Recognized these days as the poster girl for hyperpop music, Charli XCX has honed her craft in unapologetically avant-garde tendencies, from the electro-industrial songs of Charli to the do-it-yourself, aesthetically rough narrative of how i’m feeling now, so it’s fair to want to ask her why she thought going back to her mainstream pop roots on her new album, Crash, is a good idea.
Most of her interviews during Crash’s rollout season hit this query head-on, to which Charli, tongue-in-cheek, says that she did it as a “deal with the devil”-type maneuver: finally giving in to Atlantic Records’ demands of making a more accessible pop record (Crash is her seventh-and final-album with the company). Others might see it as a gesture of subservience, but her track record, Crash included, makes it obvious that it’s more of a ceremonial f-you to the hardy music giants that hounded her to change her public image in their relationship’s early days.
And what a serve this f-you is. Unbothered by the few disapproving PC music crowds and defiant of the mainstream pop staples, Charli has curated Crash as probably her most cohesive and electrifying album to date. It grabs your neck and leaves you breathless at the very first beat of the title track, a Janet Jackson-inspired bop that evokes urgency as Charli warns the listener that she’s taking them with her as she crashes into the water.
Right off the bat, the English powerhouse’s surprising (but very welcome) musical evolution is apparent: Crash and New Shapes display her new melodic stylings that blend seamlessly with the songs’ instrumentals, as opposed to her older efforts where it feels as if she makes it a point to separate her vocals with the digital and metallic hyperpop productions. New Shapes highlights this new direction, in which Caroline Polachek and Christine and the Queens complete the effortless siren-singing trio in front of a retro-synth backdrop.
The third track, Good Ones, is Charli XCX’s first token TikTok song on the album, a debilitatingly short synth track that would have benefited greatly from a killer bridge (think No Angel and Boys). It would be easy to completely brush it off as an afterthought for creating easy money on the notoriously volatile platform if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s just so damn good. The trippy baselines and Charli’s weepy falsetto into a somber pre-chorus highlight Oscar Holter’s insane direction on this track, where his attention to instrumental detail takes hold of the listener.
With the next song, Constant Repeat, where the singer chastises a past lover for letting her go (Do you realize I could’ve been the one to change your life? / You could’ve had a bad girl by your side), it’s hard to not notice that a huge flaw for the entire album is its succinctness, and it’s a shame that the tracks stop before the kettle starts whistling. Still, every single song is wrapped ever so neatly with a tiny little sellout (as she calls it) bow, leaving its listeners with no moment to not dance to high-energy glitz.
The critically-acclaimed Rina Sawayama, one of indie pop’s greatest rising stars, joins the English songstress in Beg for You, a revamp of September’s Cry for You. Perhaps the most thoughtful collaboration in ages, the noughties-championing Sawayama adds a flair of smooth Y2K-ness in this love letter to a 15-year-old club staple and demands that 2000s music be on the airwaves again. Beg for You sits almost smack dab in the middle of the album, effectively coating a thick layer of maximalist stylings on it and helping it distance itself from 2020’s similarly loud how i’m feeling now.
Move Me then comes and highlights Charli’s vocal prowess in a power move, stripping away all the instrumentals in the middle of the chorus and letting its listeners take in her palpable longing for her lover (It’s something ’bout the way you move me / It’s something ’bout the way you save my life / Something ’bout the way you hold my body tight even on my lowest night). This career highlight does what most bops don’t: evoke an extreme sense of desire to yearn alongside the artist.
And then Baby comes next.
Baby is probably the weakest and least interesting song on the album, relying heavily on a stringy hook and relatively tame funk percussions to flimsily carry its unapologetically female-empowered, sex-driven narrative. With that said, Baby still does its job of being catchy and sultry relatively well. What it lacks in depth and originality, it more than makes up for in its snappy and catchy form, albeit a little repetitive. A good worst song is always an indicator for a powerful album.
The seventh song’s mishaps are even magnified with Lightning, a Belinda Carlile-inspired anthem that does everything Baby tried to do, but better. Charli’s deep thoughts on being ready to love again, cons and all, is bolstered by a power-pop arrangement that packs quite a punch with its vocal harmonies and cheery arrangement, carrying the song’s message with ease and finesse with the help of what is arguably the singer’s best lyrical content in her career (Like seeing shooting stars in the sky / There’s danger in the dark of your eyes / But something ’bout you brings me to life / Got me here and now / Heartbreak already hit me once / They say that it won’t happen twice).
Yet another career highlight comes in the shape of Every Rule, the album’s only ballad, and undoubtedly Charli’s best of all time. The guilty pleasure track for loyal partners lowers Charli’s guard and lets her bask in the rare moment of vulnerability as she recalls a past tryst with a third party (And we know that it’s wrong, but it feels real fun / Sneaking around, falling deep in love / But sometimes I get scared / ‘Cause I know it’s not fair / I’m hurting someone else instead). A perfect blend of soft synth and R&B, this serenely introspective track is a perfect breather for the 1-2-3 pop punch to come.
Charli then embraces a dreamy synth-pop aesthetic with Yuck, a cute candidate for topping on Tiktok with its insanely catchy chorus and humorous lyrics (singing “yuck!” while half-heartedly professing your adoration for someone is peak tsundere humor on the app, let’s be honest). The playful and airy tune continues Every Rule’s tame vibes, presenting itself as something that might not stick out like a sore thumb with Carly Rae Jepsen’s pop masterpiece, Emotion.
The penultimate track, Used to Know Me, feels like a half-measure in maintaining an album’s final act. Although it is a smart move to lean towards a more upbeat note to end a bop-riddled album, Used to Know Me comes across as filler with its lyrical repetitiveness similar to that of Baby. The song’s sampling of “Show Me Love” by 90s house music juggernaut Robin S. doesn’t help with its identity crisis, either. Despite being a pretty okay song on its own, it can’t help but feel too small when grouped with hard-hitting up-tempo bangers like Crash and Beg for You.
Fortunately, Twice closes the album on a high note, employing longtime collaborator Linus IV (Gone, Cross You Out, New Shapes) to conjure up a lighthearted production that embodies the why-worry-be-happy leanings of the closing track (Up on the hill, we’ll see it all end / Die happy thinking ’bout my best friends / ‘Til then I’m diving off the deep end / “Don’t think twice about it,” I say). A lesser daredevil of an artist might employ this move and have it come off as tacky and cliché, but Charli’s supersonic ear for pop as an artistic canvas, as well as her signature autotuned-yet-effortless vocals, combine to create an ending track in the leagues of Pop 2’s Track 10 and Charli’s 2099.
In the end, Charli XCX manages to create one of the most confident and cohesive pop albums in recent memory, further cementing her position as one of the most important figures in mainstream music—despite her groundbreaking contributions to the indie and hyperpop scene. Crash ends her career as a major label artist (for now), but it is far from the closer to her lively, loud, and rambunctious trip that displays this album as its strongest champion. 4.2/5