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Charli XCX: Barely an Icon

by Emma Kang

Staff Writer

Charli XCX by Karolis Kaminskas for Crack, 2021

[originally published April 22, 2022]


Charli XCX is a British singer-songwriter who, over the past decade, has become one the world’s biggest pop stars. She is most known for making music in the genres of electro-pop, hyper pop, dance pop, experimental pop, and every other niche-pop genre you can think of. Her rise to fame began after she posted some of her music to Myspace and playing small shows around Essex, and her popularity has since grown exponentially. She shared a tweet claiming credit for the creation of hyper-pop and hyper-pop adjacent styles, saying: “i transcend genres, but i also helped create one. it’s very impressive.” It would be a mistake to ignore Charli XCX as an important player in the popularization of dance music over the past few years, but Charli XCX does not transcend genres and she definitely did not create a new one.

Hyperpop began in the early 2010’s and is often associated with artists signed on the PC Music label, which Charli XCX was previously signed on. Many songs on her last three albums were produced by A.G. Cook, the founder of PC Music. Her song “Vroom Vroom,” arguably her best, was produced by Sophie. Despite her close ties to the artists at the frontlines of the hyper-pop genre, I would argue that Charli XCX is not a hyperpop artist. She simply got involved with the best musicians in the genre at the right moment in time. Charli is a great songwriter who can make a catchy chorus that is perfectly palatable to tamer listeners. Her music is a diluted version of the true hyper-pop artists that might not be appealing to the larger listening public. Her lack of intensity makes her the perfect hyper-pop poster-child catered towards mainstream audiences; even your parents can handle listening to her music. She didn’t transcend and create a genre, she simplified one that already existed.

Charli was crowned the princess of eclectic dance pop after her self titled

album came out in 2019. Six months later, she put out another entire album titled How I’m Feeling Now which was one of the first pandemic projects to be put out by a mainstream artist. On both albums, she figured out the pop song recipe and tweaked it in some interesting ways. However, her newest album, Crash, disappointingly lacks any expansion on her original pop-song recipe. I thought it all mostly sounded the same and wasn't even that much fun to dance to. Crash confirms her ability to write a song, but exposes her lack of vision and ingenuity, and I’m not sure why everyone is eating it up.

Maybe I’m just being a hater, but for the most part I think Charli XCX is boring. I never understand what people are talking about when they say she’s an “icon.” To bestow the title of icon upon her is a little delusional, in my opinion, and it says more about the lackluster star-power in our current batch of celebrities than it does about her. She reacted incredibly appropriately to a cultural moment three years ago and is still getting rewarded for it now. I don’t think her music or image will be important in years to come. Another important aspect of her devoted fanbase and supposed icon-status is that she’s not just considered an icon, but she’s considered a gay icon. Does any bitch wearing a little outfit who makes dance music become a gay icon? Is that all it takes? Come on. If we really need a straight white women for a gay icon, Charli XCX is terrible excuse for one. What ever happened to Lady Gaga?

I sometimes feel confused as to why Charli XCX is as famous as she is. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that Charli XCX is a great songwriter, but she does not have the “It” factor. She certainly contributed to making something really fun, really popular, because she’s normal as hell. She lacks her own creative initiative and is depending on other people to tell her what’s cool. Some of her music is worth the hype, but she herself rarely lives up to it. To me, lack of charisma does not make an icon, but I’m glad you guys love it.

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