Charli XCX Is a Pop Prophet on the Brilliant 'BRAT'

BY Josh KorngutPublished Jun 7, 2024


Pop music's resident party girl returns with BRAT, a messy, shimmering magnum opus and an undeniable career highlight. The sixth proper full-length album from Charli XCX vibrates with the confidence of an artist operating in their final form; it's as exciting and challenging to play as the last level of an alternate-universe Nintendo 64 racing game. We may only be at the year's halfway mark, but Brat is undoubtedly the Rainbow Road of 2024 pop records.

After a decade of outracing pop culture and leaving the mainstream in the dust of her lavender Lamborghini, Charlotte Aitchison has finally lapped herself, allowing the rest of us to catch up. While the new record is as disruptive as ever, it still comes across as somewhat accessible after years of her subtle but undeniable influence on popular music.

When Charli released the SOPHIE-produced Vroom Vroom EP in 2016, critics and audiences didn't know what to make of the noise and the faint waft of VCR cleaner. No more. She's gone from marching in the vanguard of pop's battlefield to running her own wing of its castle.

While Brat is a boldly evolved state of Charli XCX, it's still a record in direct contact with her formative roots. Standout track "So I" is a pulsating power ballad interloping the late SOPHIE's 2017 anthem of softness "It's Okay to Cry." True contemporaries Aitchison and producer A.G. Cook are the only people who'd know what to do with her samples: iridescent shards of magical queer crystal, like glowing dragon scales. The late producer's influence is heard throughout this new project, but never more clearly than on "So I," a welcome showcase of Charli at her most mature and spiritually aligned, despite its difficult push-and-pull of remembrance and regret.

Abstractly, BRAT conjures another pop music prophet who fully came into her own around her seventh album. The groundbreaking, electronica-infused Ray of Light is arguably the best work of Madonna's career, a record that boldly pushed the needle of pop into more profound and experimental spaces. The maverick production of William Orbit even mirrors A.G. Cook's work on BRAT, two producers who are likely the most powerful wizards of electronic music from their respective eras. Both albums are so confident and zoned in that they sound spiritual, and both records share confessional views on motherhood and artistry. On "I think about it all the time," Charli reflects on the possible future of building a family while humming, "I think about it all the time / That I might run out of time / But I finally met my baby / And a baby might be mine."

While BRAT is undoubtedly the most mature record of Charli's career, its tightly braided themes still allow for moments of brazen pettiness. On "Rewind," Charli is openly desperate for mainstream success and is bravely honest about her insecurities surrounding the charts. "I used to never think about Billboard / But now I've started thinking again / Wondering about whether I think I deserve commercial success," she rambles, seemingly lost in thought and hardly remembering to sing or even rhyme. Like so much of the album, it's a refreshingly honest portrait of a pop star.

However, Charli's insecurities surrounding success aren't BRAT's only moments of honest pettiness. In the official year of the diss track, Charli casually steps out of her Lyft just in time to reinvent the trope like only she could. "Girl, so confusing" is a song that never explicitly names its antagonist/obsession, but with lyrics like, "They say we've got the same hair," true heads can be sure she's alluding to alt-pop contemporary Lorde. Or is it Marina? Or maybe Rina?

"Girl, so confusing" signs off with respectful distance and an attempt at mutual understanding. "You're all about writing poems / But I'm about throwing parties / Think you should come to my party / And put your hands up," Charli suggests, and it only comes across as slightly underhanded.

BRAT is a refreshing rejection of pop music's obsession with niceness. In light of Lizzo's recent brush with cancellation, it's clear that Mean has become the McCarthyism of popular culture. Some artists go to great lengths to wrap themselves with the cloak of kindness (see Ellen DeGeneres and Jonathan van Ness), and when the veil inevitably slips, consumers are quick to demand their pound of flesh. But since when did we expect our pop culture leaders to be so goddamn nice?

On "Mean girls," Charli pays homage to all of the messy Lana Del Rey fans who stay out too late and aren't long from complete cancellation themselves. "You say she's problematic / And the way you say / It's so fanatic / Think she already knows you're obsessed," she spits with intimidating clarity. It's fun to listen to and even relate to… as long as the mean girls in question are more in line with the problematic genius of Azealia Banks and less the edgelord darkness of Dasha Nekrasova.

BRAT is Charli XCX at her best, cementing the party girl as one of the most influential artists of her generation. It feels like a historic moment in pop, a masterwork in the vein of Lana Del Rey's Norman Fucking Rockwell! or even Fiona Apple's blazing Fetch the Bolt Cutters. A rare and energetic vision of unfiltered creative impulse from a brilliant prophet of pop. 


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