Charli XCX

The Hoxton, Toronto ON, October 10

Charli XCXThe Hoxton, Toronto ON, October 10
Photo: Kevin Jones
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After a year spent contributing to pop smashes for other artists (Icona Pop's "I Love It" and Iggy Azalea's "Fancy") young London singer Charli XCX (born Charli Aitchison) finally has a hit on her own terms. But the unexpected success of "Boom Clap" forced her label to push back the release of her new record, Sucker, until December, leaving their star-in-waiting on a promotional tour with nothing to promote.

If the situation bothers Aitchison, there were no signs of it in her live set. Backed by a three-piece, all-female band, she stormed the stage at the packed Hoxton, eliciting screams from the young, all-ages audience as she launched into "Sucker." The song, like many in her catalogue, is a fuck-off break-up anthem (it's chorus: "Fuck you, sucker!") whose protagonist refuses the wallow in the misery of a broken heart.

Lacking the professionally trained dance moves of her many contemporaries, Aitchison appears natural onstage, often head-banging to her own guitar-bass-drums combo. Tracks from last year's underrated True Romance were peppered into the set, but many selections ("Breaking Up, "Famous") come from her forthcoming album and should be foreign to the crowd. Yet many have clearly been watching live clips on YouTube, as they sang along to every word.

Maybe it was because she (and her band) were decked out in a Union Jack dresses, but on stage Aitchison comes across like a foul-mouthed Ginger Spice. She even had the crowd chanting "pussy power" near the end of her set. That attitude is reflected in songs like "You (Ha, Ha, Ha)" and "Break the Rules," even if most of her stage banter was limited to introducing songs and shouts of "Toronto!"

Mega-hits "I Love It" and a reworked version of "Fancy" both found their way into the set, and were greeted with as much fervour as many of Aitchison's own work. "Superlove" and "London Queen" might not have cracked the charts, but they've certainly found champions amongst her established fans who passed homemade gifts up to the singer. Still it's curious that she skipped stronger material like "What I Like" and "Nuclear Seasons" in favour of tracks like "Grins,' before inevitably ending the set with "Boom Clap."

Few left the show uncertain of Aitchison's star power. But while she's firmly carved out her own niche in the pop market, it was clear from the mix of people in the crowd — teen admirers, packs of bros and Bay Street types still in suits — that audiences are still trying to figure out who Charli XCX is. But it's that ability to straddle the lines between pop and dance music star that's carried her this far. So why would she stop now?

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