Will “Charli” Be Next Level? - “Charli” Singles, Ranked
By Caroline Whyte, Shianne Salazar, and Katie Lesh
Caroline: I often say, “nothing could make me not like Charli XCX,” and… this is true for me, I am shameless! But with this Friday, September 13th, marking the release of her first industry recognized “album” in five years, WVUM’s self-diagnosed angels are holding her music accountable and asking ourselves, “Will this level truly be next level?” With her most recent mixtapes being very musically progressive, backed by the production of PC Music founder AG Cook and industry innovator SOPHIE, there are high stakes for this album, for her fans have become accustomed to these futuristic pop sounds. However, her production and writing on this album are still backed by Cook, as well as with sounds from the likes of Lotus IV, EASYFUN, Dylan Brady, and Umru. To best predict what we’ll get this Friday (tonight, eek!), we ranked the released singles from our personal opinions of most favorite to least favorite.
“Gone” ft. Christine and the Queens
Shianne: Released as the third single from the Charli rollout, “Gone” displays a strong grip from the moment XCX steps into the synthy atmosphere and declares “I have to go, I’m so sorry.” As listener’s we are immediately concerned and want to follow Charli wherever she plans on going. More than likely a metaphor for her career going forward, this July single tops our Charli list for a multitude of reasons, beyond the simple fact that it is infectious as hell. This is to be expected, this is Charli XCX we’re talking about. But what gives this song a clear edge is the vulnerability displayed in the lyrics detailing the singer’s struggles with acceptance, likely in regards to her status as an outlier in the field of mainstream pop music. Instead of becking to the tropes that often lead to greater commercial success, as she did with her last studio album Sucker in 2014, Charli officially declares herself “gone” from the constraints of expectations, decides to do it her way and with a beautiful assist from Christine and the Queens, Charli XCX creates a bold statement and even greater signifier of what to anticipate next.
Caroline: I’m a sucker for this song’s pre-chorus as well as the coda. To die for! I also think it’s great to note how this song felt like a complete song and perfect blend of both of their styles.
“2099” ft. Troye Sivan
Shianne: Reuniting with Australian pop icon Troye Sivan 100 years after the events of last year’s “1999” for the closing track of Charli, the duo certainly make good on the futuristic innovations that the title suggests. After about 30 seconds of what sounds like the noise aliens probably make in unassuming corn fields, Troye drops in with an almost robotic flow that is very atypical for the singer given his reputation for synth-heavy ballads. Lyrically, the singers compare themselves to big machines, planets, and napalm to assert their presence in the music industry and the culture at-large. They seem so confident in their “visions” and “levels” that it doesn’t matter if nobody else gets it right now, they are, or rather Charli is, preparing for the future of pop music. That’s always been her M.O., to push boundaries that most artists don’t even see. Truthfully, this song is very difficult to describe but that’s exactly what makes it so exciting. It's unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, the production is both airy but industrial, crashing and chaotic in places, soft and subtle in others. The listening experience really does feel like a voyage into the future.
“February 2017” ft. Yaeji and Clairo
Katie: In this song, XCX joins forces with bedroom pop queen, Clairo, and (my personal goddess of house music) Yaeji on the track “February 2017.” To my surprise in this track, Charli drifts away from the experimental production style of PC Music and rather allows Yaeji to bring in house music influences of her own. Genius producer A.G. Cook displays a different side of himself on the track as well, in which I believe brings out different sides of all of the artists. I was a little bit timid of the track at first because although I love all of the artists featured on the track individually, I wasn’t exactly sure how they would all fit together. Clairo’s dreamy and subtle vocals compliment Charli’s perfectly without any harsh changes that would steer any listeners away. It was a beautiful juxtaposition to Charli’s own sound that she typically produces. Although, this isn’t the first time Clairo has been tracks with such sound. In SG Lewis’s “Better”, which her vocals blend beautifully and show the range of how versatile she truly is. As for Charli and Yaeji, this isn’t the first time they’ve worked together. Yaeji’s remix of “Focus” was a smash hit in my opinion, and was a perfect preview for how Yaeji and Charli’s sound would work together. In the outro, Yaeji takes center stage with her spacey vocals. They provide a different dynamic to the rest of the track. I am interested to see how this song in particular fits in with the rest of the album. Overall, the collaboration was extremely unexpected, but honestly, it has become one of my favorite collaborations of the year. Because of that, it shows the versatility of all of these women and brings out the best sides of them in every way. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it is one of my personal tracks from Charli!
Caroline: Admittedly, I was also nervous for this tune. Contrary to Katie’s opinion, however, I was thrown off by Clairo’s smooth and understated vocals when mixed with Charli’s more bold sound. It caught me off guard, but as I listened more and more, I got used to it and actually began rather enjoying it! Further, this track was produced by AG Cook and Planet 99, a rather new name in the cyber-pop scene. I think the sparkling texture of this sound mixed with the inverse vocal styles really created a dreamy ambiance that cultivated the nostalgia and romanticizing of the time of “February 2017” that Charli apologizes for in her lyrics. On that note, I think the lyrics and title of this song hold high significance. February, 2017 is a time that I personally associate with the conception/finalizing of the “Number 1 Angel” mixtape, which was full of torn and heartbroken and confused lyrics. In summation, I think perhaps that relationship that she heavily wrote about in that mixtape is the one that fell apart and is depicted in this song. This is one of the first times since the single “No Angel” that we are hearing Charli apologize for her actions in relationships, and it’s honest and intimate and introspective. Mwah!
“Cross You Out” ft. Sky Ferreira
Caroline: If you’re anything like me, you remember Sky Ferreira as the bleached blonde, edgy pop princess who was plastered over your middle-school self’s Tumblr dashboard. Well, Charli and Sky’s collaboration was rich with all of that juicy and shameless nostalgia, full of sharp synth plucks, a rumbling and grumbling bass pad, and a squeaky but shiny drum kit. Their voices play off of each other very well, in my opinion. In this song, both shine with glam-rock goddess vocals and a more emotional, “shouty” chorus, while still sounding cool and paced. This song is great for: looking out windows on a rainy day, singing in the shower (pretending to be Sky’s “Night Time, My Time” album), and everything in between.
“Warm” ft. HAIM
Caroline: I can’t not dance to this track. The kick x bass, dancey beat that is reminiscent of “3AM (Pull Up)” off of “Number 1 Angel” is just an undeniably fun beat. Charli’s first collaboration with the sister trio HAIM is a cool blend of Charli’s sound with a new sound for HAIM. Though I haven’t been too invested in HAIM’s discography, I associate them mostly with a more rock-influenced sound. So, when they took this change with Charli, I think it was very inventive and fun for them. But was it groundbreaking for the “Charli” album? I think that, when the album comes out, this will be a song I go back to, both for listening while chugging along on the train’s commute and for dancing with friends in my room! It is ranked as such solely because it was somewhat predictable and underwhelming, in my opinion. This single is reverting back to where “Number 1 Angel” was, I think. I feel like for “Charli,” I was expecting more of a hyper-futuristic, rule-breaking, cyborg-femme sound, and with HAIM, perhaps I was picturing a collaboration more similar to the likes of her collab with Carolina Polachek in the tune “Tears.” However, this song wasn’t disappointing to me, and I will continue shamelessly busting a move in my room.
“Blame it on Your Love” ft. Lizzo
Caroline: At the dawn of Summer 2019, I got word that Charli XCX was releasing a single with one of the fastest rising stars of that season, Lizzo. I was curious, as I recognized the title “Blame It On Your Love” as lyrics from a song from her 2017 mixtape, “Pop 2” that is so near and dear to my heart, “Track 10.” A more ambient, peaceful, yet broken and raw track, that song has been one I’ve gone back to over and over again through all phases of my lil adolescent life from its release to more present times. It also reminded me of “Blame It On U,” from her earlier mixtape, “Number 1 Angel.” I was excited, but a little nervous. From the song’s first notes, I could tell this was a “Track 10” revamp, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how to feel. I thought it was a fun take on the evidently versatile tune and lyrics of its predecessor, and I thought that it was very timely to have Lizzo featured, as she had been gaining lots of traction in the media at that time. However, it wasn’t the inventive, futuristic, unapologetic pop music that Charli’s previous work had accustomed me to. Call me selfish, but I wanted unorthodox percussion and weird vocals and off-sounding chords, just like the “Track 10” that had satiated that side of the sound so well. That being said, the song is definitely a fun one. It is great to throw on to dance and have fun with friends, and it’s definitely a Top 40 pleaser (as we all know Charli walks the line of experimental and commercial pop), and it makes sense, as this song was released before a lot of information about “Charli” was shown to the public. Therefore, this song, while not extremely riveting by many musical senses, it’s a feel good tune that was used as a tool to create publicity and rework a song that is super near and dear to our hearts.
BONUS: “1999” ft. Troye Sivan
Shianne: Though it was released last year, and doesn’t share the liquidy-android motif on the cover art that the singles released since do, this track will nonetheless be featured on the final version of Charli, which is somewhat surprising but not unwelcome. With over 100 million streams on Spotify, the song is easily one of XCX’s most popular and commercially streamlined with its trendy subject matter of 90’s nostalgia, a music video full of pop-culture homages of the title era, and an almost too catchy hook, Charli and Troye will want to make you want to go back to the final year of the 20th century, whether you were alive or not.
Caroline: All in all, I do love these songs, but I can’t help but feel some of them are rushed or even slightly too short and incomplete feeling… However, I am still so excited and ready for anything and everything that will be released tonight. Maybe I should just stop playing the comparison game and see what this next level of “Charli” has to offer.