Following the beloved pandemic album How I’m Feeling Now, Charli XCX is back with her latest project titled Crash. Using yet another reference of cars, like in “Vroom Vroom”, “Backseat” and “White Mercedes,” Charli explores a more mature and confident side of her production with sounds that are familiar to loyal fans but still friendly to new listeners. Her perspective on the pop music genre has become clearer than ever and it truly shows who Charli XCX is not only as an artist but also as a pop star.
Introducing a New Era
Released in September 2021, Charli XCX dropped her first single from the album, “Good Ones.” The single is an invitation for fans of Charli and unique music to this new era, which slowly walks out of the experimental hyperpop realm to a more electro, synth wave period. The track is hypnotic, punchy and nostalgic in all the right spots.
As a collaborator at heart, Charli XCX is never ashamed to bring her friends and fellow artists to the studio on her project. During the start of her career, Charli XCX gained popularity from her collaborations with other artists like Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It” before landing her first massive hit as a solo artist with “Boom Clap.” From Lizzo, Troye Sivan, Tove Lo, to BTS, it’s safe to say that everyone is eager to know whose name will be listed in this new project.
“New Shapes” was then released the same year in November alongside the announcement for the album. The song features French singer-songwriter Christine and the Queens and American singer Caroline Polachek. The song is has heavily ’80s-inspired production with high use of synth and mechanical drums. As both Christine and Caroline have worked with Charli XCX on her previous album, Pop 2, it was no wonder that “New Shapes” became a fan favorite and the perfect second single for Crash. It shifted the sound from the energetic bangers of “Good Ones” to an emotional vocal performance with an upbeat twist.
The next single, which featured Rina Sawayama is “Beg For You.” The song really ties all the singles into one album together. It has nostalgic and euphoric vibes with a garage beat that brings back the 2000s pop sound. “Beg For You,” however, feels very underwhelming and predictable, as many expect something more from two artists who are known to have a unique sound and perspective on pop. Even with a remix by A.G. Cook, featuring a K-Pop group artist and a huge Charli’s Angel, Seventeen’s Vernon, it still couldn’t help to satisfy fans or even mainstream listeners as it tries hard to be a radio hit.
What “Beg For You” reveals, however, is Charli XCX’s true intention in this new project. “What I began to feel was I needed to do something unexpected,” said the singer in an interview with NPR, “I felt that if I had made another album that was wholeheartedly going down this road of, as you say, hyperpop sound, I just feel like it wouldn’t have been very challenging. Not only for me but also for my audience who I feel like do expect me to challenge them.”
With a change of direction and a dip into the mainstream pop genre, Charli XCX can’t escape from fans’ criticism and disappointment over this new era. And they are not left unheard either since the singer has become very vocal and open to her fans on Twitter and even got into an argument with fans over the direction of the new album. “to me this is undeniably my most coherent era. Like OBVIOUSLY. whether you LIKE it or don’t, I don’t care but it’s cohesive & consistent (sic),” Charli tweeted in response to her fans criticizing the singles she’s been putting out as “not doing it for me,” following the release of her last single from the album “Baby,” a disco-pop song with funky guitar riff sparked with sex appeal that reminisces of the pandemic pop viral songs like Doja Cat’s “Say So” or Dua Lipa’s “Levitating.”
Ok – I’m not mad – promise – I just find the commentary interesting so I had to just dip into Stan world for a sec: to me this is undeniably my most coherent era. Like OBVIOUSLY. whether you LIKE it or don’t, I don’t care but it’s cohesive & consistent:
— Charli (@charli_xcx) March 1, 2022
It was obvious then that Charli XCX is trying to change her narrative as the queen of hyperpop, as she moves into the mainstream popstar lane by going with the trend and shaping it to her style, in order to make the perfect pop album. She’s not doing it for the fans, critics, or radio, but she’s making it for the genre. She has successfully brought the hyperpop genre into the mainstream and now she’s trying to break the mainstream pop sound to convey its strength and potential as a genre. She mentioned in an interview with MTV, “That was definitely a kind of theme for me for the entire album; Power and the idea of power balance. Especially within the music industry, like taking the power back. But then also questioning how much you’re really taking the power back if you’re playing into an archetype of what a woman is supposed to be in pop music, and not really like presenting answers to that question, but more just like leaving it out there for people to interpret.”
In the end, the wait and the controversy camping under the release of the full album is worth it overall. Crash was released on March 17 and received raving reviews from critics and love from many fans. The build-up and the slate of singles that were released beforehand were so perfectly constructed that the process of waiting, the online discourse and the anticipation became part of the album as well.
The album starts with “Crash” which is just the most perfect way to welcome fans to this album. Repeating the line “I’m about to crash into the water, gonna take you with me. I’m high voltage, self-destructive, end it all so legendary,” Charli XCX warns listeners that this ride is not going to be smooth, but rather, deadly (in a fun way). It instructs listeners to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, as they explore this new road that Charli is going to crash into.
The track is then followed by the previously released singles “New Shapes” and “Good Ones” that explore the toxicity of relationships. In “Good Ones”, Charli presents the idea of a different kind of love that’s unattainable and shares its pain with her friends featured in the song. The song revealed how love isn’t always meant to be and the possibility of better things if this love doesn’t happen. This idea is then explored more with “Good Ones” as Charli XCX sings about wanting a more dangerous and sexy love rather than a simple one. Both of these songs revolve around the idea of a thrilling and exhilarating love that we’re never sure to avoid or to fight for. With the change of sound from dramatic 80s to upbeat generic pop, both songs turn to the listener to choose which love is good for them.
“Constant Repeat” and “Beg for You” then come with a perspective of hopeful and naive love. “Constant Repeat” serves as a bubblegum pop song that, just like its name, is full of repetition of beat and lyrics. “Beg For You” then follows with a British garage sound that uses the nostalgia gimmick to capture old love and feelings of loneliness. Sadly, it feels very empty at the core and just feels like radio hits bait which still fails to attract mainstream audiences. “Beg For You” just feels like a hit and miss, which is unfortunate considering that many fans have been waiting for the artist to collaborate with Sawayama after her debut album success in 2020.
Right in the middle of the album comes the best song from this album: “Move Me.” This track presents a perfect combination of Charli XCX’s melodious vocals and striking falsetto with an addictive beat and a perfectly timed anti-drop in the chorus. It’s emotional but still unexpectedly body moving. She then brings you straight to the dance floor with “Baby”, a disco-pop with ear-pleasing instrumental and fun ad-libs. It’s just an all-around fun and hooking song with the right amount of sexiness and funk. These two songs capture the theme of this album correctly and are definitely the most striking track from this whole album.
“Lighting” is a techno-pop song with heavy sound mixing and flamenco influence throughout the song. It’s striking and amusing which is basically the key to a good Charli XCX song. The album takes a different turn with “Every Rule,” ballad with a techno twist. Produced by A.G. Cook, Charli XCX manages to turn a ballad pop into her own style, a true staple of this album. She explored every version of what pop could be and turned it into her own style charmingly, making it one of the best albums by the artist yet.
“Yuck” is another fun retro pop with a kicking beat and witty lyric that’s a pattern in many Charli XCX songs with the use of the onomatopoeia and explicitly sarcastic flirty line. “Used to Know Me” then picks up the retro-pop sound a couple of notches by bringing more electro-funk into the mix and turning it into a club banger with an attractive synth beat.
The album then ended with a soft symphonic song, “Twice”. Charli XCX said in an interview with Apple Music: “I had reservations about making this the last song because it’s such an obvious choice with the key change and outro,” and she was right to put it on the end as the song talks about the subject of anxiety around the end of the world and directly touches on this idea of mortality that is present behind this album. It wrapped up this album gracefully as liseteners reached the end of the road and finally crashed into the water, back to reality.
Charli said in an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, “We want to explore what’s next. That’s like the nature of art. That’s like the nature of a creative person. We need to continue to move and evolve. That’s what a good artist does and that’s why it’s challenging. That’s why we can’t do the same thing over and over again.”
There is no denying that Crash is truly one of Charli XCX’s most interesting projects. From the anticipation, pushback and concept, Crash manages to tackle every challenge on its way and reach its destination with confidence and self-assurance. Even if listeners weren’t fully satisfied with it, they can know that Charli XCX herself is content with this project.
The concept of a car crash is unavoidable throughout the whole album. From the idea of death and even to its beat drop, Crash perfectly pictures this story with thorough details and diverse colors. Just like a car crash, the album is quick, sexy and fatal. It drives the narrative of self-control, pleasure and power in a way that leaves everyone struck. Charli XCX shows the fans that none should have doubted her, and to trust the process.
Listen to Crash here:
Featured Image via Charli XCX on Twitter.