Culture Pick | Charli XCX isn’t an angel anymore with ‘Crash’

Culture Pick | Charli XCX isn’t an angel anymore with ‘Crash’

Carson Lott, Contributing Writer

From “Boom Clap” to “Vroom Vroom,” most modern listeners have heard Charli XCX whether they know it or not. The British singer-songwriter has experienced sprinkles of commercial success while also becoming a cult favorite in underground experimental pop music.

Crash,” Charli XCX’s fifth and final album with Atlantic Records, was released on March 18, to critical acclaim and shot to the No. 1 spot on the charts in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia, making it her first project to do so. 

The world of “Crash” is gorgeously ironic and satirical, with the artist embracing her demonic alter ego and taking aim at her critics.

“As you already know, I am an iconic figure in the arts, and have helped expand the landscape of popular music over the last decade by seamlessly traversing the underground and the mainstream with my output,” Charli XCX said in a press statement before the release of “Good Ones,” one of the album’s lead singles. “My innovative approach has opened up new possibilities within the pop sphere for both myself and others. You’re welcome.”

This self-absorbed attitude and snarky tone is a perfect parody of today’s mainstream pop music giants. Charli XCX is finally giving her detractors, and even her record label, what they want, and she does it flawlessly. 

“[Charli XCX] leans fully into a mainstream pop persona for the first time in almost a decade, creating an album built around the concept of, in her words, playing ‘the game,’” Reanna Cruz wrote in an article for NPR

More importantly, “Crash” is not just a work of satire; it’s a body of raw and authentic pop music that has taken the artist her entire career to make.

“The four albums prior and two mixtapes that I’ve done … encapsulate all the different things that I think pop music could be,” Charli XCX said in an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “All of those things feel like the little puzzle pieces that make up what I want pop music to be, and on this final album I feel like I’ve used all of the different puzzle pieces. … It fits together.” 

While Charli XCX is able to embrace both the mainstream and underground spheres of pop music, the dichotomy is one that she’s struggled with and addresses in “Crash.” 

“This might sound like a negative, but I actually think it’s a positive: We’re at a time in the music industry where it’s beginning to catch up with me,” she told Lowe. “We’re at a time now where being an artist like me is actually quite common, you know — with things like ‘hyperpop’ existing now, it’s a tangible genre and it’s interesting because now it’s like I need to reject all of it.”

“Crash” is Charli XCX’s final contribution to a music industry where being unique is becoming the standard. 

“I used to be your angel, now I’m walking out your door / You say I’m turning evil, I’ll say I’m finally pure,” she sings in the 11th track, “Used to Know Me.” 

The significance of the word “angel” to Charli XCX is complex. Not only is it a moniker for members of her fan base, but it’s been used to describe her persona as a pop icon. With “Crash,” Charli XCX wants to take off her angel wings in an attempt to continue her metamorphosis as a human and as an artist.

“Even though this album is extremely pop, it’s extremely dark in many ways as well. It’s me talking about a lot of my inner demons within relationships and the way that I behave within relationships,” she said in a Yahoo article.

On top of a refreshing synth house beat, the artist details her own deep insecurities in “Selfish Girl,” a track from the deluxe edition, which released on March 25, with lyrics like “I gotta put myself first / ’Cause I’m a selfish girl / I only want the whole world” and “Can you handle that? / No one really can, no, no.”

The deeply personal self-reflection doesn’t come without its moments of traditional fun pop sounds and lyrics, like in “How Can I Not Know What I Need Right Now.” 

In a high-pitched voice with a pop rock-synth sound similar to The 1975, Charli XCX sings, “I just wanna make myself better on / Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday,” in an anthem of forgiveness and growth. It’s also an interpolation of American singer Cherelle’s 1985 hit “Saturday Love.”

To make the album even more cyclical, Charli XCX dedicated “Crash” to her friend, collaborator and mentor SOPHIE, a pioneer producer and artist in hyperpop music who died in January 2021. SOPHIE paved the way for nontraditional artists like Charli XCX through her avant-garde, sugary and energetic underground beats. 

Charli XCX believes that SOPHIE’s death subconsciously reinforced her desires to “just go for it.”

“SOPHIE was also very much a believer in everybody being their own individual,” Charli XCX said to Lowe. “I would say SOPHIE was one of my biggest champions when it came to me doing things on my own, me being a pop star, me being fierce, like, SOPHIE was always pushing me to do that.”

“Crash” is a dynamic and intricately layered album. The project feels as though it’s living and breathing, and it’s an experience that all listeners are lucky to enjoy.

No matter which direction the music industry heads next, it’s clear that Charli XCX will be several steps ahead, continuing to revolutionize music in whatever way she can.

Questions? Email the culture desk at [email protected].