Charli marries past and future of pop music with unique sound

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Marcus Cooper | Atlantic Records Press

Sven Larsen

As the reign of pop music seems to be waning on the tops of music charts, singer Charli XCX has remained hyper-focused on defending the genre. 

With the release of her new album, Charli, the artist provides listeners a successful and white-knuckled attempt to prove that pop still has some life in it. 

After months of snippet reveals on Instagram, a leaked and then scrapped original record called XCX World and a copious number of singles, Charli was released on Sept. 13 as the English singer’s third studio album. 

Despite this being her first studio album since 2014, Charli XCX has not let pop become hushed by slowing tempos and whispering vocals without a fight.

The award-winning songstress has been busy outside of the typical progression pop singers are expected to follow. 

In 2017, Charli XCX released two mixtapes, Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, chalked full of quirky collaborations with production from record label PC Music powerhouses like SOPHIE and A.G. Cook.

The high-pitched, blown-up and abrasive electronic quality of PC Music, paired with its futuristic and caffeinated aesthetic, can be too much for many casual listeners, but Charli XCX, who mastered the pop genre, knows how to balance all this out with the sticky choruses and unfeigned emotion she’s played with on past releases. 

It’s this genetic engineering of pop’s DNA, taking the successes from its past and splicing them with emerging genres and vanguard styles, that creates the 15 pop mutations on Charli

These tracks fully encompass the already expansive career Charli XCX has had, ranging from her most party-devotee anthems to vulnerable pennings. 

Charli XCX curates a blend of these two types, often providing calm distinctions to the blustering clatter of her more PC Music-orientated tracks, sometimes all in the same song.

Directly after the mechanic and metallic thrashing at the end of the song “Click,” Charli relaxes into “Warm,” a muted dancehall tease of a track that features the smoothing harmonies from HAIM. 

This abrasive sound on “Click” isn’t rare for Charli XCX or PC Music, but the bratty verses from Kim Petras and the English singer drive the piercing production with an equal amount of punch that makes it stick out, even on such a sonically focused record like Charli.

Known outside of music for throwing must-go-to parties, Charli XCX is Charli’s ideal host, assembling a VIP guest list of featured artists that helped make past releases like Pop 2 fan favorites. 

Again, mixing mainstream pop with styles boiling right under music’s surface, Charli XCX invites everyone, from emerging pop pros like Petras and Troye Sivan to undefinable rappers like CupcakKe and Tommy Cash to indie talent like Clairo and Sky Ferreira.

Charli XCX provides ample room for other artists to shine, sometimes causing her to reduce her own exposure, such as on “Shake It,” in which she becomes a transition sample among the track’s four guests. 

Between CupcakKe’s ASMR-esque bars and the slushing distortion on Charli XCX’s vocals, “Shake It” plays around with setup and style more than most pop songs featuring rap features do.

The partying and dancing don’t stop Charli XCX from crying in the club on Charli. She trades sorrowful pleas with Clairo on “February 2017,” one of Charli’s greatest examples of using dramatic production to exemplify the emotion behind the music.

Charli XCX resurrects the saccharine and simple ballads from mid-2000s pop on “Official,” where she expresses love at it barest with lyrics such as “no chocolate and no bouquet” and only needing “the way that you kissed me.” 

The verses’ melody harks to an earlier Paramore or even Taylor Swift sound, but the chorus’ fluttering and swirling production reminds everyone that this is still Charli XCX people are listening to. 

Charli XCX’s own love for nostalgia and pop’s heyday run rampant on Charli, made obvious by “1999” featuring Sivan. 

This praise for the past defines what Charli is; despite being dubbed as the pop music of the future by publications like Pitchfork, Charli XCX does her best work when reflecting on the past — both her own and pop music’s — with the use of modern-day styles. 

It’s not until the last track, “2099” featuring Sivan again, where Charli XCX’s time-traveling ends, tying Charli off with a glimpse to what the future may bring for music.

It is unknown what pop will be like in 2099, but Charli XCX proves it still has room to evolve 

Charli sees Charli XCX not returning to form, but instead refusing to conform to current trends while respecting the genre’s legacy and becoming one of the genre’s  leading figures today.