One of Charli XCX‘s Angels had preordered the singer’s new studio album Charli three times. Another was certain that the LP would save pop music, and yet another’s life was literally depending on it. After the singer-songwriter tweeted a quick countdown to the album a few weeks ago, these were just three of the responses in a long reply thread of excitement-driven expletives, ALL-CAPS statements, and a general sense of rabid anticipation. To her Angels, Charli is a deity.
Given the promising personal nature of a self-titled album, that exhilaration makes sense. Charli, out today (September 13), is diaristic, yes, but it also acts as something of a reintroduction to Charli herself, who’s evolved considerably as a music maker since her last proper album, 2014’s Sucker. “I felt very comfortable opening up and being honest about my mental state and my feelings about anxiety, isolation, and being an artist,” Charli tells MTV News. “The cool part about writing it basically every day back to back was that my mood would change constantly. I’d write different songs a day that helped shape it.”
At 51 minutes, Charli — a cosmic safari of bold, futuristic sounds — is a lengthier contemporary pop album. It was almost longer. But Charli, along with her co-executive producer A.G. Cook, decided that adding more songs would have made it harder to tell the story that they tried for. “At the end of the process, we were aiming for like a 20-track album, but we figured an additional five would have been difficult to wrangle together,” Cook tells MTV News. The final album is the concise, most current sonic apparition of the 27-year-old pop star whose music sounds like pop’s past, present, and future folded into one omniscient entity.
Charli was recorded quickly. Not as swiftly as her 2017 mixtape Pop 2, which was completed in just three weeks, but still laid down over a month and some change, sprinkling in-studio sessions in November, January, and March. “I like to be fast and I like to work with a lot of artists,” Charli says jubilantly.
She’s not kidding. Charli feels much bigger than its 15 tracks, with 14 high-profile collaborators — including Lizzo, Haim, Troye Sivan, and more — spread across the LP. “I like to bring in as many artists all over the world from different places and cultures because I feel like that is what really drives me to learn from them and to make sure that they have a voice in my record,” she says. “That’s what excites me and that’s what I love about collaboration.” Cook facilitated some of these collaborations, bringing in producers like Montreal producer Ö, who worked with Charli on Pop 2‘s “Lucky,” and futurist electronic producer and songwriter Dylan Brady.
As a prevailing theme of Charli is chemistry, it’s only natural that Cook and Charli would be extremely close. They exchanged direct messages for a while before meeting at Charli’s housewarming party where, afterward, their creative partnership began to solidify. “We immediately hit it off because we’re relatively similar people with the same sense of humor,” he says. “After the party, we did a few sessions together. By the time that we really started making music, I felt like I knew her super well.”
Their partnership grew organically. Cook worked on one song from Charli’s 2016 EP, Vroom Vroom, and a year later, he earned six writing credits and five producing credits on her mixtape Number 1 Angel. By year’s end, Cook produced and wrote on every track of Pop 2. “I’ve gotten to know her so much better,” Cook says. Now, they rely on each other’s instincts when recording music. “When she’s feeling something and I’m feeling something, we just write it down really fast,” Cook says. “Some people work on something and then tweak it, come back to it, or mix it up. We are either into it or just delete it and move on.” To balance out their rapid-fire recording style with their genuine closeness, the duo converted a rented Airbnb into their studio. “We thought it would be more fun to not even think about it too much as a studio, so we set up in multiple rooms. The workflow was much easier that way because it was chaotic,” Cook says.
One of these quick, intuitive songs is “Thoughts,” where Charli floats with an electronic voice that threatens to blow everything away. Cook’s high-energy production evokes being lost in space with alarms blaring all around. He calls it one of his favorites on the album. “When I made the instrumental, I didn’t think that someone would be able to sing over it and command it, but as soon as she heard it, we were in the middle of recording something else and she wanted to record over it,” he says. Charli proceeded to record two verses and a chorus in a snap. “She took this huge instrumental sound and made it really intimate and it feels like a huge stream of consciousness that just really sticks out.”
Another similarly inspired song is “2099” which serves as a “more experimental electronic” and “darker” sequel to Charli and Sivan’s nostalgic hit “1999.” “After we completed the song, I asked him, ‘I know “1999” is done, but should we get a bit weirder as well?'” Charli says. They did, twisting the sepia tones into something more primal and minimalistic. They “pull up, roll up, fuck up” and use “future” on the chorus like a war chant. It’s the kind of creepy, aberrant vision we’ve come to expect from Charli. The future’s selfish, and we’re all longing for the sweet memory of the past and the music that inspired us.
Then there’s “Blame It on Your Love,” a fresh collaboration with Lizzo that began as the woozy, experimental “Track 10” on Pop 2. But Charli says that it simply “didn’t feel right” until Lizzo brought her contagious vibes and natured and bombastic touch. “Her energy while she’s writing is exactly what you think,” Charli says. “She’s so effervescent and her vibe is really good.”
The seismic “Shake It,” meanwhile, finds Charli re-teaming with some past collaborators; rapper CupcakKe, chameleonic artist Brooke Candy, and drag-queen singer Pabllo Vittar all appear alongside New Orleans bounce legend Big Freedia. Charli especially looked forward to connecting with Freedia’s explosive and unrestrained energy for the first time. “I don’t really have a huge part on that song actually,” she says. “I wanted them to all do their thing because they are all some of my favorite artists and I wanted them to kill the track, which they all do.” Big Freedia was similarly eager to make things happen, saying via email that Charli “thinks outside the box” and is “fierce.” The result of the dynamic team-up is a moist, temperate atmosphere of breathless chants and distorted, Terminator-like metallic screeches. The beat drops with a vicious snap, and the quartet issue commands in their unique ways to move your body. There’s nothing left to do but give in.
Of everything on the massive album though, Charli’s most amped for fans to dive into opener “Next Level Charli,” a victorious song for her diehards that live and die by the XCX. It’s like driving with the top down as a slight rain shower tickles your smiling teeth. “I feel like it’s our anthem. It’s about us going out, getting a little fucked up, feeling bossy and braggy,” she says. “It’s about playing music fucking loud in your car on the way to the party about to have the best night of your life. I feel like that’s what I do and that’s what they do, so that song is for them.”