“CRASH”: Pop perfection from an industry pioneer

Charli XCX has never done the same thing twice. She broke into the music scene with her debut album “True Romance” in 2013, a dark-wave pop project that caught music critics’ attention, marking her as one to watch in the coming years. Charli crashed onto the world stage in 2014 when both her collaboration with Iggy Azalea, “Fancy”, and her own solo single “Boom Clap” (written for The Fault in Our Stars) shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in several countries. Charli XCX could have become the next Katy Perry—she even opened for the European leg of Perry’s 2015 world tour—but her next move shifted the trajectory of her career into a direction no-one could have anticipated. 

Rather than stick to the tried-and-true realm of pop star glory, Charli went on to collaborate with avant-garde electronic producers SOPHIE and A.G. Cook. Everything that Charli has released since 2015—the Vroom Vroom EP, the Number 1 Angel and Pop 2 mixtapes, the albums Charli, and How I’m Feeling Now—have transformed her into a pop music pioneer. The maximalist, supremely slick, sometimes abrasive sound of these records laid the foundation for what many today now consider “hyperpop”—a niche of experimental pop music that revels in extremes. But through all of the experimental production, Charli has always maintained her pop chops by crafting addictive hooks and bringing a commanding presence to every project she’s touched. 

As an artist who has been referred to as the future of pop music, Charli has bewildered her audience yet again, proving that she always has another trick up her sleeve. CRASH is Charli’s most mainstream-adjacent release since 2015, but this album is anything but basic. Rather than play it safe, Charli decided to craft a pop album that demonstrates how effortlessly she can maneuver the spaces between mainstream trends and their peripheries, elevating a classic pop sound to anthemic and infectious heights. CRASH sounds like what would happen if Janet Jackson and Confessions on a Dance Floor-era Madonna made an electro-dance album together, with Charli’s personality always shining through.

Cover art for “Good Ones”, the album’s lead single.

The title track “Crash” explodes us into an album that embodies the feeling of chasing a euphoric, reckless bliss, no matter what toll the chase will take. “I’m about to crash into the water / Gonna take you with me / I’m high voltage, self-destructive / End it all so legendary” Charli sings on repeat over spacey synths and drum beats, building into a very Janet-inspired guitar solo. Like the album artwork, this opening track invites the listener to embrace the oncoming collision and ride out the impact, even if we have to wipe some blood off our face when it’s over. 

The highest highs of CRASH are when Charli injects her experimental sensibilities into otherwise nostalgic or classic pop productions. The eighth track “Lightning” is a perfect example of this fusion between past-and-present, and it may even be one of the strongest songs Charli has released in her 10-year discography. The majority of the song is pure 80s anthemic gold—punchy synths and drums, Charli belting through heavy vocal processing, and a groovy electric bass gives the track a throbbing pulse. But around the 3-minute mark, Charli brings this familiar sound into her own realm. Flamenco-esque guitar strings echo over haphazard beats; Charli’s voice gets chopped up, pitched, erratic; the synths and drums suddenly slam harder than before. “You struck me down like lightning” is repeated like a mantra, and the production makes you feel each electric blow.

Charli XCX: Baby (Live) – SNL

Fortunately, even the “lows” of CRASH never dip down enough to jeopardize the album as a whole. The closing track “Twice” is likely the weakest cut from this album, despite being one of the most lyrically unique. Somewhat inspired by the film Melancholia (a notoriously bleak film depicting the destruction of Earth), “Twice” sees Charli contemplating her own mortality and the end of the world. “All the things I love are gonna leave me / One day you’re nеver gonna be therе” Charli sings over bright xylophone-esque synths and trap beats. The bluntness of her words hit harder than one might expect, as she delves into an acute point of anxiety that all of us share in one form or another. But this song suffers from a production style that feels too generic for Charli, especially given how confidently the previous 11 tracks were able to blend elements of past and present music trends into a sound that felt familiar and fresh at the same time.

CRASH is a departure for Charli XCX, but that is exactly what she does best—defying our expectations and proving herself as a masterful pop artist along the way. Fans of her experimental sound may initially believe that this new album plays it too safe, but I encourage them to sit with the songs for a little while longer, because these tracks possess a sophisticated talent beneath the glossy coat of infectious dance music. For those who may have found her hyperpop projects too inaccessible, CRASH eases the ear into some of Charli’s more experimental tendencies. For longtime fans, CRASH is a more-than-fulfilling middle ground between the mainstream pop artist and avant-garde iconoclast that we’ve grown to love through the years.

“CRASH” standard edition album cover.