Brat review | Charli XCX showcases modern womanhood at its messiest

She told you she was cute and rude with a kinda rare attitude, didn’t she?

The world of pop seems to have its own mysterious rules, so much so that it feels like its own fight club. Don’t talk about the music industry, DON’T talk about the music industry, and whatever you do, do NOT mention how the sausages get made in the industrial pop machine. But Charli XCX, both a major label mainstay and champion of the underground hyperpop movement, has never been content to sit back and let that slide. 

After making Crash, her “major label sell-out record”, she’s back with Brat, which examines the popography of her world. Whether that’s gravel-voice New York podcasters to similarly frizzy-haired musicians she’s been mistaken for, Charli XCX pulls back the curtains to shine a light on the complicated dynamics of being a woman – especially one in power. 

So many pop stars have their theories on what it means to be a woman, but I find Charli’s vision to be one of the more compelling. ‘Brat’ plays with the cultural expectations of a ‘good’ woman with its wild push-and-pull. On the one hand, she lures you in with straight-up party bangers like ‘Von Dutch’, or ‘360’, which is an anthem engineered to strut down the street (and most likely my top song of 2024 already). But then Charli dares you to hate her with her references to Dasha Nekrasova on ‘Mean Girls’, who co-hosts the highly successful yet controversial podcast Red Scare.

Occasionally, Charli XCX also yanks the spotlight onto herself, and these are the moments that are lyrically the most fascinating. You have to be a brat to know one, and on songs like ‘Sympathy is a Knife’, Charli reasons that the reason why she might be one is due to jealousy: “Cause I couldn’t even be her if I tried / I’m opposite, I’m on the other side”. The sheer force of Charli’s voice on the chorus makes ‘Sympathy is a Knife’ one of Brat’s standout tracks: emotionally complex, unabashedly pop. 

There’s also ‘Girl, So Confusing’, which sees Charli trying to forge a bridge with another subject who she equally admires and feels insecure around: “Can’t tell if you wanna see me / Falling over and failing / And you can’t tell what you’re feeling / I think I know how you feel”. Being a woman in music with the cultural influence Charli has – one where ‘girl power’ runs riot – can create pressurising vacuums where envy simply can’t exist, lest it be deemed sexist. But women don’t always feel empowered and confident; songs like ‘Girl, So Confusing’ are surprisingly nuanced and empathetic in their lyricism. 

The album very rarely falters, but when it does, it’s slight. ‘Apple’’s introspective nature is let down by the boring, dull instrumental it’s paired with. ‘I Might Say Something Stupid’ is another moment where Charli manages to look inwards amidst the whirlwind tracklist, but the mournful, rocking keys feel a bit too on the nose and cliché. 

‘365’ feels like the perfect ending to the album: pitched up a semitone higher, it automatically feels like it’s the credits score to a movie – that is, until that crumbling bass kicks in, reminding you no matter what Charli’s feeling, she will always be a Number 1 Party Girl. It’s the last little prank in a pop record that finally feels like the kind of album Charli’s always wanted to make: cheeky, challenging, and captivating. 

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