Charli XCX makes an electrifying comeback with “Crash”


Ashmi Pednekar

In “Crash,” Charli XCX expertly dons her pop persona to leave a mark on the genre.

“Crash” marks the end of Charli XCX’s five-album deal with Atlantic Records, and she’s making sure she ends it with a bang. Released on March 18, the album takes a deep dive into the world of classic pop — in a way that’s anything but classic.

“I’m about to crash into the water, gonna take you with me / I’m high voltage, self-destructive, end it all so legendary,” Charli XCX declared in the album opener of the same name. She alludes to the end of her contract, references the frequent theme of cars in her music, and boldly lays bare her intentions of going all out for “Crash.” And immediately, it’s evident that this album will be different from anything she’s ever done before.

Charli has never been one to play by the rules of traditional pop music, but this time, she’s selling out — and proud about it. “With this final album, the final album in my deal, I wanted to play into this idea of, ‘What if I played the game?’” she revealed in an interview with NPR. Much of the album stems from her interest in exploring the idea of an artist giving in and “selling their soul” to fit the mold of a major label — something Charli herself has always made clear she wanted to stay far away from. In this way, “Crash” is very highly conceptual — a fact that can be appreciated even if you aren’t a fan of her sharp stylistic turnaround in the album.

Of course, longtime fans will already have noticed that the singer-songwriter sheds much of her usual approach in favor of this revamped pop persona, leaving behind moody, avant-garde hyperpop in favor of the smash hit-style songs that she has previously produced for other artists. Her work on “I Love It” by Icona Pop and “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea has demonstrated Charli’s affinity for crafting exceptional pop music, and this time, she saves her genius for her own album.

Immediately, it’s evident that this album will be different from anything she’s ever done before.

“Good Ones,” for example, is almost the embodiment of pop perfection. The song layers Charli’s unique vocals with strobing synths and addicting percussion, culminating in a very dance floor-worthy moment. As the lead single of the album, this song is enormously captivating — particularly in the pre-chorus, which results in a blissful preface to the instrumental drop in the chorus. “I always let the good ones go,” she sings, but that certainly doesn’t apply to this track.

Despite her facing pop head-on, “Crash” as a whole is anything but formulaic, and Charli isn’t here to play nice. Each song is a textured landscape of its own, and flat moments are few and far between. A dominating beat gives structure to “Move me,” around which the music cuts and fades to create a multitude of effects within the single track. The album then transitions to “Baby,” a fast-paced, runway-ready song, exuding maximum glitz and glamor in less than three minutes. A few minutes later, a complete turnaround occurs with “Lightning”: The song is full of electronic funk, but mellow and honest at the same time.

Above all, Charli’s intentions for the album are very clear. Not only does she manage to add traditional pop to her repertoire but she also evokes pieces of her own musical past to seamlessly tie up this chapter of her life. She enlisted collaborators for two of the pre-released singles: Rina Sawayama on “Beg for You” and Christine and the Queens and Caroline Polachek on “New Shapes.” “Beg For You” is a crisp and clear-cut song, very reflective of Sawayama’s influences, and “New Shapes” is also molded by each artist’s respective tone. Both these songs are a reminder of Charli’s tendency to jam-pack her albums with numerous collaborators, a strategy that has always added depth and drawn interest to her work.

Another topic that is central to Charli’s work is, of course, her captivation with cars. Through her career, cars have consistently served as a vehicle, so to speak, for various symbols and concepts that the singer weaves into her albums. “To be honest, I was into a lot of self referencing for this album, which was part of the reason why I called it Crash,” she told NPR. “I’ve had so much constant narrative around cars in my lyrics and videos. I think, without sounding too much like a narcissist, I was touching on a lot of my own reference points for this album.” After the release of songs like “Porsche,” “White Mercedes,” “Vroom Vroom” and copious amounts of vehicle-related references, the reappearance of this theme creates an incredibly satisfying full-circle moment. 

All aspects considered, the album is perfectly cohesive, and Charli’s musical experimentation and conceptual ingenuity meld impeccably with the surprising sound she’s always been known for. Though the choruses of some tracks sound tediously repetitive and other songs seem as though they would benefit from being extended and further explored, the concept and musicality of the album alone is enough to divert attention from its flaws. “Crash” is electrifying and intriguing, with a sense of the volatility and danger that stems from Charli’s naturally out-of-the-box style.