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Charli XCX – Pop 2 Review

March 8, 2018 | Posted by David Hayter
Charli XCX
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Charli XCX – Pop 2 Review  

1. “Backseat” (feat Carly Rae Jepsen)
2. “Out Of My Head” (feat. Tove Lo and ALMA)
3. “Lucky”
4. “Tears” (feat Caroline Polachek)
5. “I Got It” (feat Brooke Candy, CupcakKe and Pabllo Vittar)
6. “Femmebot” (feat Dorian Electra and Mykki Blanco)
7. “Delicious” (feat Tommy Cash)
8. “Unlock It” (feat Kim Petras and Jay Park)
9. “Porsche” (feat. MØ)
10. Track 10

“I got it, I got it, I got it, I got it”, so sings Charli XCX on Pop 2 and she’s not wrong. She unmistakeably has something, but what exactly? Certainly not conventional star power: no matter how cutting edge her albums or big her hits (she penned “I Love It” by Icona Pop), Charli has never threatened to top the charts. And yet the feeling persists that she is a popstar with her finger on the pulse, a magnificent blend of good and bad taste, modernity and retrospection, irony and sincerity. She’s certainly quick footed. She beat most of the indie kids to 90s revivalism (see Sucker), but moved on before the scene descended into self-parody. Then again, Charli also has an ear for unexplored avenues. When PC Music and Maximalism seemed set to fade from view, she saw untapped potential: combining the genre’s harsh Day-Glo edges with her garish braggadocio and the blurry haze of trap.

Pop 2 does little to clarify or codify exactly what makes Charli XCX so special. Releasing her second mixtape in as many years, Charli appears to have given up on traditional LPs, instead throwing out collections of music that speak to her current headspace – more a guide to what and who she is listening to than a coherent statement of artistic intent. Still, between the Vroom Vroom EP, Number 1 Angel and, now, Pop 2, Charli has unleashed a ferocious onslaught of thrillingly unrefined pop music. There is nothing as fully realised as 2017’s “Boys”, a singular aesthetic complete with a viral video designed to break the Internet and inspire thought pieces. Instead, Charli’s murky mechanical sound (a hyperactive hybrid of PC influences and her True Romance broodiness) serves as a backdrop for the singer and her allstar friends to indulge their sonic and sexual fantasies.

Charli is coquettish, filthy and satisfied as she stumbles from one relationship and fleeting fuck to the next. Pop 2’s tone and subject matter is dictated, almost explicitly, by her guest stars. On the brilliant “Backseats”, Carly Rae Jepsen wholesome sweet pie insecurity drives her songwriting towards lonesome longing and teary reminiscence. When the sordid and salacious Brooke Candy and cupcakKe team up on “I Got It”, all self-doubt is vanquished and ruthless sexual self-confidence is the order of the day. The results are uniformly thrilling, if a little underdeveloped and slight. The influence of trap is both intriguing and dispiriting. Charli is capable of penning addictive choruses and inescapable melodies, but she’s often reduced to rhythmic repetition and blurting out vacuous slogans (“Unlock It”). The songs themselves aren’t bad (quite the opposite), but they are decidedly lightweight in places.

Still, if Charli’s role is occasionally reduced, she’s certainly learnt how to make the absolute most of her enunciation. Mimicking the likes of Future and Quavo, Charli manages to wring as much charisma and distinction out of her throaty London accent as possible. Entire choruses exist in this hiccup middle ground. It’s as if she’s turned the glottal stop into a melodic device. These vocal and tonal gymnastics give Pop 2 an incredible sense of vigour, Charli personifies her subject matter and the shifts in delivery, tone, volume and aggression are stark and sudden. Occasionally the cultural appropriation appears hallow – “Tears” is wonderful, but right on the borderline of bad taste in the verse, luckily its screaming chorus is utterly brilliant – but this scene hopping abandon is consistent with the party girl raised on adolescent warehouse parties (this is the sound of 17 year old I used to see at raves in Dalston).

Sooner rather than later, Charli will have to deliver a more fully realized and definitive project, but, in the meantime, Pop 2 is a exhilarating smorgasbord of modern art pop, full of fly-by-night sonics and passing personas. Her last two mixtapes have been jam packed with so many ideas and influences it’s hard to imagine what single sound she will eventually alight upon, but truth be told, that’s her problem – we can simply sit back and marvel at another joyously creative collection.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Unburdened by expectation Charli XCX delivers her second mixtape in as manner years. Surpassing its predecessor, Pop 2 bristles with creativity and bravado. It might be underdeveloped and a little shallow, but, truth be told, that's half the fun.

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Charli XCX, David Hayter