Brat by Charli XCX album review by Sam Frazini for Northern Transmissions. The artist's full-length is out today via Atlantic Records



Charli XCX

One of BRAT’s first lyrics is a lie.

On the bouncy, giddy opener “360,” Charli XCX namedrops A.G. Cook, her frequent producer, attests to her own “city sewer slut” aesthetic, and spits, “I don’t fucking care what you think.” This is, of course, not true, mainly due to the things she says and the things she does. On her previous album’s deluxe version, too, she shouts, “I don’t give a fuck what you think about me, what you think about me, so yeah! Fuck you!” Not quite the sound of apathy.

Charli is, for better or for worse, the most interesting pop star working today — her recent stunts have included name-searching on Twitter to argue with her fans about being called ‘mother,’ eventually labeling one a ‘cunt,’ calling the paparazzi on herself, donning a shirt proclaiming that ‘they don’t build statues of critics,’ and explaining BRAT’s cover by saying, “I wanted to go with an offensive, off-trend shade of green to trigger the idea of something being wrong… Why are some things considered good and acceptable, and some things deemed bad?” (not an egregious offense, just a very funny insistence of nuance that isn’t there).

All of this has culminated in a childish, rebellious, image-obsessed persona, which is why BRAT, the English artist’s sixth album where she puts on the character to its full effect, is so thrilling. You can be divided on how Charli operates as a person, but you can’t deny that her catalog is full of bangers, the best of which are pulled as inspiration for BRAT’s grungy, club-ready feel. Roaring house lead single “Von dutch” is an instantly-iconic ode to her greatness (“It’s alright to just admit that I’m the fantasy”), follow-up “Club classics” professes her love of partying to great music, including, with credibility, herself. “You gon’ jump if A.G. made it,” she sang on the opener referencing her frequent co-producer, and here, with all the maturity of a selfish toddler, says, “I wanna dance to me, me, me, me.” Honestly, same.

The hits on BRAT keep coming: “Sympathy is a knife” is a frenetic, jagged reflection on paranoia and jealousy, “Talk talk” is a standard electro-pop number about hazy eye contact across a club, “Rewind” wishes back to simpler times of sitting in one’s bedroom with nothing to do, and “365” is a distorted remix of the first track with a focus on life as a professional party girl every day of the year. “Who the fuck are you? I’m a brat when I’m bumpin’ that.” Again, true.

But the album’s insecure, confessional parts, which were instantly praised upon release for an unexpected bait-and-switch (this is a party album, after all, isn’t it?) prove to be the ones that stick out. BRAT’s poppier songs are clearly persona, a satire of the artist we know as Charli XCX — brash, exuberant, and messy. But many other tracks read as shockingly true, unable to hide behind its lime-green veneer. She admits she’s “famous, but not quite” on “I might say something stupid,” and on “Everything is romantic” she lists often-banal desires across a clunky, flute-laden instrumental that does not get its message across. She praises her collaborator and friend, the late SOPHIE on “So I,” and addresses motherhood on “I think about it all the time,” a track that is not necessarily pleasant to listen to. Its lyrics often read robotic, stilted, like a middle-school poet trying their best to elicit an emotion from its reader: I went to my friend’s place and I met their baby for the first time / How sublime / What a joy, oh my, oh my / Same old clothes she wore before, holding her child, yeah / She’s a radiant mother and he’s a beautiful father.”

The record’s toughest listen, lyric-wise, is “Girl, so confusing,” where Charli targets a specific female singer who the media has compared her to. “They say we’ve got the same hair,” she admits, but they’re drastically different: the other girl writes poems and Charli throws parties. The other singer invites Charli to dinner, but it’s always awkward because “we don’t have much in common.” The song is most certainly about either Lorde or Marina Diamandis, who is actually releasing a book of poetry later in the year, but victim aside, the song lands like a random jab for no reason. People have also speculated that “Von dutch” is also about someone in particular (“It’s obvious, I’m your number one”) but “Girl, so confusing” has all the grace of Taylor Swift’s thinly veiled hints with none of the intrigue. Pop legends Kylie Minogue and Tove Lo at least admitted “None of it is your fault / And when I hate on you, I’m just breaking the code” on their similar song about female jealousy, but Charli’s vitriol makes BRAT’s fantasy come into question.

How to think about these two different personas — egotistical, fun, hedonistic, then reflective, honest, personal — on the same album? Perhaps the effect is supposed to be jarring: it’s certainly reflective of life as a human to go from one insane thought to another (the track on motherhood is right before the one about doing bumps of coke). BRAT’s reflective side is hindered by severe underwriting, or is guilty of stopping the moment just to make sure everyone hears the ideas she’s never made public before. She kills the mood just to perk it up again — a friend who vomited assuring everyone they’re fine, and to keep dancing. “Why I wanna shoot myself? / Volatilе at war with my dialogue,” goes a particularly unwieldy line, and she later talks to herself in the mirror, the laziest metaphor for self-reflection there is. On “Apple,” she can’t go three seconds with an analogy before painfully explaining: “I guess the apple could turn yellow or green / I know there’s lots of different nuances / To you and to me.” Yeah, we got it.

One gets the unavoidable sense, yet again, that Charli made BRAT to see how people talk about it. She’s terminally online, as one might say, up there with some of the most internet-savvy stars to make sure she resembles one of them, posting alongside her mostly-queer, Charli-obsessed squadron of tweeters. In the cameo-studded “360” video, she and other stars, offline (Chloë Sevigny, Gabriette) or on- (Emma Chamberlain, Julia Fox, Alex Consani, Rachel Sennott) search for the “new hot internet girl”; she thinks about making music with the aforementioned poet, but only in service of the hype it will bring (“The internet would go crazy”); and she dedicates a song to the “Mean girls,” the inspiration of which is so poorly-written and overly satirized it falls immediately flat on its face: “Calls him Daddy while she’s fingering a gold cross / And she’s kinda fucked up, but she’s still in Vogue… / All coquette-ish in the pictures with the flash on / Worships Lana Del Rey in her AirPods, yeah.”

She’s being overly provocative in the effort to gain internet attention, a self-defeating bait crafted to be controversial, but fame still has its claws. Charli has backed herself into corners with intrusive actions before, but solidifies here the effect of the public eye — when she sees her friend’s baby on “I think about it all the time,” she wonders about giving it all up to become a mother: “My career feels so small in the existential scheme of it all.” She worries about the Billboard charts and ‘commercial success’ on “Rewind,” and it is a little interesting hearing those specific words lifted from their usually-online context. And we saw how her mind interprets female counterparts; on “Sympathy is a knife,” she doesn’t even want to share the same room with a particular person she admires. One particularly apt metaphor comes within the “Von dutch” video — she’s attacking the camera while beckoning it to follow.

Notwithstanding the handful of truly legendary, replayable bangers, BRAT has a persona problem. It’s a worthwhile endeavor to get all your thoughts out there, no matter how desperate or unflattering to let the truth lay bare, but it’s another to put them in quick succession, going from trivial topics like how much you’re obsessed with Charli and her internet fame to more heavy discussions of death, depression, and paths forward. But isn’t it the point, that she is who she is and she doesn’t fucking care what you think? BRAT is an album only the internet persona and music icon known as Charli XCX could make — mean, silly, ecstatic, judgy, violent, modern, and irresistibly interesting.

Order Brat by Charli XCX HERE

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Brat by Charli XCX album review by Sam Frazini for Northern Transmissions. The artist's full-length is out today via Atlantic Records

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