Charli XCX Launches an Exhilarating New Chapter of Pop With the Innovative ‘Brat’: Album Review (2024)

Charli XCX has been one of pop music’s leading innovators for more than a decade, and like so many innovators, she’s long since moved on by the time most of the world reaches the place she just was.

She’d scored several major chart hits by her early twenties — her own “Boom Clap,” Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” —but (characteristically) got bored with it quickly and made a dramatically hard pivot by collaborating with hyper-pop patron saint Sophie on the brittle “Vroom Vroom” EP. Over the next few years, working with fellow Sophie collaborator A.G. Cook and others, she gradually merged that sound with her pop instincts into a hybrid of glitter and glitch that climaxed with her brilliant 2017 mixtape “Pop 2” and the 2019 album “Charli.” She didn’t invent it, but the pop-with-rough-edges fusion was a sound she’d been evangelizing for years.

Related Stories


AI Could Contribute to Virtual Production Sector Growth

Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Lana Del Rey Star at U.K.’s Ivor Novello Awards

True to form, by the time hyper-pop became a thing, she was already charging off in a different direction with 2022’s “Crash,” which had bigger, louder hooks and a synthy ‘80s sound that moved away from the glitch (Cook was present on just a couple of songs), but wasn’t without its sharp edges. That album is a favorite for many fans who’d been alienated by the noise on the previous records, but didn’t feel quite as groundbreaking. Apart from a few stray singles — including the Robyn-and-Toni-Basil-interpolating “Speed Drive,” from last summer’s “Barbie” soundtrack —she’s been relatively quiet for the last two years.

Popular on Variety

But with “Brat,” she’s launched a bold new chapter, and again it’s a sound that combines what she’s done before with new elements —it has the effervescent hooks of her best work and the shimmer of hyperpop, and lots more. She said in the weeks leading up to its release that “Brat” is a club album — a deceptive description, because although there are a lot of fun and club-friendly tracks, but there’s a lot more besides.

The album changes moods surprisingly smoothly with nearly every track, not just musically but lyrically: The songs swerve between boastful swagger and shriveling insecurity and vulnerability, and are autobiographical in their conflicted feelings about fame, success and her own worth; there’s also a heart-rending tribute to Sophie, who died in 2021 after a fall, called “So I.”

The changes in moods can be head-spinning. On the third track, she’s singing about a woman who makes her feel insecure: “This one girl taps my insecurities
/ Don’t know if it’s real or if i’m spiraling … Don’t wanna see her backstage at my boyfriend’s show/ Fingers crossed behind my back/ I hope they break up quick/ Coz i couldn’t even be her if I tried” (Charli’s boyfriend is 1975 drummer George Daniel, who is of course bandmates with Matty Healy, sooo…?). But then two songs later she’s boasting boldly like a rapper on the dancefloor-wrecking “Von Dutch” (“It’s OK to just admit that you’re jealous of me, you’re obsessing just confess/ It’s obvious I’m your number 1”) and then two songs after that, she’s back to insecurity on “Rewind” (“Sometimes I just wanna rewind/ I’d go back in time/ To when I wasn’t insecure,
to when I didn’t overanalyze my face shape”).

Along with all that comes a lyrical maturity she hadn’t shown before, as a couple of the songs have character studies, like the one in “Mean Girls”: “Yeah it’s 2 a.m. and she’s out there
in a sheer white dress wearing last night’s makeup/ All coquettish in the pictures with the flash on, worships Lana Del Rey in her airpods.”

But “Brat” would be a masterful album even if all the lyrics were simply about clubbing — it’s melodically and musically sophisticated, with remarkably detailed production. As always, she’s a serial collaborator, and A-list coproducers here include Cirkut, George Daniel, El Guincho, Gesaffelstein, Hudson Mohawke, Finn Keane and others, and A.G. Cook is back in the copilot seat,bringing his shimmering arpeggios and countermelodies to a majority of the songs. Charli’s albums are always headphone-headf*cks but, to single out just one WTF moment, on “B2B” there’s a segment where her voice is looping “back-back-back” over a blurping bass, trap beat and woozy, careening synthesizers. “Mean Girls” has a jazz-piano solo — over a wildly autotuned vocal track, of course — and there are even subtle flashes of her previous songs (“Vroom Vroom” on the new album’s jarring “Club Classics,” “Fembot” on “Rewind”).

But for all the musical and lyrical advancement, Charli’s greatest leap forward here may be as a vocalist: She’s never been afraid to shape-shift her voice into wild and bizarre new forms, but hers is an unusual style that’s equally informed by pop, hip-hop and experimentation — it’s a fusion of singing and rapping that can have a hip-hop-like pileup of syllables riding a complicated but natural melody, capped with a wordless “Ah-AH-ahhh.” On the ballad “I Might Say Something Stupid,” a subtle autotune gives her heartfelt vocal an automaton aspect that oddly adds to the insecurity of the vocal (reflecting that, the song just drops off after she sings, “Not sure I belong here”).

The lyrical and musical pendulum continues right up until the end of the album. The penultimate track, “I Think About It All the Time,” is a musing on motherhood. Counterinituitively, she blurts out a deeply personal line with Imogen Heap-style computerized melodicism — “Should i stop my birth control? / Coz my career feels so small
in the existential scheme of it all” — that may be a way of distancing herself from the heaviness of the sentiment.

And it closes with a polar opposite, a reprise of the bouncy opening track, “360,” retitled “365,” with lyrics about doing drugs in a club: “Shall we do a little key?/ Shall we have a little line?/ Meet me in the bathroom if you’re bumping that/ French manicure, wipe away the residue.”

Innovation and self-examination aren’t supposed to be easy so it shouldn’t be surprising if the results are a little messy emotionally —but it’s rare for them to be this fully realized in every other way. “Brat” vaults Charli back to the front of the line as a pop innovator, not that she’d ever slipped.

Charli XCX Launches an Exhilarating New Chapter of Pop With the Innovative ‘Brat’: Album Review (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Aron Pacocha

Last Updated:

Views: 6372

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (68 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Aron Pacocha

Birthday: 1999-08-12

Address: 3808 Moen Corner, Gorczanyport, FL 67364-2074

Phone: +393457723392

Job: Retail Consultant

Hobby: Jewelry making, Cooking, Gaming, Reading, Juggling, Cabaret, Origami

Introduction: My name is Aron Pacocha, I am a happy, tasty, innocent, proud, talented, courageous, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.