Charli XCX Pop 2 Atlanta
Charli XCX has been busy this year. Number 1 Angel was a critical darling this spring; the gauzy dreamboats-in-waiting video for Boys throttled its competition for this year’s Song of the Summer and Twitter pored over the internet’s newest 60 boyfriends in pastel. Her work was messy, it was dramatic and neurotic and aloof – it’s what we needed in this nosediving trashcan-cum-dumpster-fire of a year. But with the dust clearing and End of the Year lists already sent off to print, XCX pitched a proper curveball and dropped Pop 2 on 15 December – and what a way to end 2017.
Bouncing off the backboard of 2014’s Boom Clap, a straightforward chart-pop single that led her sophomore album Sucker, XCX returned in 2016 with an of-the-moment PC Music mixtape (2016’s Vroom Vroom) that felt cold and underdeveloped. Number 1 Angel was far better: the impish brattiness of Charli’s feature on 2012’s I Love It with Icona Pop was more refined, and her lines rode comfortably over SOPHIE and A.G. Cooks’ aestheticised power pop production, not the other way around. Pop 2, however, is her chef-d’oeuvre: it’s whole, it’s complete and it’s perfect.
The mixtape is written like a live setlist, with each song flowing into the next seamlessly. The trappy belter Delicious with Tommy Cash builds into a Cascada-esque fist pumper to preface XCX trading lines with Kim Petras and Jay Park on Unlock It and, later, the squeaky hip-swinging Porsche. Part of the project’s success is that Charli’s found her voice. Known for her talky-singy vocals, Pop 2 sees XCX matching a cast of formidable vocalists including ALMA, Tove Lo, and MØ and she’s hardly punching above her own weight. Indeed, her voice lights up in the scorched-earth opener Backseat alongside pop heavyweight Carly Rae Jepsen and they wail mournful ad libs together over a grimy Berghain beat: “All alone, all alone, all alone, all alone”.
The hard knocks and soaring synths that once drowned Charli out are now fully under her thumb. She navigates the high-paced slapper Femmebot with a a preternatural ease, and strikes a surprisingly soulful chord on the closer Track 10. PC Music and the fingerprints it has left on pop music are often dismissed for an infantilisation of verse-chorus pop songs – Vroom Vroom included. Led by Charli XCX on Pop 2, we catch a glimpse of electropop reaching adulthood.