Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Charli XCX dances to her vulnerabilities on Brat


Release date: 07 June 2024
Charli XCX brat cover
05 June 2024, 09:00 Written by Matthew Kim

Near the end of Brat, English pop pioneer and superstar Charli XCX dedicates a song to her “mean girls".

The out all night in last night’s makeup, glorifies Lana Del Rey, a little bit messed up, and “you hate the fact she’s New York City’s darling” ones. If her latest album – a set of rave-y dance songs digging deep into the artist’s insecurities and looking good while doing it – is an attempt to court that crowd, it’s so good that it might as well be pandering.

Whereas Charli’s previous full-length effort Crash was her most garden-variety-pop release in years, recreating the synthpop of the late 20th century with a modern flair, Brat is a diametrically different kind of dance record: she “came from the clubs,” as she said in a post on X, and to the clubs she shall return. Brat is chock-full of grimy, booming synths, driving drum-machine beats, and repetitive hooks; these tracks would be best experienced by a headbanging, borderline-violent crowd surrounded by smoke machines and illicit hallucinogens. At fifteen tracks, the album’s club-friendly repetitiveness can make it a bit of a stretch to get through, especially because a few tracks feel less essential than the rest. But overall, it’s still surprisingly exceptional as a front-to-back listen.

That power and cohesion is due in no small part to the album’s producers. Electronic music visionary A.G. Cook, who has led Charli’s production work since the mid-2010s but largely took a backseat on Crash, has his fingerprints all over Brat; he even gets a shoutout on each of the album’s first two tracks. It’s all the little A.G. touches – the cutesy piano melody in “Mean girls,” the choice of synth on the outro of “Rewind” – that make this album feel a little closer to Charli’s comfort zone, if one can even call it that. Her PC Music-inspired, pioneering, avant-garde, abrasive comfort zone.

Even if Brat is Charli’s most bouncy, propulsive album, though, it’s also her most vulnerable.

It’s a common trope for pop artists to write introspective lyrics a couple times per album, in an attempt to show that the pop star, too, is a human being. Maybe the ambitious will write a whole album talking about their feelings. But Brat isn’t just inward-looking – it’s a full-on self-character dissection, delivered with all the rawness of a self-hating Notes app rant. Some tracks appear to be about other pop stars explicitly, and most delve into Charli’s most difficult feelings, from generational trauma to body image issues to an obsession with the Billboard charts. She describes herself as inhabiting the “background” at clubs, wonders aloud whether or not her contemporaries actually like her, expresses her fear of actually meeting someone for the first time in real life, asks if she “deserves commercial success,” laments how much she over-analyzes her face shape. She sings about how her jealousy of other pop stars can drive her to suicidal ideation; she writes about her fears that her parents’ generational trauma might have reached her. Even when paired with bombastic dance beats, this is easily the most insecure, dark album Charli has ever released. And in context, the few songs where Charli sounds fully and unreservedly secure in herself – “360,” “Von dutch” – start to sound less like re-affirmations of her greatness and more like attempts to convince herself of it.

Brat isn’t entirely mournful, though: on occasion, moments of hope filter through the misery of celebrity that pervades Charli’s lyricism. On “Everything is romantic,” she pens a list of small joys – “Bad tattoos on leather tanned skin / Jesus Christ on a plastic sign / Fall in love again and again / Winding roads doing manual drive” – and repeats it again and again, clinging to the beauty in those otherwise-insignificant moments. And at the end of the album on the penultimate “I think about it all the time,” she writes about meeting a friend and her new baby: “standing there, same old clothes she wore before, holding a child”. It’s these moments of vitality that cut through the insecurity and suffering throughout most of Brat, reminding Charli and her audience simultaneously that life can be – and is – beautiful, despite everything. “My career feels so small in the existential steam of it all,” she writes on “I think about it all the time”. Maybe it is.

By the end of the album, Charli seems to have no memory of her vulnerabilities. Instead, on album finale “365,” she raps over a sped-up mix of opener “360” about looking hot, calling an ambulance, and generally having what sounds like the craziest house party of all time. It’s superficial, unpoetic, unimportant – and absolutely deserved. She sounds more alive than she has in years. After over a dozen tender, depressive, beautiful club tracks, by the end of Brat, Charli is ready to actually be at the club. And you know she’s going to shine at its centre.

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