Charli XCX’s career has skyrocketed in the last 3 years. From the release of “Charli” and “How I’m Feeling Now” to the renewed popularity of songs like “Lock It (Unlock It)” and “Vroom Vroom,” it seems like she’s finally found her audience. It’s surprising, then, that she’s now decided to so radically change up her sound.
On her 5th studio album “Crash,” Charli XCXswaps out the musical experimentation which she’s become known for for a more mainstream and retro-inspired sound, building on the early-2000s vibes of “1999.” XCX’s new direction was obvious from the album’s first single “Good Ones,” a 2000s-era pop, breakup banger about self-destructive romantic tendencies. The song’s instrumentation is reminiscent of Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and it has theatrics to match. In the music video, XCX dances on her lover’s casket clad only in a bikini, with the similarly promiscuous support of 4 backup dancers.
The song and accompanying video both exude pop diva energy, and it becomes obvious that Charli XCX has finally decided to use pop as escapism. This sentiment is best captured on the album’s closer, “Twice.” On the track, she sings “Nothing is forever / One day, you’re never gonna be there” before repeating “Don’t think twice / Don’t think twice … Don’t think about it.” The song, which is essentially an ode to the fantasy and distraction pop can provide, is a far cry from the introspection-heavy “Pop 2,” “Charli,” and “How I’m Feeling Now” albums. Of course, XCX is too smart to embrace this escapism without adding a dash of irony. “Twice,” despite being a song about ignoring your feelings, is still peppered with lyrics on XCX’s greatest fears. This sense of ironic escapism extends to songs like “Every Rule,” about the guilt of falling in love with someone who’s already in a relationship. The mellow track’s music video features XCX dancing in a style similar to that of “Good Ones”, the only change being her pouty look and her dancing speed. In the past, XCX aimed to viscerally represent her feelings through music, with methods such as literally screaming in desperation mid-song on “Tears.” However, she now seems to acknowledge and embrace the intrinsic barrier between her emotional state and her music. She sees that art and life are separate, and she enjoys using a pop persona to dance around her feelings instead of presenting them in their sincerest forms.
Central to the escapist aspect of this album is the songs’ undeniable ease of listening. In contrast to the harsh instrumentation of past tracks like “c2.0,” the songs of “Crash” are extremely easy to slip into on the first play. “Baby” and “New Shapes” are 80s-inspired, synth-heavy tracks that could be played at any summer pool party. “Yuck” is an equally easy listen with a disco aesthetic in the vein of Doja Cat’s “Say So.” It features no hint of the jarring production that forced listeners to pay attention to songs from XCX’s past albums. Instead, it has faith that a catchy hook and a warm melody will be enough to draw in an audience, and indeed it is. This same groove and earworm quality are audible on the deluxe album’s track “Selfish Girl.” Unfortunately, on other tracks like “Used to Know Me,” this mainstream attitude falls flat, making the tracks forgettable and doomed to be played only during emphatic soul cycle classes.
However, for all this talk of Charli XCX’s new direction, traces of her past style are still audible. The cyborg-like vocals, which were once omnipresent in her songs, appear in full force on “Lightning.” They also appear in subtler forms in the robotic delivery of the “Twice” and “Crash” choruses. “How Can I Not Know What I Need Right Now,” a deluxe addition to the album, features a mellowed-out version of the techno, hyper-happy instrumentation that was common on past albums. Another song worth mentioning is “Move Me,” whose off-kilter tempo also falls in line with XCX’s past discography and whose tone feels straight off of FKA Twigs’ Caprisongs.
“Crash” is ultimately an album meant to be enjoyed in the club. Will it be remembered for pushing the limitations of pop? Probably not. But is it a banger? Absolutely. It’s an album that you can dance your feelings away to while ignoring your homework on any night Wednesday through Saturday. With “Crash” playing in the background, the world is your dance floor.