Music Reviews

Charli XCX: In Review

Tim Ovenden

Is Tim Ovenden a Charli XCX superfan? No, he couldn’t get through five minutes of her BBC Radio 1 podcast without losing interest. Does he consider her music to be the most boundary-pushing pop of the 21st century? Some of it he does. Has he listened to all of her albums? Why yes, he has. Good, that’s the only requirement needed to rank them.

With Charli XCX’s new album looming on the horizon (‘Crash’ – 18th March 2022: save the date), the fanbase is split over which direction the popstar is going in. The success of Joel Corry produced, copy-and-paste radio earworm ‘Out Out’ and bland single ‘Good Ones’ point towards a mainstream return, the latter aiming to gain traction on Tiktok (I assume, I don’t have Tiktok). Her most recent single ‘New Shapes’ gives me hope for bigger and better things, so what greater time to rank her studio albums and mixtapes (and an EP) so far.

7 – ‘SUCKER’ (2015) 

I can imagine this album was blasted out of many an angsty teen girls’ bedrooms in the mid-2010s. Perhaps that’s where it should have stayed. Although it feels unfair to rag on the album as a 22-year-old man far removed from its intended demographic, Charli doesn’t seem to hold the album in high regard herself, so I believe it’s fair game.

For one, this album is Charli XCX at her most ‘accessible’ (watered-down), with label interference presumably to blame. It’s no small wonder why Charli completely revolutionised her sound post-release. You may recognise such hits as Break the Rules (angsty anthem!), Doing It (featuring Rita Ora!) and Boom clap (showcased in the ‘stellar’ movie The Fault in Our Stars!). Radio fodder, the lot. I quite like the track Die Tonight though (and not because it’s what the album has me wishing for).

6 – ‘Number 1 Angel’ (2017) 

The first of two mixtapes – the second being ‘Pop 2’ – compiled from the fallout of a leaked (and subsequently scrapped) album unofficially titled ‘XCX World.’ Despite the fact that I find myself returning to this mixtape fairly regularly, it has too many duds to rank any higher: I could live without Dreamer, Blame It on U and Drugs in my life. However, Roll with Me and Lipgloss are such bops, the latter boasting an intense CupcakKe feature, and Babygirl should be a karaoke essential.  

5 – ‘Pop 2’ (2017) 

I don’t think it delivers on the conceit of revolutionising pop

Sacrilege! I know this is many people’s favourite Charli XCX release and while I can understand that viewpoint, I simply don’t listen to it very much. Maybe I should since there are certainly no skips, but to give the mixtape as bold and lofty a title as ‘Pop 2,’ I don’t think it delivers on the conceit of revolutionising pop.

My standout tracks are Tears, drowned out with haunting screams and token ethereal Caroline Polachek vocals, and Femmebot, with Dorian Electra and Mykki Blanco. It’s beautiful to see Dorian on a popular release and I hope the feature continues to draw people into checking out their music.

The mixtape has recently received significant attention from Tiktok bop Unlock It, putting Charli back in the limelight. It is my belief that the attention she received from this viral hit spurred on her change in sound back to more accessible music. Time will tell if that’s really the case when her new album drops.

4 – ‘True Romance’ (2013) 

you could say it’s a guilty pleasure, but forgive me for not feeling guilty

Yes, it’s a shaky debut album that is overshadowed by every subsequent release. Yes, it’s trashy mainstream electropop that didn’t even receive mainstream appeal. Yes, it’s widely ranked bottom of most Charli XCX album lists. I just have too many tracks from this LP in heavy rotation to ignore. Nuclear Seasons, Take My Hand, Stay Away, Set Me Free (Feel My Pain), Black Roses: my go-to shower sing-a-longs for God knows how long. This mixtape simply scratches an itch. You could say it’s a guilty pleasure, but forgive me for not feeling guilty.  

3 – ‘Vroom Vroom EP’ (2016)

At four tracks, this placement is less about the individual songs and more about what the ‘Vroom Vroom EP’ stood for. This moment marked a shift in sound for Charli, which in turn drew major attention towards the newly developing subgenre of experimental pop known as hyperpop. After seeking out futuristic production from PC Music’s A.G. Cook and the late SOPHIE- who would both go on to be frequent collaborators – Charli’s sound was rejuvenated.

2 – ‘how I’m feeling now’ (2020)

Charli’s COVID-19 album was made collaboratively with fans online over the course of six weeks. What a turnaround in that time, the best album made during lockdown perhaps? Is there any better evidence of hyperpop going mainstream than Dylan Brady (of ‘100 gecs’ fame) producing a Charli XCX single?

Some may find the insane production too abrasive; true, pop has no right to go this hard. Personal fav tracks: 7 years (touching ode to her partner), Detonate (club banger), Enemy (for strutting one’s stuff to) and Anthems (even harder club banger). If hyperpop is dead, as Charli questioned in a recent Instagram post, this is a strong final note to draw the curtain on.

1 – ‘Charli’ (2019) 

Charli lays herself bare both lyrically and quite literally on the cover artwork

Charli’s self-titled magnus opus is the perfect marriage of catchy and avant-garde pop sounds. After the landmark release of the ‘Vroom Vroom EP’, this album is what pc and pop music had been building towards, nailing the balance of experimentation and accessibility where ‘Number 1 Angel’ and ‘Pop 2’ failed.

Charli lays herself bare both lyrically and quite literally on the cover artwork (yes, I am the first reviewer in history to make this comparison). The first track Next Level Charli sets the stage perfectly: “I go hard, I go fast and I never look back… Turn the volume up in your bedroom. Put your hands up and scream…”. From the get-go we know this is a whole new and improved Charli, and acknowledged as fans to strap in for the wild ride to come. There are so many flawless songs on this album which really speak for themselves, so if you haven’t listened, please check ‘Charli’ out!

Disagree with my rankings? Comment below. Or sue me.

Tim Ovenden

Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image courtesy of @charli_xcx via No changes were made to this image.

For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.

If you can’t get enough of Impact Reviews, follow us on Twitter and Instagram and like our Facebook page for updates on our new articles.

Music ReviewsReviews

Leave a Reply