When Charli XCX released her 2022 album Crash, many of her fans initially believed that she had caved into society’s demands of what a pop star should sound like. 

Its radio-friendly tracks and more marketable aspects deviated from the more avant-garde and futuristic sound of her previous records, though it was ultimately a highly enjoyable pop album by its own merits. Still, there was incessant demand and rumblings online with regards to what lay ahead for one of hyper-pop’s trailblazers. Some even questioned, was Charli going to go full mainstream, or was she intending to head back to her club roots?

charli xcx brat

Photographed by Harley Weir

Two years later, Charli has answered everyone’s burning questions with the release of brat. With its neon green, low-resolution cover, the record already makes a statement by letting the music speak for itself beyond its mere aesthetics. And from what we’re hearing, it seems as if Charli is back and better than ever. 

As a club record at its core, several of brat’s tracks are either a mix of hyper-pop-infused masterpieces or impeccably produced bangers. The catchy “360” is a glistening opener that sets a strong precedent for what’s to come next, with its ‘it-girl’ lyricism welcoming you with an unabashed confidence that sticks with its listeners. 

Club classics” lives up to its name — delivering a rave anthem that is bound to be played on repeat non-stop with its thumping beats and looped sirens capturing the frenetic energy of a jam-packed club. The sharp cut of “sympathy is a knife” bleeds with a rich texture of sounds, which then transitions into a glitchy, hyper-pop masterpiece by the time the high-octane “von dutch” comes on. 

While it seems like the majority of its first half is crowded with party tracks, brat surprisingly showcases the most soul-baring side of Charli, which acts as a strong contrast to the online persona she’s built over the years. Her candid lyricism in songs such as “I might say something stupid,” “I think about it all the time,” and “Girl, so confusing” read like self-hating, immolating confessions that come out of someone’s password-protected notes app. 

Photographed by Harley Weir

So I” stands out as one of the main highlights of the record, serving as an honorary ode to the late SOPHIE (who acted as Charli’s mentor in the scene) with its honesty describing their bond and Charli’s openness in their relationship. The vulnerability present in such tracks seems like material that was never meant to see the light of day — making the album arguably her most personal body of work to date. 

Still, such achievements (and as some might note, improvements) aren’t the only ways in which Charli’s artistic touch stands evident. She’s never been one to stay complacent with her sound — instead elevating her artistry to new heights as she plays with new genres, techniques, and influences as the record goes on. “Talk talk” and “Apple” inject some of Pop 2’s sonic DNA with the more glittery pop sheen of artists like Robyn and Moloko’s Roisin Murphy, though it isn’t the only new sound she adds to the record.

Songs like “Everything is romantic,” “B2b,” the deluxe additions “Spring breakers” and “Guess,” as well as the closer “365,” go darker as it heads into uncharted territory for Charli’s sonic identity. She’s never been afraid to embark on more experimental pursuits when it comes to her work, yet these three tracks utilize industrial elements, alternative reggaeton beats, and heavy synth wave inspirations that result in her most ingenious instrumentation. It’s clear that she and collaborators A.G. Cook, EASYFUN, Gesaffelstein, and El Guincho have broken new ground this time around.

Though it’s obviously impressive that the English pop star was able to reach the peak of her artistic pursuits, what’s even more commendable is her ability to package it in a way that never needed to sacrifice her signature sound. Unlike Crash, the entirety of brat is a bold expression of her creative vision — executed without the need to compromise it for the sake of meeting the audience’s tastes and expectations. 

brat charli xcx review

Photographed by Harley Weir

At its core, brat encapsulates exactly who Charli is and what music she wants to set out into the world. Her bravura and authenticity may seem unconventional to what we know about most modern musicians, yet it’s ultimately what makes both the hyper-pop icon and this record distinct in just about every way. In a year stacked with major releases from the industry’s most prominent pop stars, this album may very well be the pinnacle of pop music at this specific point in time — one that weaves together various strands of alternative and internet culture into a candid expression of loneliness amidst nightlife.

Gone are the days when Charli XCX needed to adhere to the radio-friendly demands of the music industry, for she only intends to do things her way from now on. brat is arguably the artist at her creative prime — a record that feels like it has been 15 years in the making. Amidst its cheeky cultural references, party tunes, and confessional thoughts, brat is the rare pop record that subliminally screams out loud, “This is what pop music can be.”

Listen to Charli XCX’s deluxe edition of brat below: