2019 has been a good year for pop, with the ladies slaying it. Kim Petras’ Clarity is a non-stop blast of contemporary perfection. Chicago’s Pixel Grip, fronted by Rita Lukea, cornered the indie dance subgenre with their debut Heavy Handed. Both of these releases are by proud LGBTQ artists, the proliferation of which, in the last few years, has been unprecedented and impressive.
And now comes the third release by Charli XCX — the simply titled Charli — who’s been a fierce ally to our community and has a contact list nearly as impressive as her shiny, fun, synthetic pop confections. The Charli album features 15 tracks, more than half of them collaborations with artists as diverse as the aforementioned Petras, Troye Sivan, Big Freedia, Brooke Candy, Lizzo, CupcakKe and more. She cedes the spotlight to her featured guests out of generosity — and smarts: why else have them? Yet make no mistake about whose record this is. She involves collaborators to keep herself fresh and engaged.
“All of the collaborators that I work with are opening me up to so many different sounds and styles,” Charli XCX has said. “A concoction of all that makes a more unique sound.”
That may sound like delusion coming from a woman responsible for such highly contagious and ultimately disposable cuts such as Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and the Sophie-produced future ratchet of “Vroom Vroom.” And a listen to current single “Gone” featuring Christine and the Queens, or even the tracks with Troye Sivan on Charli — “1999” and “2099” — wouldn’t dispel that impression.
Yet one of the qualities that has made the woman born Charlotte Emma Aitchison such a fascinating figure is the divide between her middle-of-the-road commercial instincts and her experimental streak. Since she began working with the PC Music collective in 2015, which includes the iconoclastic Sophie and label head A.G. Cook (who co-executive produced the Charli album with the artist), her pop tunes could be just as likely to break down into orchestrated industrial noises (as on the stripper anthem “Shake It” featuring Big Freedia, CupcakKe, Brooke Candy and Pabllo Vittar) or digital static (as on “Click” featuring Kim Petras and Tommy Cash) as on a sure-fire chorus.
That’s kept her under the radar for a large portion of the pop audience, and beloved by her taste-making cult. Yet it’s only a matter of time before she dominates the landscape. The world has some catching up to do with Charli XCX, who is both fully of-the-moment and the way of pop’s future.