Charli XCX takes us to 2099 with ‘Charli’…but she had to build a time machine first.

The censored album cover for

Press release photo.

The censored album cover for "Charli". The uncensored version features Charli's entire upper body with purple body art covering her breasts.

By Mason Montano, Pinole Valley

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Prologue: “XCX World”

In 2014, Charli XCX was at the height of her career. She had two successful singles; “Boom Clap” and “Break the Rules” from her, then, recently released second studio album, Sucker; and featured on two even bigger hits, “I Love It” with Icona Pop and “Fancy” with Iggy Azalea.

Despite her success, Charli wasn’t satisfied with her work, wanting to make music that sounded more “pop” as opposed to the more punk rock-inspired sound of Sucker. It was then that she discovered PC Music, a London-based record label founded by A.G. Cook whose recording artists were known for their experimental, electronic sound. PC Music became the main inspiration for Charli’s new era. She reached out to A.G. Cook, befriending him and PC icon SOPHIE, and after enlisting BloodPop and StarGate for additional production, immediately set to work on her next project.

Work on her third studio album began in 2015, and Charli described it as “the most pop thing, and the most electronic thing” she had ever done. In early 2016, she released an EP produced almost entirely by SOPHIE called Vroom Vroom as a sneak peek of her forthcoming album. It was received with mixed to negative reviews due to its heavy electronic sound, but while the mainstream disapproved, her fans loved it! The general excitement surrounding the EP, paired with Charli performing new unreleased tracks live, resulted in hype for the album growing within her fan-base.

Vroom Vroom was followed by “After the Afterparty”, a collaboration with rapper Lil Yachty and the lead single from her third album; a mixtape serving a prelude to the album titled Number 1 Angel; and the album’s second single “Boys” in addition to several features. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, as “Boys” became the song of the summer, but all was not well behind the scenes.

Charli’s labels, Asylum and Atlantic, were apprehensive about the era due to the underperformance of “After the Afterparty” and Vroom Vroom‘s negative reviews, as they weren’t entirely convinced that Charli could bring in the same numbers she did two years prior. This began an intense dispute between them, resulting in the album getting delayed several times throughout 2016 and 2017.

The positive reception of Number 1 Angel and “Boys” restored some of their faith in her, but due to an extremely negative reaction to her Jimmy Kimmel performance of a previously unreleased track called “Bounce”, their doubts were renewed. Fortunately, her labels still gave her the “ok” for release, and the album was confirmed to be released in September 2017…and then tragedy struck.

On August 20, 2017, just one month prior to the scheduled release, someone hacked Charli’s Google Drive and leaked a career’s worth of unreleased songs and demos online, including the entirety of her third studio album. The album, which still lacked a title, was dubbed “XCX World” by her fans who quickly began spreading the leaks all across the internet.

The hype had reached its climax, but while fans had a ball with the music, Charli was shocked and horrified to discover that nearly two years of work had gone public before it was ready. Feeling vulnerable and discouraged, Charli decided to scrap the entire era in favor of starting over with new material. This decision, although necessary for her mental health and well-being, would create tension between Charli and her fanbase, the remnants of which can still be seen today on social media.

Although it has never been officially released, several tracks originally intended for “XCX World” have been released as standalone singles, including “No Angel” and “Girls Night Out”. Other tracks, such as “Bounce” and “Taxi”, have yet to see the light of day, despite demands from fans, and it’s unlikely they or any more tracks from the era ever will. RIP XCX WORLD.

“1999”: The time machine.

To make up for the cancellation, Charli dropped the POP2 mixtape in December 2017 as a follow-up to Number 1 Angel. Its release was rather sudden, and though it didn’t have much hype, the mixtape was met with universal acclaim from both critics and fans alike.

The project’s experimental sound set the tone for the future of Charli’s discography. Throughout 2018, she released a slew of standalone singles that were very much in line with the world of POP2, including “5 in the Morning” and “Focus”.

In October, she released “1999”, a house-inspired bop about late-90’s nostalgia and a collaboration with Australian singer Troye Sivan. At first, the track was slow to gain popularity, but by December, it had reached number 13 on the UK Singles Chart as well as number 18 in Australia.

“1999”‘s moderate success in the UK and Australia got the attention of Asylum and Atlantic who decided to give Charli another shot at an album. In early 2019, she confirmed she was working on her third album due for release later in the year, and while originally intended to be a standalone track, “1999” became the lead single.

Charli: The future.

Charli’s self-titled, third studio album was formally announced in June 2019 along with her first headlining tour, the Charli Live Tour, with the release date set for September 13, 2019. After four years of delays, leaks, and rebranding; Charli XCX’s third album has finally arrived.

Charli is a triumphant body of work that showcases Charli’s growth as an artist. It’s her most personal album, hence why she chose to appear nude on the cover, as she wanted to reflect that vulnerability. She’s no longer worried about trying to make a hit record anymore. All she wants is to be herself and make the music she loves, regardless of what the mainstream expects from her. Charli represents her freedom.

The album’s triumphance is reflected in the opening track, “Next Level Charli”, a self-empowerment anthem that sees Charli owning who she is and loving herself.

Its vulnerability can be seen in songs like “Gone” with Christine and the Queens. “Gone” is one of the strongest songs on the tracklist. Charli and Chris sing about their insecurities and feeling isolated over a heavy electronic beat, creating a juxtaposition between the serious lyrics and the upbeat instrumental. The music video is a metaphor for how women are sexualized and put on display by society with the duo freeing themselves from being tied to a car in awkward positions.

As I mentioned in the previous section, Charli fits comfortably in the “post-POP2” sound that has since defined Charli’s style. Similar to POP2, the album was mostly produced by A.G. Cook and critics praised its experimental sound, calling it “futuristic” and “ahead of our time”.

The concept of “future” is repeated several times throughout the album. The most notable example is the closing track, “2099” with Troye Sivan. The sequel to the more mainstream “1999”, “2099” is more experimental, and Charli described as being “for the freaks”. The trippy, metallic quality of the production is the perfect way to end the album, sending the listener off on their own into the future.

Charli XCX has made it clear with this record that she is the future of pop music. Charli is available now across all online and streaming platforms.

This story was originally published on Spartan Ink on October 2, 2019.