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Charli XCX Is Dancing on the Edge

With ‘Brat,’ the avant-pop rebel delivers a confessional LP that never loses its energy

Charli XCX

Harley Weir*

Who doesn’t wanna dance with Charli XCX? The U.K. star has been pop’s party girl since her debut, writing high-octane hits for other artists, like Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” while saving her most extreme and wildest avant-garde impulses for her own excellent LPs, most recently 2022’s Crash. On her sixth album, Brat, she stays out later and goes harder than ever before. And while she’s spinning around on the dance floor she’s also spiraling out in her head, digging deep into the types of insecurities and fears reserved for the comedown the morning after.

Brat seesaws between extremes from song to song, a hyperpop roller coaster of post-Saturn return, early-thirties anxieties, and It-girl bravado. The album opens with the one-two punch of “360” and “Club Classics,” a pair of bouncy ragers that have Charli name-dropping famous friends Gabbriette, Julia Fox, Hudson Mohawke, boyfriend George Daniel, and Brat co-executive producer A. G. Cook. They’re a throwback to classic club hits, the kind that don’t do more than tell you to free your mind and keep dancing.

By the time we hit “Sympathy Is a Knife,” it’s pretty clear that Charli has only taken half of that advice. It’s the first of several tracks that see her baring some of her most conflicted emotions over beats that never lose their energy. “Sympathy” relays her paranoia, the voice in her head telling her she’s not enough. And even though she needs sympathy, it feels all the more painful when she gets what she wants. Later, on “Rewind,” she lists all of the aspects of herself she feels shame about: her face, her weight, her fame, her chart success. On “So I,” Charli is overwhelmed with regret as she thinks about her friend and collaborator Sophie, who passed away in 2021. The singer opens up about how she wished she had pulled the late artist closer, instead of being intimidated by Sophie’s talent and harsh but loving critiques when the pair worked together.

“Girl, So Confusing” details a different type of relationship, as Charli unpacks a complicated frenemy dynamic with another female pop star. “You’re all about writing poems/But I’m about throwing parties,” she explains. Though she celebrates “Mean Girls” later on the album, this track offers an olive branch in spite of how little she and her mystery peer seem to share.

The album closes out with two of its best tracks. “I Think About It All the Time” is a gorgeous confessional about the future and motherhood, leaving existential questions about when it will be the right time for her to pursue that part of her life up in the air. Once she realizes she doesn’t have all the answers, we go right into “365,” the most euphoric club offering on an album brimming with euphoric club offerings; “Shall we do a little key?/Shall we have a little line?” she asks, as if the whole album was just one lengthy, drunk bathroom-queue conversation with Charli all along. And who better to have that type of soul-baring conversation in the middle of the night with?

From Rolling Stone US