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Album Review: Charli XCX’s BRAT

By Ansharah Shakil, July 2 2024—

BRAT is Charli XCX’s sixth studio album, released June 7 with a deluxe edition released on June 10 (entitled Brat and it’s the same but there’s three more songs so it’s not). Charli, who started performing at illegal London raves when she was fourteen and whose stage name used to be her MSN display name, threw herself and those experiences into the messy, outrageous qualities of BRAT, which was immediately highly acclaimed and wildly successful upon its release.  

The commitment to the album’s themes is real for Charli, to the extent that on streaming platforms the album covers of all her previous albums have been changed to look similar to the low-res lime-green cover of BRAT. The move is as confrontational as the album itself, a sign that BRAT is a genesis of Charli’s discography: her debut True Romance in 2013, the punk-inspired SUCKER in 2014, 2017’s Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, Charli in 2019, the lockdown album how i’m feeling now in 2020 and CRASH in 2022. 

Despite the commercial success of CRASH it was, according to Charli herself, a “sell-out record,” not as risky as the Vroom Vroom EP,  Pop 2, or how i’m feeling now. Vroom Vroom was a turning point for Charli, while how i’m feeling now is one of the best albums to come out of quarantine. Pop 2 is a fan favourite — or a cult classic, in the words of Charli on “Von dutch”, her first single for BRAT. Almost every song is a collaboration, featuring artists from Carly Rae Jepsen to Tove Lo to Tommy Cash to Kim Petras to MØ, who blended with Charli’s sound to create a unified pop triumph. BRAT is strictly Charli, outside of remixes released for singles, and in its execution it’s far closer to Pop 2 than Crash

When Charli has entered the mainstream pop scene, she’s been a sensation — her hit collaborations with Icona Pop on “I Love It” and with Iggy Azalea on “Fancy”, the massive phenomenon of 2014’s “Boom Clap” and her recent successful venture of the Barbie movie-featured “Speed Drive”. Crucially, this kind of success didn’t exactly last. Charli has never since reached the colossal height of these songs on the charts. She’s a critical darling, but her career as a whole fringes on the periphery of the mainstream, often drifting back to the underground scene she began in. 

On BRAT Charli reveals her own preoccupation with her status as a musician: on “Rewind” she sings, “I used to never think about Billboard / But now I’ve started thinking again / Wondering ’bout whether I think I deserve commercial success.” Maybe the cool thing to do is to act like she doesn’t care how successful she is, but no matter how breezily confident BRAT is, Charli isn’t interested in pretending that she’s never been insecure. Instead she’s confident about being insecure. “I went my own way and I made it / I’m your favourite reference, baby,” she sings on album opener “360”. 

BRAT swings back and forth between two extremes: blasé, cocky anthems and moody, obsessive songs depicting feelings of grief, discontent and jealousy. Charli is as green with envy as her album cover one second, and more self-assured than anyone you’ve ever heard the next. “I don’t feel like nothing special,” she laments on the downbeat “I might say something stupid”. Over the glitchy beat of “sympathy is a knife” she agonises over those insecurities: “Cause I couldn’t even be her if I tried.” And the raw, vulnerable vocals of “So I” are a heartfelt tribute to SOPHIE, Charli’s long-time collaborator and friend who passed away in 2021. 

On the opposite end of that introspection is a tongue-in-cheek energy, like a series of drunken confessions — seen in the flirty euphoric pop of tracks like “Talk Talk,” which leads into the disruptive, decadent “Von dutch.” Charli’s albums have always had moments of pure addiction, two minute songs you could play on repeat for hours without noticing. “Speed Drive” was proof of that, but “Von dutch”, with its gritty electroclash beat and snarky vocals, takes it to a whole other level. 

The lyrics are viciously fun — like the pointed “Do that little dance, without it you’d be nameless” and in particular the entire chorus of “Von dutch, cult classic but I still pop / I get money, you get mad because the bank’s shut / Yeah, I know your little secret, put your hands up,” which is followed by the drawled-out refrain, “It’s so obvious, I’m your number one.” Charli shapes pop and up like she’s blowing bubblegum, emphasised with a hitch at the end that makes the chorus irresistible. “It’s okay to just admit that I’m the fantasy,” she sings, bored in a vaguely smug way — but even in an album preoccupied with performance, Charli isn’t selling a fantasy. She’s exposing the cracks in the fantasy of celebrity culture, from diet culture and beauty standards (“Rewind”) to motherhood and stardom (“I think about it all the time”) to female friendships (“Girl, so confusing”) to a commentary on internet it-girls (“Mean girls”, reminiscent of 2010s David Guetta). 

Songs like “Apple” — with its sunny synths and bleeding-emotion lyrics — are standouts and so are the bonus tracks, especially the nostalgic club production of “Hello goodbye” and the brazenly audacious “Guess.” Single “Club classics” is a self-assured dance anthem while “B2b” is one endless club night with each bewitching, echoing “back to back” leading to a few final breaths at the track’s close. The delirious, ecstasy-fuelled and party-obsessed “365” is “360” turned up to eleven, and a perfect bookend to the album

BRAT is a dance record about catharsis. It’s sensitive, spoiled, stunning and undeniably honest, all on purpose. In an age where artists are trying, desperately, to be liked, to be resonant to an audience that watches their every polished move, Charli is in-your-face about how relatable she is and isn’t. For that very reason, she feels real. 

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