On the surface, Charli XCX appears as though she’s a little different from the rest of what’s been clogging up pop radio as of late. Something about her seems a little meaner, a little more capable, a little less likely to conform. She named a single “Break The Rules”, her latest record Sucker, and delivered a guitar smashing performance at this year’s American Music Awards that confused audiences just as much as it amused them. She comes off almost as England’s answer to Katy Perry – hook-heavy, bouncy pop music, but with a bit of a sour “across the pond” twist.
Really dig into her deeper cuts, though, past the “Boom Clap”s and the “Fancy”s in her library, and you’ll discover Charli’s true nature. The thin layers of rebellion and attitude start to peel away, and the music beneath reveals itself as nothing that really deserves to separate itself from the pack. Gimmicks have always been a quick way to get attention in the music world, and Charli’s “I’ll do what I want” shtick is working pretty well, but not really on a level that affects the kind of stuff she puts her name on on a deeper level. It’s enough to garner praise from critics who’ll want to paint her as something she really isn’t, but nothing more than that.
So what do we actually have in Sucker, a record that’s really just like everything else out there? To be honest, the only real reason I could see this album taking off is the sheer amount of catchiness that seems to be crammed into every single second of it. Not only do her huge hits have the potential to be stuck in your head for days, but some of the lesser known tracks offer a major dose of hooky pop goodness. The we-will-rock-you groove of “Hanging Around” and the subtle punkiness of “London Queen” are just a few highlights of what actually makes for a pretty good collection of verse-chorus-verse pop songs.
Unfortunately, though, Sucker does have one major flaw that’ll prevent those who don’t usually enjoy pop from liking it, for the most part: It tries a little too hard to be something it’s not. The cries of “Fuck you! Sucker!” on the title track seem too forced, the “getting high and getting wrecked” on “Break The Rules” has the feeling of a teenager boasting to their classmates about something they’ve never done.
Of course, none of this will prevent the radio play and club rotation many of these songs will surely get. The exact things I mentioned as feeling fake and forced in the previous paragraph will be enjoyed and sung along to by many, many, people. That’s because radio pop is more about the individual songs themselves than it is the albums they’re off of or the artists that record them, and even though Charli may not be all that special when looked at as a total package, her career plays to the idea that a very small percentage of her catalog is going to define her for years to come. The guitar smashing and f-bomb dropping is for the press, but the infectious choruses and beats? Those are for the people, and as long as it’s what they want to hear, Charli XCX is going to be enjoying considerable success.