Charli XCX

”I went my own way and I made it” are the opening lyrics on Brat, the sixth studio album from Charli XCX, and they triumphantly back the pop artist’s claim of solidifying herself in the crowded genre. This record is filled with club ready anthems about falling in and out of love, while still leaving room for showcasing her vulnerable side as well. Coming off of the success of her fifth record, Crash, in addition to several key movie soundtrack contributions, it would’ve been easy for Charli XCX to simply just ride the popularity wave and not add anything new to her repertoire. Brat instead is a remarkable achievement in artistic freedom, and comes armed with frenetic beats, soaring hooks, and breakneck tempo changes. While pop music has changed quite a bit over the last half decade, the ability of Charli XCX to stand out from the pack remains her greatest asset.

”360″ is the second single to be released from Brat and seems like the logical jumping off point from Crash, as it follows a similar creative path in its construction. The synths are dripping with bravado, and the pointed lyrics of “That city sewer slut’s the vibe / Internationally recognized / I set the tone, it’s my design / And it’s stuck in your mind,” highlight the singer’s ability to grab your attention and never let up. With so many tracks that are ready for the sweaty dance floors, it seemed only appropriate for Charli XCX to drop “Club Classics,” a song about that exact environment. “Sympathy Is A Knife” comes packed with heavy synths and sweeping hooks as she swoons on the chorus of, “Cuz I couldn’t even be her if I tried / I’m opposite, I’m on the other side / I feel all these feelings I can’t control / Oh no / Don’t know why / All this sympathy is just a knife / Why I can’t even grit my teeth and lie / I feel all these feelings I can’t control / Oh no / Don’t know.” Charli XCX’s ability to be remarkably more interesting than the beats she constructed are a mark of a star.

The vulnerability of her words becomes more impactful on songs like “I Might Say Something Stupid,” a piano-laced ballad that finds her picking up the pieces in her life, yet still trying to remain cautiously optimistic. Things get back to a more comfortable tempo on a Lady Gaga-esque beat of “Talk Talk,” that provides the perfect musical landscape for Charli XCX to explore. Lead single “Von Dutch” follows in the sequencing with some revved-up synths, backed with a steady beat, that is sure to be a popular play on DJ sets throughout the heat of summer.

The sweeping instrumentation found on “Everything Is Romantic” is breathtaking, while the repetitive lyrics of “Bad tattoos on leather tanned skin / Jesus Christ on a plastic sign / Fall in love again and again” offer a stark contrast to the atmospheric elements brought in the mix. “Rewind” plays out like a 80’s-stylized jam with the sound of a cassette tape being rewound in real (reel?) time added as a blend of sounds that play off of each other a bit brazenly.

The back half of Brat opens with the ultra-vulnerable “So I” that provides the listener a glimpse into Charli XCX’s headspace as she croons and admits on the first verse, “Wish I’d tried to pull you closer / You pushed me hard made me focus / Your words, brutal, loving, truthful / I was petrified / You’re a hero and a human / Track was done, I’d make excuses / You’d say, ‘Come on, stay for dinner’ / I’d say, ‘No, I’m fine’ / Now I really wish I’d stayed.” The lyrical wordplay is well-timed and fits the mood of the music concisely. “Girl, So Confusing” sounds like it would’ve been a nice choice for the Barbie soundtrack with the refrain of, “Girl, it’s so confusing sometimes to be a girl.” The depth of the song is pretty shallow, yet Charli XCX provides the confidence to prevent the track from being a throwaway, and instead gets it to play out like a dancefloor ’24 update of No Doubt’s “Just A Girl.”

Other songs like the bouncy “Apple” get in and get out in the pop sweet spot of two and a half minutes, while “B2b,” or “Back to back,” features a pretty cool vocal cadence to it that is sure to be stuck in your head for days on end. “Mean Girls” has some ultra-sharp synths backed with a second verse of, “Yeah, it’s 4 AM and she’s out there / With a razor sharp tongue stuck to skinny cigarettes / Calls him daddy whilst she’s fingering a gold cross / And she’s kinda fucked up but she’s still in vogue,” to provide some context to the type of clientele Charli XCX is showcasing. The closing duo of “I Think About It All The Time” and the speedy vocals found on “365” put the light on the various things that she is “bumping,” while the DJ-laced outro ends rather abruptly before wrapping up the record.

The B-sides that were released from the session today included the smooth pop bliss of “Hello Goodbye” that would’ve been a bright spot in the middle of the original Brat sequencing, plus the bubblegum dance pop on “Guess” mesh well with the overall stylistic choices that she went for here. “Spring Breakers” is the only song that feels a bit like an outsider, so it makes sense as a deluxe edition “tack on.” Charli XCX is continuing to develop her sound in new and exciting ways on this album, and much like a real-life brat, it’s a record that will stubbornly be staying around on the charts for quite some time.