Release Date: Dec 16, 2014
Record label: Atlantic
The pop world might well be on form at the moment, chugging along like a well-run High School canteen of familiar, established faces. What it’s missing, though, is a shake-up. We want a Tai Frasier character dragging her satchel down the linoleum-floored corridor instead of carrying it properly, who spends lunch hour hiding on the roof and listening to The Vibrators with Travis Birkenstock.
This year’s first great pop record bowls in with a rapturous celebration of the genre’s rebellious, trashy potential (and a bottle of champagne and a pocketful of pills to boot). From the “fuck you”-heavy title track onwards, 22-year-old Charli XCX’s main mode is rejection – flipping off authority on ‘Break The Rules’, flicking off oneself in the face of a shit lover on the electrifying ‘Body Of My Own’ – which she executes with total aplomb. But ‘Sucker’ finds depth when Charli drops her guard.
It’s funny to think that only a year ago, Charli XCX was a name known only within critic’s circles and promoted mainly by a select demographic of indie pop connoisseurs. Last year’s True Romance made it to numerous best-of lists, and the 2012 hit she wrote for Icona Pop, I Love It, was a top-notch slab of synthpop, but none of it was enough to translate Charlotte Aitchison’s talent into much-deserved commercial success. But now, thanks to a certain Australian rapper and massively popular summer blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars, Charli XCX finally has an avenue through which she can leave her fingerprints on the pop world.
You've gotta hand it to a 22-year-old who, on the brink of pop mega-stardom, opens her latest LP with a chant of "Fuck you, sucker!" But allow Charlotte Aitchison some cockiness. The writer and singer behind one of the decade's most irresistible pop jams (Icona Pop's "I Love It") as well as one of its biggest (Iggy Azalea's "Fancy"), she clearly patterned her second LP on the Debbie Harry and CBGB-scene pinups on her Instagram – see "London Queen," a song about tripping on America that channels Joey Ramone's fake British accent through a real one and even swings a baseball bat. But Sucker is no retro gesture: Charli runs the album's rock & roll guitars and attitude through enough distressed digital production and thumb-type vernacular to make this the first fully updated iteration of punk pop in ages.
For a while, Charli XCX seemed to be tiptoeing into the spotlight. After co-writing and singing on Icona Pop's smash hit "I Love It," her album True Romance -- which had a darker, indie-friendly sound -- earned more acclaim than sales. Her next big break came with another collaboration, 2014's inescapable "Fancy," where she provided the sing-songy chorus to Iggy Azalea's brash verses.
After garnering critical acclaim with 2013's playful, zeitgeist-chasing True Romance, which she now thumbs her nose at for its too-desperate attempts at being “cool,” Charli XCX seemingly tossed away her ticket to stardom when she gifted “I Love It” to Swedish electro duo Icona Pop. But the track's gleeful defiance was pure Charli, even if audiences were reticent to credit her for its runaway success. Charli's sophomore effort, Sucker, is the sound of a long-incubating star emerging so fully formed on an international stage that it's difficult to figure that an artist gifted with so much sneering bravado was ever thought of as an underdog.
Review Summary: Fuck a dream I want it for real.Sucker opens with an illuminating line: “You said you wanna bang? / Well, fuck you! Sucker!” That it’s immediately prefaced by a slowly accelerating heartbeat of synths that flat-line for a few seconds before bursting into a gleeful cock-rock rhythm and diamond-encrusted synths seems like the final salute to Charli XCX’s status as a darling of the blogosphere. This is a record that aims its guns squarely for the Top 10 and nothing less; even if Sucker fails to break through, it’s admirable to see how brazenly it refuses to take itself seriously. She is literally throwing up the bird to her desired audience, the same mainstream that’s treated her as a side attraction for years.
Looking back on the year she's had, it's hard to believe that the phrase "Charli XCX, mainstream pop force" was nothing but daydream fodder for the pop cognoscenti little more than a year ago. Forged in the late-'00s crucible of the MySpace music scene and signed to a label when most people are trying to get through high school, Charlotte Aitchison was a critical darling long before she was a chart presence: after leaving a scrappy self-recorded debut in the dust, early singles like "Stay Away" and "Nuclear Seasons" picked up plaudits but failed to dent the conversation of casual pop fans. It took the surprise explosion of "I Love It"—a demo she tossed to Swedish party gremlins Icona Pop on a whim, and helped to sing—into an international hit to generate the momentum required for her first full-length, True Romance.
On “I Love It,” the boisterous single she penned for Swedish duo Icona Pop, Charli XCX crashed her car into a burning bridge; on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” the ubiquitous rap-pop anthem of 2014, she swung on a hotel chandelier, wildly drunk on the mini-bar. As a singer and songwriter, Charli—22-year-old Charlotte Emma Aitchison—thrives on “look at me” chaos. But she’s spent much of her career sharing the spotlight.
We should all be pretty happy that Hot 100 success has done very little to change Charli XCX. After teaming up with hip-hop lightning rod Iggy Azalea for the semi-song-of-the-summer in "Fancy," it was easy to discern that the best part of that track was Charli's bratty, dramatic earworm chorus, and not the mediocre, ghostwritten rhymes from Azalea. The chorus most certainly recalled the best parts of Charli's insanely fun 2013 official debut release True Romance, an album which could have easily done some damage on the charts if it was released after the international success of "Fancy." If anything, greater big label exposure has allowed Charli to lock in on an expansive synth pop sound that isn't quite as goth as her work used to be.
After penning and guesting on hits for Icona Pop and Iggy Azalea, "Boom Clap" finally gave Charlotte Aitchison the hit she needed to elevate her career from cult phenom to major star. Then, bafflingly, her record label delayed Sucker's release by several months, dropping track after track as if to ensure fans would know half the album by the time of its release.Regardless, Sucker delivers on the promise of those collaborations and 2013's underrated True Romance. That album paired Aitchison's sardonic lyrics with understated production, but in crafting its followup, she reportedly recorded her version of a punk record while in Sweden, paring her songs down to short bursts of fury.
Charli XCX, the moniker for 22-year-old Charlotte Aitchison, has been a common thread in pop music for quite some time. The British electropop singer-songwriter was more than an extra voice on Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” — she helped pen them. Now, on her sophomore album, Sucker, she’s successfully roping punk into pop and laughing her way to the top.
“Dear God,” sings Charlotte Aitchison, with a note of irritation in her voice, as Sucker’s opening title track gets into gear, “do you get me now?” You can’t really blame her. Aitchison is 22, and Sucker is her third album as Charli XCX. Her first, 14, came out – or rather, was given away at gigs – nearly seven years ago. Her second, 2013’s True Romance, was an ignominious commercial flop: it reached No 85, and all but one of its six singles failed to make the charts at all.
You can tell a lot about an artist by the songs she chooses to cover. So when you catch Charli XCX turn in her own interpretations of “I Want Candy”, the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”, and Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”, the conclusion one can draw is obvious: this girl loves pop music. That is to say, full-tilt, Top 40, chorus-stuck-in-your-head-for-days kind of pop music.
Singer Charli XCX knows how to make connections. In the last year, the 22-year-old Brit has become a U.S. star-by-association through three key moves: First, she and the Swedish act Icona Pop co-wrote “I Love It,” the only salute to a car crash ever to become a Top 10 hit. Then she collaborated with Iggy Azalea on the summer-defining anthem “Fancy,” sneering its sing-song chorus.
opinion byZACH BERNSTEIN Pop quiz, hotshots: Can you recall any of Flo Rida’s lyrics from his 2008 hit “Low”? Probably not, but you definitely remember T-Pain’s auto-tuned hook. Let’s try a more recent example — Iggy Azelea’s “Fancy.” Despite balking on the verses, most people with Spotify access could sing Charli XCX’s thundering chorus in their sleep. We live in a golden age of the vocal hook.
Charli XCX is a songwriter of a few syllables and countless brute-force hooks on her second album, “Sucker.” Her debut album, “True Romance,” had arty trappings; it swathed her songs in glimmering, sometimes distracting electropop. “Sucker” is far more direct; it’s smart, loud, cheeky, gimmick-loving pop, intent on making every song go bang. “All the best pop songs are so dumb.
It's tempting to praise Charli XCX's second album for what it's not: dull, cynical radio bait obsessed with love, sex and body image. The sneering, middle-finger-to-the-world title track gives you the impression that the British pop star thinks pop is ready for a shakeup. Radio play is worth bringing up because Charli XCX has found mainstream success penning and guesting on Icona Pop's I Love It and Iggy Azalea's Fancy, and Sucker's aggressive and punky pop tunes about skipping school, ditching your boyfriend, moving countries and masturbating (Body Of My Own is Sucker's She Bop) are no less worthy of chart success.
2014’s best pop albums are connected by the fact that they boast creative visions and an uncompromising confidence in executing them. Whether it’s the neo-soul of Girl or the synth-driven nostalgia of 1989, releases from Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Katy B, and Pharrell share an unpredictability and adventurousness that managed to breathe life into the mainstream pop scene. Sucker, the sophomore release from Charli XCX, doesn’t quite live up to the same standard, but it does craft a distinct sound that represents a significant step forward in turning her into a bona fide solo act.
Charli XCX may have ridden shotgun on this summer’s inescapable “Fancy,” but “Sucker” is less Iggy Azalea than Lily Allen. Not that the music underneath her echoes anything that Allen has done, specifically; Charli could be Lorde with more bells and whistles (lots more), when she’s not exploiting the same stacked, processed guitar and drums that Sleigh Bells forge into pure assaultive power. But she shares with Allen a gleeful, almost defiant joy in being a witheringly disdainful brat; just about the first words out of her mouth, directed at someone who had the audacity to attempt to impress the unmoved singer, are “[expletive] you, sucker!” Charli sounds both incapable of smiling and as if she’s having a blast wreaking havoc, whether she’s telling her guy to take a hike in the snappy, impossibly buoyant “Breaking Up,” eagerly leaving her home country in the dust in the KimWilde-ish “London Queen,” or embracing glittery, hedonistic, party-crashing shallowness in “Famous.