A brief guide to Charli XCX’s shiny pop universe

Charli XCX will be at First Ave on Friday.

Charli XCX will be at First Ave on Friday.

This Friday, cult obsession/pop star Charli XCX brings her relentless party-girl energy and futuristic vision to First Avenue. Before the show, it’s time to study up on some of major points of her career so far.

“You (Ha Ha Ha)” (True Romance, 2013)

Charli began her career as a teenager posting tracks to MySpace. After several years on the London warehouse rave scene, she put out her debut full-length, True Romance, in 2013. At the age of 20 she stepped into the pop circuit in platform sneakers, teased hair, and winged eyeliner. “You (Ha Ha Ha)” is the product of a young Charli watching hours of Britney Spears on MTV and timeless young-adult angst. Even in this early phase of her artistic evolution, her ability to craft a hook is unmatched, and the Gold Panda-sampling beat hints at the innovative production that would become a hallmark of her sound.

“Boom Clap” (Sucker, 2014)

After spending some time as a critical and underground darling, Charli XCX had a taste of chart success in 2014. Following her unforgettable feature on one of the summer’s biggest earworms, Iggy Azealia’s “Fancy,” she released her most commercially successful single to date, “Boom Clap.” A flirty, feel-good track with a danceable beat, the song was initially released on the soundtrack of the teen drama The Fault in Our Stars. With this momentum, Charli released the radio-ready album Sucker. Though not without Charli’s characteristic experimentalism, Sucker is the most accessible her music has ever sounded to a mainstream audience.

“Vroom Vroom” (Vroom Vroom EP, 2016)

After “Fancy” got a Grammy nomination and “Boom Clap” went platinum, Charli’s career was at a critical point. She had the choice to continue shooting for mainstream hits or to push the boundaries. In 2016, the Vroom Vroom EP demonstrated that she chose the latter. Produced by PC music’s Sophie, Vroom Vroom is noisy and abrasive in a way that listeners hadn’t yet heard from Charli. The title track has become something of a cult favorite. The “Vroom Vroom” music video features Charli in black latex, dancing in silhouette, and reciting unapologetic party-girl lyrics like “Bubblegum-pink Ferrari, yeah, I'm so bossy/Speedin' like Alonso just to crash your party.” This song has been known to hold a strange power over Charli XCX fans (angels, as she calls them). Without a doubt, when Charli utters the first lyric, “Let’s ride,” the Mainroom will erupt.

"Track 10" (Pop 2, 2017)

In 2017 Charli XCX released two mixtapes, first Number 1 Angel and then, a few months later, Pop 2, without following the rigid structures of an album cycle. Both are feature-heavy, with guests ranging from Chicago rapper Cupcakke to pop princess Carly Rae Jepsen. Though the two were created within a narrow time frame, the growth between Number 1 Angel and Pop 2 is evident. While both explore experimental sounds alongside a cast of PC Music collaborators, Pop 2 is the most comfortable Charli has been in her sound and in her own vulnerability.

Closing out Pop 2 is a stunning highlight in Charli’s career, the warped and lovelorn ballad “Track 10.” Clocking in at five and a half minutes, the song balances future-focused PC Music production and a heartbroken Charli at her most vulnerable. Her distorted vocals plead earnestly in lines like “Every time you get too close I run, I run away.” The hook from “Track 10” was revamped this year in a much peppier collaboration with Lizzo, “Blame It on Your Love.”

“Gone” (feat. Christine and the Queens) (Charli, 2019)

Five years after her last proper LP, Sucker, Charli delivered her self-titled album at the end of this summer. With 14 features and a handful of highly experimental producers, Charli could have easily overshadowed the star herself with its lengthy credits. Instead, Charli XCX has learned to play to the strengths of each of her individual collaborators while remaining at the center of the project. It’s as if she’s leading an orchestra filled with artists like Brooke Candy, Big Freedia, and Troye Sivan instead of instruments, conducting each to make their entrance as she sees fit.

One of the lead singles, “Gone,” hones in on her strengths: collaboration, vulnerability, and, of course, an infectious chorus. Charli stands alongside French pop singer Christine and the Queens to ask a league of unanswerable questions like “Why do we love if we're so mistaken?” and “Why do we leave when the chase is done?” As Charli has cultivated her songwriting sensibilities, she’s delved deeper into personal issues. “Gone” offers a unique catharsis in exploring insecurities through an impossibly fun and snappy melody. In a way few of her contemporaries have achieved, Charli has created a glistening world of the future in her music. As she’s grown, the universe dipped in chrome has allowed for plenty of moments of reflection in its glossy surface.

Charli XCX
With: Dorian Electra
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11
Where: First Avenue
Tickets: Sold out; more info here