Charli XCX's new label and its eponymous EP send mainstream pop underground to an alarmingly enjoyable effect.
The ascension of Charli XCX from Bishop’s Stortford to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 is peculiar to fathom. One moment, you’re uploading tracks to MySpace with titles like ‘!Franchesckaar!,’ attending raves to perform with your parents, and signed to Orgy Music (which is apparently a genuine record label); the next you’re pop’s resident punk edge, trashing hotels and raucously bitching from Los Angeles to Tokyo, yet still having the approachable youth appeal to pull off a theme song for tearjerking young adult tale The Fault In Our Stars.
This apparent lack of intermediacy makes her, seemingly, the perfect fit to mesh with the incredibly bizarre and similarly bombastic PC Music label/genre/subculture/social study/pyramid scheme. On this bridge to the surely inevitable third album later this year, she launches Vroom Vroom, her own experimental pop vanity collective, and Vroom Vroom, a concise and intense four track EP to go with it produced by aural oddball SOPHIE.
Those who are accustomed to the burgeoning future pop trickery from SOPHIE and company, particularly his moderately irritating 2015 debut LP Product, will find a lot of familiar ground here, recalling the likes of ‘LEMONADE’ and ‘VYZEE’ especially. Over the years since ‘BIPP’ presented a delightful concept of dystopian pop’s pathway, the community’s signature sound has been distilled into a coupling, often set at extremes, of harsh, revolving percussion and glittering sherbet vapidity to its melodies and lyrics. Every moment here is as prescribed, either forming a tribal chant or a flashback to shimmering raves of days gone by.
The key way in which Vroom Vroom differentiates itself from the horde for the better is Charli herself, as merely the presence of a genuine culturally-relevant popstar, and especially one that is clearly open to whatever nonsense producers may throw at her to the point at which she launches a label with Warner specifically for the stuff, serves to garnish the concoction with relatively consistent palatability. She spends much of the duration venomously rhyming with the prerequisite posh English accent, particularly on the title track, a pounding set of automotive metaphors designed clearly to make an impact and perplex.
‘Paradise,’ featuring Hannah Diamond, is perhaps the most respectful for more conservative listeners, who are likely approaching the yelpy, gelatinous world of this experimental style for the first time. Very reminiscent of Diamond’s solo discography, it’s a garishly saccharine ode to love which utilises percussion only for post-chorus euphoric madness. Its solitary blot, providing your sweet tooth can handle lyrics like “Sparks burning in my heart / You got me through the dark / I look at you, you feel it too,” is the brief second verse, sung by Diamond. The hollow, childish female vocal is a PC Music staple and one, it happily appeared otherwise, had eluded Vroom Vroom.
The other tracks are far more confrontational, and not just because Charli labels everyone as a bitch of some sort. ‘Trophy’ channels, quite literally, Uma Thurman circa Pulp Fiction in its quest to depict our experimental figurehead as some world-leading pioneer of…something, including obligatory braggadocious allusions to the popping of bottles, fucking people up, and Marilyn Monroe. ‘Secret (Shh)’ is far more intimate, giving us a rebellious ‘bad girl’ incarnation of Charli slithering occasionally off-beat with rappy tendencies borrowed from Iggy Azalea. A few yelps do creep into the industrial mix, which is how I imagine a slow jam from The Prodigy to sound. However, her captivating arrogance more than suffices.
With Vroom Vroom being our first real taste of PC Music with a charismatic and practical pop vocalist, rather than a theoretical construct of one, at the helm, commercial reaction will be particularly intriguing. The pop establishment, of course, is unlikely to instantly flip a switch and go all synthetic corn syrup on us, yet, despite the EP’s inability to conclusively shed the notion that the PC Music movement may be an out-of-control inside joke to which the ambivalent amongst us are not privy, it does finally gift us an impressive manifesto of what pop could be without conventional aural boundaries in action.
Vroom Vroom EP is out now via Vroom Vroom