If your only exposure to Charli XCX has been her Fault in Our Stars soundtrack hit " Boom Clap" or her catchy chorus contribution on Iggy Azaela's " Fancy," you might think this British singer is just another cookie-cutter pop star on the rise.
One listen to the snarling, defiant, diverse songs on Charli's second major-label effort, Sucker, dispels that notion. The album tips its hat to early female pop-punk icons like Runaways-era Joan Jett as it meshes and moshes pop, punk, rock and dance elements with in-your-face attitude.
But don't just take my word for it. Here's Charli on the album opener and title track "Sucker": "You said you wanna bang?/Well/F--- you, sucker." See what I'm saying? And that's just the first salvo on a project chock-full of songs reveling in old-school abandon sautéed in modernized rebelliousness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
For the most part, Charli XCX has little use for sentimentality. One exception is "Boom Clap," where we get a dash of romance: "Boom! Clap!/You make me feel good/ … You are the light and I will follow/You let me lose my shadow."
"Doing It" sounds like it should be about sex, but the track's actually about having a good time with friends at a club. That context still isn't exactly positive, but Charli's affirmation of her friendships is. She sings, "Friends like a team in a circle/We're together, we're so alive, together we're so alive/ … Know that I got your back for life." "Hanging Around" also praises friendship.
"Need Ur Luv" mostly begs an emotionally abusive ex to return, but at one point Charli has a Gollum-like conversation about the merits of getting what her broken heart wants: "I need your love/I need it even when it hurts me/ … I need your love/I don't want it/ … Now I'm giving up/I won't give up, so come and get me/Don't you, don't you, don't you, don't you come and get me, baby."
"Sucker" spits "F--- you, sucker" six times to a guy who wants to "bang." There are two more f-words, an s-word and three misuses of God's name in that track alone. Veiled intimations of violence (perhaps metaphorical) turn up, too: "My hands, fresh cut (sick)/ Oh, dear god, I'm a killer now, I'm a killer now, so are you/Wow, you're awesome."
"Breaking Up" viciously demeans an ex with, "You have an ugly tattoo and f---ing cheap perfume/You couldn't dance, barely moved and didn't know what to do/ … Everything was wrong with you/So breaking up was easy to do/Hate your friends and your family, too." On "Body of My Own," Charli tells a former lover, "You got no feeling/ … Your sex is so over," before graphically and repeatedly insisting that she gets more satisfaction out of masturbating than she did during sex with him. A reference to using "a gun" in this context could be heard as either a reference to a sex toy or an instrument of suicide. Charli includes in that track a section filled with heavy breathing. Then, glorifying an illicit, long-distance affair, "Caught in the Middle" tells us that she "Flew across the world, I'm the other girl/The one who's in your head/Laid their by your side/In the city lights, naked in the lights/Hiding secrets in your bed."
"Break the Rules" indulges an adolescent anarchy fantasy ("I don't wanna go to school/I just wanna break the rules") that involves dancing, drinking, drugs and smoking ("Boys and girls across the world/Putting on our dancing shoes/Going to the discotheque/Getting high and getting wrecked/ … So light it up"). Also problematic is the song's nihilistic romanticizing of partying hard and dying young ("Never stop, it's how we ride/Comin' up until we die"). "Die Tonight" takes that theme further, mingling images of partying, yearning and death ("Oh, whoa, I could die tonight/'Cause I got magic in my blood/And I'm staying 'til the sun comes up/ … And I'm going hard with all my friends/I could die tonight").
Luxuriating in rap-level opulence, "Gold Coin" imagines champagne, jewels, "grills" and having so much money you can throw gold out the window. It also tosses in another smoking reference ("I'll hide inside my fortress smoking in my bed"). "Doing It" looks for meaning and maybe even transcendence by dancing all night long. "Shameless" majors in more drunken rebellion ("What trouble can we find?/ … Now we're falling down the stairs/We act so shameless/Come on, let's lose control!") while letting loose a Beatles-derived allusion to drug use ("And you know we're Lucy in the sky of diamonds").
Where do we find meaning in life? Charli XCX's answer echoes what we've heard so many times in pop and rock over the last 50 years or so: Life is about breaking the rules, throwing caution to the wind and living utterly in the moment with no thought given to consequences tomorrow.
Charli recognizes that friendships are important. But when it comes to her activities with those friends, the scene she constructs is of a nonstop party that includes whatever combination of dancing, sex, drinking and drugs she feels like indulging. And if all that partying means she doesn't actually make it to the next day, well, at least she went out in a blaze of hedonistic glory.