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Review: “BRAT” by Charli XCX

Charli XCX brings energy to emotional release and confidence to vulnerability in her electrifying sixth studio album.
Image by Ava Weinreis
The artist masterfully blends EDM, pop and hyperpop on a record that feels like a night out with her.

Since Charli XCX’s highly anticipated sixth studio album “BRAT” was released on June 7, memes imitating its incredibly simplistic cover have spread across the internet.

The cover is ironic, given the record’s high energy and meticulous production paired with a vulnerable, authentic lyricism which the artist called “unique minimalism.”

“We went back and forth on deciding which production tools to ban vs which to lean on,” the artist wrote in her Instagram post announcing the album’s release. 

Charli also wrote that they looked through 65 shades of green to find “the final most ultimate most brat green.”

Charli teamed up with her long-term executive producer and hyperpop pioneer, A.G. Cook, along with British DJs Finn Keane and Hudson Mohawke to put out the 15-track, 40-minute record evocative of the London rave scene where she first started performing.

From the beginning, listening to “BRAT” feels like going out dancing with Charli. She warms us up with the short and sweet opener “360” while still keeping our eyes on her. She’s everywhere, all 360 degrees around us.

Once we are warmed up, Charli wastes no time picking up speed with the pulsing second track “Club classics.” 

A repeating phrase in this song is “I wanna dance to me.” Charli compels the listener to want the same with a warped, hyper-pop beat that brings to mind the sweat marks and blinding lights she sings about. It is a celebration of the songs it is trying — and succeeding — to be.

“Sympathy is a knife” marks the climax of the album’s first third with more vulnerable lyrics while maintaining high energy and danceability.

Charli expresses her insecurity and decries the sympathy people are giving her as fake, aiming to comfort her ego and save her career rather than her feelings.

“I’m embarrassed to have it, but need the sympathy,” she sings right before the chorus where she compares that sympathy to a knife.

Vulnerability and danceability intertwine in “Sympathy is a knife.” It portrays dancing as more than a fun activity and instead a form of distracting yourself from internal or external struggles — it can be a way to express your deepest insecurities.

Following “Sympathy is a knife” is the album’s shortest song, a slow, two-minute water break called “I might say something stupid.” 

Charli continues expressing her struggles with fame and insecurity. It seems as if the angry and frustrated tears of the previous song have dried, leaving her and the listener empty.

“I’m famous but not quite / But I’m perfect in the background / One foot in a normal life,” she sings. “I go so cold, I go so cold / And I don’t know if I belong here anymore, I-”

Charli gets us back on our feet with track five, “Talk talk,” an upbeat, pop love song about the thrill of chasing a crush.

My favorite track and the album’s lead single “Von dutch” marks the approximate halfway point of the album. Finn Keane brings expert production to this pulsing EDM track and Charli’s distorted vocals and limited tonal range scratch the brain so well.

“Von dutch, cult classic but I still pop,” she drones. Yes, Miss XCX, you do.

It is hard to resist singing the praises of every track on the rest of the album, but I will stick to naming a few highlights.

“So I” is a tender, piano-dominated tribute to the late music producer and artist SOPHIE, with whom Charli had a close, creative and personal relationship. Charli sings about regretting pushing SOPHIE away, thinking she wasn’t cool enough for SOPHIE and how she wouldn’t have if she knew she was going to die.

The energetic dance pop tracks “B2b” and “Mean girls” have also proven to be fan favorites and help maintain a consistent sound throughout the record.

The concluding track, “365,” is a reworked, sped-up version of the opener. A song decidedly about partying, it combines the best parts of the production of “Club classics” and the infectious melody of “360.”

At this point in the album and our night out with Charli, she has shown us her true colors and what lies behind the unabashed confidence she brings to the floor. That vulnerability takes on a different meaning and renders Charli’s invitation to dance with her undeniable.

Even hearing her call herself a “brat,” at this point, is incredibly endearing.

“Who the f— are you? I’m a brat when I’m bumpin’ that,” she raps. “Now I wanna hear my track, are you bumpin’ that?”

It is easy for those unfamiliar with Charli XCX music to call it “club music” and consider it shallow. At the same time, people do not dance for no reason. They dance to escape as well as to feel. 

On “BRAT,” Charli encourages both.

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