Album art for Charli xcx's album BRAT

Review: Charli xcx – BRAT


Charli xcx
Atlantic Records
Street: 06.07
Charli xcx = A.G. Cook + Tove Lo 

In her most vulnerable album yet, Charli xcx celebrates the archetype of a “brat” and crafts a postmodern collage using iconic pop-culture figures and brands to play with the concept of “cult-classic-ness.” With songwriting that’s deceptively simple at first, Charli’s autotuned British accent and vocal fry over tracks with energetic synths and deep bass make us nostalgic for old club hits. But beneath the surface, BRAT is overflowing with hand-selected details intended to raise both eyebrows and discourse.

Designed as a poorly pixelated bright green square with “brat” in sans serif font, the album cover uses ironic internet typography similar to memes as a marketing strategy. Reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain,” Charli challenges the notion of what’s worthy of being deemed art—or album art, in this case. She mocks the gimmicky tactics deployed by more commercially successful artists who inflate their streaming and sales records with countless album variants, instead opting for just one design that would’ve taken anybody five minutes to create. If the only metric for an album art’s success was its marketability, her shitty album cover does far more with less, garnering so much attention after people thought it was a joke at first. Such a brat move.

Releasing her most maximalist single first, Charli’s loud self-confidence set the stage for the album sonically and thematically on “Von dutch.” Referring to herself as the “cult-classic in your eardrums,” Charli distortedly sings using the brand to symbolize herself as just another trashy, trendy, 2000s household name. Using irony to criticize the constricting double standards women face to attain it-girl status, Charli starts her “360” music video with poignant observations about the subtle balancing act it takes to be a cool girl: “I would say it’s about being really hot, in like a scary way,” Gabbriette Betchel explains. “You have to be, like, known…but unknowable,” Richie Shazam adds. Filled with an all-star cast that also includes women like Chloe Sevigny, Julia Fox and Alex Consani in the video, Charli cements her status as a cool girl – not by placing herself among these stars, but by the sheer fact that she was able to get 14 of the busiest women on set to shoot together. The track also gives us perhaps the most catchy reference in the album: “I’m everywhere, I’m so Julia,” which rings like a self-love mantra.

Other references like “worships Lana Del Rey in her AirPods,” on the track “Mean Girls, allow Charli to riff on her cult-classic theme and subtly poke fun at her fans – who know she wears Galaxy Buds2 (but who joke they highly doubt Charli has actually used any Samsung products after her brand deal with the company). Charli’s references to Del Rey go beyond invoking her as a symbol for the cool, mean bitches who listen to her, but also include borrowing subtle Lana-isms and motifs. Channeling familiar Tumblr tropes making their rounds again a decade later on TikTok, Charli sings about skinny cigarettes, lace curtains and coquettish girls presumed to be anorexic and uses lyrics like “sheer white dress wearing last night’s makeup,” or “calls him ‘Daddy’ while she’s fingering a cross,” all while naming the soon-after released deluxe album: Brat and it’s the same but there’s three more songs so it’s not, mirroring Lana’s often parodied long-ass titles, which started five years ago with hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it. 

Lana isn’t Charli’s only muse. We feel SOPHIE’s presence strongly in the production throughout the album and lyrically in two tracks – with the pang of regret “why did I push you away?” coming as a surprising confession from Charli after the passing of her long-time friend and collaborator, who she admits is now “always on [her] mind.” In the equally emotional but hopeful track, “I think about it all the time,” Charli grapples with her feelings of inadequacy about her career while questioning if she should quit her birth control and pursue motherhood, providing a more vulnerable glimpse into the stoic party girl we usually get on pop albums. 

Throughout BRAT, Charli continually aspires to align herself with cult-classic status. “When I go to the club I wanna hear the club classics,” she sings before continuing: “I wanna dance to me.”  Considering the waves her most recent project has made, and Charli’s impact on mainstream artists taking their cues from her, she’s already placed herself among the enduring classics of hyperpop.Arthur Diaz

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