music videos, but has sent Tweets explaining that it’s all part of an attempt to let the mainstream slowly warm up to something a little outside the norm, bringing some fellow pop visionaries like Rina Sawayama and Caroline Polachek along for the ride. The resulting music feels like Charli genuinely trying her best to appeal to a general audience while throwing in a couple nods to her more colourful past in the form of chopped-up vocals and robotic harmonies. In any case, when someone is this good at pop music, it’s hard to throw your support behind one side or the other.

Said to have been inspired primarily by Janet Jackson’s hits, the album runs between uptempo 80s dancepop, smoother R&B slow jams, and the electronic boom of the 2000s. Sampling some campy classics like September’s “Cry For You” and Robin S’ “Show Me Love,” CRASH is the sound of an experienced pop historian appreciating her genre’s past before taking a full-fledged leap into its future. As this is the last album on her major-label contract, there’s no telling what kind of sonic insanity we might receive from her next. As it stands, this is a pretty fun way to close a chapter. 

Best Track: Lightning