The female pop singer business is a little crowded — between your preteen faves like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande and your critically acclaimed powerhouses like Beyoncé and Adele, there's hardly room for new, cookie-cutter pop songstresses on the radio airwaves.
Luckily, Charli XCX doesn't seem too obsessed with fitting in.
The singer-songwriter has been putting out warped, obnoxiously catchy pop music since her debut album in 2013, and in that time, she's proven to be the genre's most economical hook writer. And while her two most noteworthy musical appearances, Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" and Icona Pop's "I Love It," aren't even Charli XCX songs, the British singer has been creating increasingly iconoclastic electro-anthems that forgo traditional radio sounds for the fuzzier, rougher styles of rock and electronic music.
Her latest release, the mixtape Number 1 Angel, is a further plunge into that sonic territory, drawing from the arena rock choruses of the '80s and the futurist electronic inclinations of art-pop label PC Music, whose sound is all over the project thanks to production from members like SOPHIE, Danny L Harle and A.G. Cook.
The tape's opening track, "Dreamer," sets the tone — that of a confident, braggadocios girls' club. Boasting a verse from rap and R&B's best current songwriter, Starrah, it's an in-your-face pop-rap track that offers one of the most immediately catchy choruses on the entire record
"I'm a dreamer/ Step, step out the Beemer/ 'Bout to do it big, Stretch, stretch limousine-uh," Charli repeats over and over until, by the power of repetition, you're there with her, pulling up to the function in an expensive car.
"Dreamer" is also one of most traditional songs on the album — mid-album cuts like "Roll With Me" and "ILY2," quickly stray into the hyperkinetic club rhythms of Charli's PC Music collaborators. Imagine a night in a European rave, and then fast-forward it: that's "Roll With Me" sounds like. The sound almost works perfectly, too — PC Music has always had a unique, borderline satirical take on traditional pop and dance music, and while Charli's vocals take the edge off, she also makes the violently upbeat music more marketable.
Thankfully, the album's middle stretch splits its time between upbeat electro and down-tempo balladry. "White Roses" sounds like it could have been taken from 2013's True Romance (which had a song called "Black Roses"), and "Emotional" is likely the most radio-ready song of the bunch, with a belted-out hook and some genuinely in-your-feels lyrics.
But nothing compares to closing track "Lipgloss," which might be the boldest bad-bitch track since "Bad Girls" by M.I.A. Featuring up-and-coming Chicago rapper CupcakKe, is easily the tape's catchiest and most brilliantly annoying song.
"Mhmm, I keep it sticky-icky like lipgloss," Charli chants over a torrential downpour of swirling synthesizers before everything cuts out and CupcakKe delivers a news bulletin on her sex life.
It's ridiculous, over-the-top and the perfect end to an album that plays with the rules of pop music but never quite breaks them. After all, you can make your songs as weird, unconventional and out there as possible — but if they're catchy, they're catchy.
And Charli XCX makes some catchy-ass music.