One-hit wonders, for reasons that certainly have a psychological explanation, are one of the public’s favorite phenomenons in the music industry. We love the idea of an artist making it big with a song that’s inescapable, ruling the world for a brief period of time, then disappearing back to wherever it is they came from. Maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll reappear in a few years working at a grocery store.
But there’s one-hit wonders, then there’s one-hit wonders*. The latter is a small group of artists who hit that peak, rule the world, then continue at it for years after, perfecting their craft and, in most cases, never again receiving the recognition they once tasted, and very much deserve.
Charli XCX is something of a leader of the one-hit wonders*. After the one-two punch of “Boom Clap” and “Fancy” infested airwaves in 2014, she was set to be a star. Her music appealed to the masses, while her image appealed to the growing alternative crowd of the time. The ball was in her court, and it was her game to lose.
Instead, she grabbed that ball and took a bee-line for the exit. She released Vroom Vroom just two years following her breakout success, a stark contrast to the sounds of “Boom Clap” and Sucker. Produced mostly by the ever-experimental Sophie, it was full of harsh beats and harsher autotune, a futuristic sound that hadn’t yet dared to enter the mainstream.
This put a halt on Charli’s path towards world domination, though that’s a path that she may have never intended to stay on in the first place. The two follow-ups to Vroom Vroom; Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, were generally ignored by the public, but lauded by fans. It was pop on another level, with Charli taking risks that more than paid off.
Charli, her first major label LP since 2014, somehow takes pop to the next level: the album’s opener, “Next Level Charli,” says so quite literally. And while next level, it’s also quintessential Charli: bass heavy, often repetitive, altogether infectious.
Aiming to capture the magic of Pop 2, Charli once again teamed up with producer A.G. Cook, a match made in avant-pop heaven. It’s hard to think of a producer/artist duo that gets each other more than these two, and this is clear throughout the album.
“Gone,” with Christine and the Queens, is an obvious highlight. Its breakdown is immaculate, the kind of music that feels like it’s punching you in the face in a good way. And, of course, possibly the highlight of the album is Kim Petras’ verse on “Click,” where she unashamedly flaunts her status as a woman with a lot of money (Charli admits that after hearing the verse for the first time, she went back into the studio to re-record hers out of “embarrassment”).
She teams up with fellow 2014 alternative idol Sky Ferreira on “Cross You Out,” a song that no doubt would have set Tumblr aflame at the time. On “February 2017,” she enlists Yaeji and Clairo, an odd trio that ends up producing one of the best tracks on the album.
While collaborations still rule Charli, it’s clear that she’s becoming increasingly comfortable with taking centerstage. “White Mercedes” is the best example of this, a rare ballad where Charli shines through what could be considered minimal production, in context.
With Troye Sivan, “1999,” as corny as it gets, is still undeniably fun. The follow-up, “2099,” is on the opposite end of the spectrum and arguably the most experimental moment on an overtly experimental album.
Lizzo hops onto “Blame It On Your Love,” a reworking of Pop 2 fan-favorite “Track 10.” It differs the most from the other tracks, in that the tech-heavy beats are traded in for those that are more close to trap. Lizzo’s verse, of course, is exactly as fun as you would expect it to be. When she says “I don’t know what’s wrong with this girl Charli, she crazy,” you feel it.
Charli probably won’t be turning Charli XCX into a household name, as the central theme suggests that it’s music to be called ahead of its time, songs that the general public aren’t ready for. However pretentious this may sound, it’s a fair observation, and one that Charli will claim with pride.