Charli XCX’s ‘brat,’ But It’s a Roundtable Discussion

brat - Charli XCX
Atwood Magazine’s writers delve deep into Charli XCX’s monumental and feverishly addicting sixth album ‘brat,’ a record filled to the brim with dance, sorrow, and anxiety-inducing beats, and one whose signature pop bangers highlight the artist’s vast sonic and lyrical range.
Featured here are Atwood writers Aaron Childree, Dimitra Gurduiala, Jada Moore, Jake Fewx, Josh Weiner, Kevin Cost, and Sam Franzini!

brat - Charli XCX

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To start, what is your relationship with Charli XCX’s music?

Kevin Cost: Unless you are living under a rock, you have heard Charli somewhere. Whether it be on the radio or featured on another artist’s track; you are not able to escape the Charli-verse. I dabbled in her music throughout the years, but I became a true fan after her 2020 release, how i’m feeling now, which dropped during the peak of the pandemic; it was glitchy, disorienting, and almost felt brain-altering. She already gained recognition as an artist with previous releases, and even with the iconic features (“Fancy,” “I Love It”), the album truly became the pinnacle guaranteeing my status as a true fan.

Sam Franzini: I’ve always lingered in her periphery, not really a superfan but interested in what she has to do. In 2017 I listened to her dual mixtapes, and the following year I was excited when she kept dropping singles supposedly for her next album. I was on a side of Twitter at the time that really prioritized her as a new, creative voice, and while I agreed she’s a great pop artist, I could never quite get behind the labels of ‘the future of pop’ everyone seemed to easily throw out. But I’ve still kept up with her, writing about releases, even if she’s a tad overhyped.

Aaron Childree: Until the past year or so, I mostly knew of Charli XCX’s music through her pop hits and collaborations, songs like “Boom Clap” and “I Love It” (with Icona Pop). Then last year, I can’t remember what precipitated it, but I started listening to a lot of her music and really did a deep dive into her discography. Ever since then, I’ve had a serious appreciation for her songwriting and the way she is constantly looking for ways to push pop music forward.

Jada Moore: Icona Pop’s 2012 hit “I Love It” was the first introduction I had to Charli XCX. That song was iconic in its own right, and subsequently played everywhere. Let’s not forget “You (Ha Ha Ha)” and the chokehold it had on the film industry in the 2010s. Though I owe my thanks to the collab of all collabs for making me a fan, which was when Marina (formerly known as Marina and The Diamonds) and Charli released “Just Desserts.” Ever since, Charli has kept a permanent residency in my frequently listened to artists.

Josh Weiner: It’s been about 10 years now. In 2013, I remember “I Love It” being a big hit, but I don’t recall noticing the name of the singer behind the song at first, only the production duo (Icona Pop). Thus, it wasn’t until the following year that I became acquainted with the name Charli XCX, because that was when she had her first big solo hits, “Boom Clap” in particular. Over the years, as the tunes have continued to emerge, I’ve remained acquainted with Charli XCX and continued to enjoy her music. Catching her energetic performance at Lollapalooza in 2022 boosted my enthusiasm for the gal as well.

Jake Fewx: It’s been about 8 years since I’ve been aware of Charli’s music and about 5 where every time I see her post something online I think: “God, she is the coolest…” I have always been impressed with how much fun it sounds like Charli has making music. I remember hearing the Vroom Vroom EP back around 2016-17 and, though it took a bit for my mind to make heads or tails of what I was listening to, I loved Charli’s unabashed confidence. Since then, Charli XCX has, obviously, blossomed into one of the most exciting and creative artists on my radar. I adore what she brings to the pop music landscape and have the utmost respect for what she does as an artist.

Dimitra Gurduiala: Although I became aware of Charli thanks to the Icona Pop hit “I Love It,” I actually started listening to her thanks to “Boom Clap.” Obviously, may I add, being a huge fan of the film (and book) “The Fault In Our Stars.” Good times indeed, the era of Tumblr, black Converse and black eye pencil put exaggeratedly around the eyes. Since then every era of Charli (some a little less than others perhaps, but all in their own way) have had an impact on the music industry and different phases of my life, especially Charli, the Vroom Vroom EP and the album how I’m feeling now (my favourite in her discography, by the way). I’m glad she’s finally getting the recognition she deserves, she always worked hard and tried to be original in everything she did. You can hate or dislike her, but you could never not admit that she’s an icon.

Charli XCX © 2024
Charli XCX © 2024

What are your initial impressions and reactions to brat?

brat - Charli XCX

Kevin Cost: The release of this album mirrored the indie-sleaze sound that stirs up a lot of excitement within the dull world of top hits. Given her tendency to be extra, which is justified, I anticipated it to be a little excessive, but brat is another entity. I fell in love with it when I heard the piercing synth drum beat on “Sympathy is a knife,” and it made me sit up straight and see the brilliance of letting an artist do whatever the hell they want. Charli was granted true artistic freedom, which we want for all artists, but she embraced it to the nth degree with this new album.

Sam Franzini: I feel like the singles really promised something different — it was this roaring, ecstatic club album for the pre-release, but in reality it was bogged down by a few slower and clunkier tracks. Since the deluxe album arrived so quickly after the standard, I’ll include it here, and I must say that it added to the allure. The poppier electronic tracks really stand out and make the album lively, but a more concentrated energy would have helped it a bit.

Aaron Childree: I’m a big fan of this album, and it seems to be growing on me the more I listen to it. It’s a good mix of experimental pop and more accessible hits. And the synth-heavy production is really interesting—it gives you a lot of textural and rhythmic elements to latch on to even beyond the vocal melodies and lyrics. This is everything you want from this kind of maximalist, boundary-pushing pop music.

Jake Fewx: It’s a bop. I was really hoping for some Charli XCX club bangers, and hell yes does brat bring the bangers. I can’t honestly say I fell in love on the first listen but the album has successfully latched itself into my brain and hasn’t yet let go. The production team is firing on all cylinders and Charli’s songwriting hasn’t skipped a beat; everything about the album is so stinkin’ memorable. The album’s catchiness may be my favorite aspect of it, but there’s no doubt that brat will go down as one of my favorite listens of the summer.

Jada Moore: I love its duality! I expected the album to coincide with the club / dance party vibes the pre-releases were giving, however I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of tracks like “I might say something stupid” and “I think about it all the time.” Indeed each song’s unique vibe contributed to an overall solid piece of work by Ms. Charli.

Josh Weiner: I enjoyed it, and it looks like all of my Atwood colleagues in this roundtable did as well, so I’m glad that it has made a favorable impression across the board.

Dimitra Gurduiala: Already since the release of singles like “Club Classics” and “B2B” I could feel that I was going to love this album. Or, at least, my expectations were raised a lot. Then, during Charli’s set at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, I had the chance to hear new tracks like “365” and “Everything is Romantic.” There I realized for real that this record was going to be iconic, and not just me – it was no coincidence that more than 100,000 people turned out to jump from start to finish just for her, no artist was so highly anticipated during that day.

When I then listened to brat on its official release, I reconfirmed all my expectations. I madly loved it, from the very first listen. In my humble opinion, it failed to top how I’m feeling now, but it was a close call. Actually, brat is growing on me, so I might even change my mind.

How does this album compare to 2022’s Crash and the rest of Charli’s discography – what are the most striking similarities or differences?

brat - Charli XCX

Sam Franzini: Like she herself said, Crash was Charli’s sell-out album (but this might follow the trend of artists disavowing their previous album for some reason), even though it was certainly a good effort with a lot of great pop songs. I do sense the freedom Charli has on brat, which is a much more bombastic album than she’s ever released. It truly feels like she was the executive director here, which is a great artistic statement; even though some of the lyrics feel corny, at least it’s coming straight from her.

Aaron Childree: Compared to Crash, brat appeals to me a bit more. My thoughts are pretty similar to Sam’s. The way that Charli talked about Crash was that it was her chance to embrace a more mainstream pop sound, and she did that to great success. That album has some songs I really love, like “Constant Repeat” and “Twice.” But now that she’s done the down-the-middle pop album, I agree with Sam that there’s a palpable sense of freedom on brat. And the interesting thing is that even as she’s experimenting and finding new ways to push herself both sonically and lyrically, she’s still creating some of her catchiest songs. So, while Crash is a good album that can stand on its own, I also get the sense that it was a necessary step on the way to brat.

Jake Fewx: I agree with Aaron. In a way, Crash feels like a template for brat. I think Charli was searching to expand her sound and storytelling ability on Crash but things didn’t quite culminate like they did on this new album. I think the fact that Charli pursued this sound has paid off in spades!

Kevin Cost: Crash is beyond doubt how she sounds if she ever decides to enter the mainstream sellout route, but surprisingly, it is still amusing to listen to. Most of the songs are fun, quirky radio bops, but there are some standouts like “Yuck” or “Constant Repeat,” which are replayable in her discography. I do think the biggest difference is that it feels forced when most of her previous work is, for lack of a better word, experimental.

Jada Moore: I think the most apparent similarity between the two is that Crash seems to have played more into a hint of where Charli was headed next musically. As the album itself was the very essence of pop, though with a slight essence of dance added to the mix. However with brat, the album is just so unapologetically dance! Brat embodies the very essence of Charli XCX. Now with the freedom to fully engulf herself into the electronic and club banger side of the spectrum, it seems as if she found her niche.

Josh Weiner: I haven’t listened to Crash all the way through recently enough to make a sound comparison between that one and brat, but fundamentally I feel that [SIMILARITY] they both have smart, catchy lyrics and infectious dance beats, even though [DIFFERENCE] she appears to have gathered a distinctly different lineup of producers on each one, and even the producers that appear on both albums are used at different rates. A.G. Cook, for instance, only appeared twice on Crash, but is called upon twelve times on brat– Charli XCX must have elevated her confidence in the fella.

Charli XCX © 2024
Charli XCX © 2024

Which song(s) stand out for you on the album, and why?

brat - Charli XCX

Sam Franzini: Since it was released back in February, I always forget how much of a banger “Von dutch” is. That, plus “Club classics” and even “360” are such immediately legendary pop songs. “Talk talk” and “Apple” are fun, bouncy songs as well, and “Sympathy is a knife” and “365” are roaring, gritty songs that show what was so successful about previous albums like how I’m feeling now or Pop 2. In terms of standing out in the wrong way, no one will convince me that “Everything is romantic” or “I think about it all the time” are successful songs that sound pleasing to the ear.

Aaron Childree: Two songs quickly became my favorites: “360” and “Sympathy is a knife.” To me, these songs showcase all the best aspects of this album. The production is complex, expansive, and propels the songs forward rhythmically, and the melodic hooks are as infectious as it gets. These two songs also highlight the wide range of lyrical themes on the album. There is a lot of confidence and swagger on “360,” but then on “Sympathy is a knife” we hear Charli exploring some of her doubts and insecurities. I also really love “So I,” a moving ballad that shows yet another side of Charli’s songwriting.

Jake Fewx: “360” stands out as an incredible opener. It draws you in and wonderfully sets the tone for the album. Like I mentioned before, I’m all about brat’s bangers;  “Club Classics,” “Von Dutch,” and “B2b” are all amazing homages to 2000’s era pop and stand out as some of my favorite Charli XCX songs to date.

Kevin Cost: The two songs I frequently jump to are “Talk talk” and “Sympathy is a knife.” Both have such replayability and overall production that make you want to move. While “Talk talk” plays a little more friendly compared to the other, it still has that same sense of aching or the yearning to desire real emotion.

Jada Moore: I’m going to very obviously choose “Von dutch” because it’s truly a banger, but I also love the vulnerable side of “I might say something stupid.” I also can’t not mention “I think about it all the time” as it transports me back into the golden era of the late 90s, early 2000s television, though its lyrics are pretty honest and raw.

Josh Weiner: Like others in the roundtable, I’m a fan of “360.” I think that it’s an exciting track and a smart choice for the album opener, as it generates anticipation for the rest of the album that follows. Plus, I like “I think about it all the time,” as it’s a nice, candid track in which Charli XCX contemplates her future, and I enjoy the melody that the chorus is built around (“I think about it all the time, that I might run out of time. But I finally met my baby and a baby might be mine.”

Dimitra Gurduiala: “Everything is romantic.” I consider it one of the most successful tracks in Charli’s entire discography, actually. It is la dolce vita if it was a rave, a romantic track but perfect for summer. It conveys to me a desire to have fun and find the beauty in everything, from lemons to scooters – everything is romantic indeed. I am also proud that she wrote it inspired by her holiday in Italy, I’ll admit it! (“Early nights in white sheets with lace curtains / Capri in the distance”). It is pure lust for life and an anthem of hopeless romantics.

Do you have any favorite lyrics so far? Which lines stand out?

brat - Charli XCX

Sam Franzini: I think the ones where she’s hyper-specific and referential really work: it’s like an internet novel that zags around how many designer brands or influencers they can name. “I’m everywhere, I’m so Julia”; even if Julia Fox has achieved it-girl status only recently, it keeps zinging around my head. “Who the * are you? I’m a brat when I’m bumpin’ that” on “365” is also such a perfect thesis for the whole album. Also, the whole fantasy of blowing up the Grammys on “Spring breakers” is very very funny. “And I just laughed when the bodies went splat!” Iconic.

Aaron Childree: There’s a real emotional complexity in some of the lyrics on this album. I appreciate the raw honesty on “Sympathy is a knife” that shows up in lines like “don’t know if it’s real or if I’m spiraling” and “I’m embarrassed to have it but need the sympathy.” And on “I think about it all the time” it’s like she’s working through whether or when she wants to become a parent the way she would if she were writing in a private journal. Telling the story of meeting one of her friends who has recently had their first child, she sings, “She’s a radiant mother, and he’s a beautiful father, and now they both know these things that I don’t, I think about it all the time.” I also appreciate how on this extremely vulnerable song, she chooses to strip away the auto-tune she often uses on her voice.

Kevin Cost: Everyone across social media has been, of course, making countless memes about this album, and one of the lyrics that’s been circling the platforms is “Why I wanna buy a gun? Why I wanna shoot myself?” I found it to be “meme-able” as well and a tad vulnerable, but it heightens that song to a more serious degree of anxiety. The other is, “I think the apple’s rotten right to the core from all the things passed down, from all the apples coming before.” It is a very relatable lyric about the inevitable mental, emotional, and physical attributes being passed down from your own familial past, and how you cannot avoid them.

Jada Moore: Though the tune of most of the album is very upbeat, Charli also gets quite vulnerable. On “I think about it all the time” the brutal honesty from Charli regarding her thoughts and aspirations for the future is very relatable. “That I might run out of time. But I finally met my baby. And a baby might be mine. ‘Cause maybe one day I might. If I don’t run out of time.” That same vulnerability and openness appears on “Sympathy is a knife” where Charli opens up about her own struggles and insecurities. “Why I can’t even grit my teeth and lie? I feel all these feelings I can’t control”

Though on the opposite side of spectrum, the very unapologetic confident side of Charli comes into play on 360 with the lyrics “Internationally recognized, I set the tone, it’s my design and it’s stuck in your mind. Legacy is undebated. You gon’ jump if A. G. made it. If you love it, if you hate it, I don’t f*ing care what you think.”

Josh Weiner: As stated above, I liked the thematic concept of “I think about it all the time” and its central chorus, which I found catchy and melodic. Plus, I appreciate her vision of a “Mean Girl” on Track #13 – “It’s 2 a.m., and she’s out there in the sheer white dress, wearing last night’s makeup, all coquette-ish in the pictures with the flash on, worships Lana Del Rey in her AirPods, yeah.” OK, hearing Lana name-dropped in that line for me is a tough reminder that her show at Fenway Park here in Boston on Thursday is completely sold out and there’s no way I can go… but that’s in no way Charli XCX’s fault, so I’ll still give that lyrical shout-out a thumbs-up.

Dimitra Gurduiala: “In a place that can make you change / Fall in love again and again,” from “Everything is romantic.” I’m a firm believer in journeys made to find yourself, in getting your heart broken only to be able to love even stronger than before, and for me this simple verse describes this philosophy perfectly. I would also add the whole lyrics of “So I,” dedicated to Sophie. I must say, I find it very sweet and touching that for once a song dedicated to this extraordinary artist does not mention how she passed away, as other artists have done (St. Vincent in ‘Sweetest Fruit’, for example). “When I make songs, I remember / Things you’d suggest, ‘make it faster’ / Would you like this one?” Oh, Charli. I’m sure Sophie would love this album.

Where do you feel brat sits in the pantheon of Charli XCX’s discography?

brat - Charli XCX

Sam Franzini: In the middle, but closer to the top. I feel if she went really all-in and crafted this electroclash, bombastic record with the same energy and momentum throughout, it really could have been one of the best pop albums of all time. (A record full of “Von dutch”es and “Spring breakers”? Sign me up.) As it is, it’s pretty successful, even though some of the writing is dead on arrival. “Apple” is painfully over-explained, and “Mean girls” is clearly trying to adopt a writing style that Charli is just not good at. But this type of club song is rarely about the writing, so it can be given some passes.

Aaron Childree: I’d put brat in the top tier, along with her 2017 mixtape Pop 2. Both of these projects mix excellent pop songwriting with masterful electronic production and a healthy disregard for pop conventions. This new album, along with Charli’s impressive Boiler Room DJ set in the leadup to the album’s release, also make me really excited to see where her music goes from here. Brat explores a wide range of sounds and lyrically themes, and the Boiler Room set showed Charli’s skills behind the decks, so it feels like the sky is the limit as she continues to challenge what it means to be a pop star.

Jake Fewx: Honestly, Vroom Vroom EP aside, I think this is Charli’s best album yet. I know Charli has been on a tear the past five years but I really feel like this album distills and amplifies every great Charli XCX-ism while simultaneously displaying Charli at her most vulnerable and the album is more versatile and enjoyable for it.

Kevin Cost: brat is a masterpiece, but I do think that if this was released earlier in her career, it may not have done as well. Her discography has such wide variety, appealing to all different types of pop fans, and brat has this sort of spice that reflects the current age of her fans and the technology we all possess today compared to what was once before. 

Jada: I think Brat deserves its own place at the table for sure, just because its the very embodiment of Charli XCX. You can tell this was an album she truly put so much heart into. With that being said, Number 1 Angel and Pop 2 remain amongst my top two favorite albums.  The collaborators alone are enough to keeping back for more!

Josh: My favorite album of hers is still probably 2014’s Sucker, but that may come down to nostalgia at the end of the day. I’m happy to defend brat as one of her best records to date, though I confess that I have not listened to all of them (there are quite a lot, in my defense).

Dimitra Gurduiala: I think brat represents Charli’s true golden era and the beginning of recognition by a much larger audience than she’s used to. I feel that the pinnacle of her career is yet to come, though. I do think, however, that she is on a good, good path to fully realize her potential. I want to hope that this is just a beginning, rather than the end or a mere continuation of her journey. I’m curious to hear whatever she’s going to do in the future. Without any expectation at all, really – she’s never been able to truly disappoint.

Charli XCX © 2024
Charli XCX © 2024

Charli — or her fans — have long alleged she acts in antithesis to the pop norm, while simultaneously enveloping its best features to create a new song. What effect do you think this has on brat?

brat - Charli XCX

Aaron Childree: What comes through to me on brat is the way Charli takes what she likes from pop norms and conventions without feeling bound by them, and I really appreciate that. We’ve talked about how there’s a freedom to this album. This is an artist at a moment where she feels free to create the exact sound she wants without worrying what critics will say or how the music will work its way through the industry machine.

Kevin Cost: ​Through her many collaborators, including the legendary SOPHIE, Charli has learned that pop can be whatever you make it, but there are so many different avenues and wavelengths you can process it through. It does not have to be this one singular entity. You can expand on it endlessly, and I think Charli is or has already perfected that mindset.

Jada: For once I am actually going to agree and hear me out! Though Charli has been making pop music for about a decade now, she has continued to blur the lines between pop and dance. Brat embodies the very essence of Charli XCX in that she is once again using pop to create something unique to what we’re typically hearing on mainstream pop radio right now.

Josh: I don’t consider “pop” a musical genre, but rather a commercial status – it’s short for popular, after all! So, simply attaining the mainstream levels that she has automatically makes her a “pop singer,” in a sense. I interpret this question as asking, “Does her music take the best elements of today’s pop songs while also maintaining its own distinct identity?” and to that I say, “Perhaps so, but I need to become a more seasoned listener before I can properly say which songs on brat best achieve that effect.”

Any thoughts on the extended version, Brat and it’s the same but there’s three more songs so it’s not? How do the bonus songs contribute to the overall release?

Brat and it's the same but there's three more songs so it’s not - Charli XCX

Jake Fewx: First off, incredible title, but the three bonus tracks are great! All three are a ton of fun and I kind of wish they were given a place on the original product. I know we think “360” is a great opener but don’t tell me “Hello goodbye” wouldn’t be just as good.  And “Guess” could have been a great palate cleanser that could add some more depth on the, um, sexual side of the album… (insert blushing emoji here).

Kevin Cost: Absolute bangers. All three are the perfect cherry on top of this entire album, especially because they do not feel far off from the vibe executed. “Hello goodbye” is already a club classic (no pun intended), while “Guess” and “Spring breakers” wrap up the whole deluxe version in pure “brattitude.”

Jada Moore: I’m going to agree with Jake here, because what a title this is! I’m always going to eat up a good creative title, especially when it’s one that is so literal. Now onto the songs, not sure if it’s an unpopular opinion, but I think it makes a lot of sense to include them on their own / on an extended version of the album. They’re a bit more electronic forward and reminiscent of a club version vs. radio edit (if you get what I mean.) “365” alone closes out Brat well, but the addition of the three tracks gives a bit of an encore feel.

Josh Weiner: Yep, I agree with the “encore feeling” and the “absolute bangers” labels that everyone else has bestowed on these albums. Plus, I like the hip-hop persona of Charli XCX that emerges in these bonus tracks; it’s a fine way to close things out.

Dimitra Gurduiala: I’d say it’s clear, especially with “Guess,” that Charli has realized that she can now do whatever she wants, both musically and lyrically. I find that she has totally let herself go in these three bonus tracks, they add an interesting touch to the album. Really hoping the entire deluxe album will be part of DJ sets all around the world this summer, it’d definitely be deserved!

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:: stream/purchase BRAT here ::
:: connect with Charli XCX here ::

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an album by Charli XCX

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