Pop music is a funny business. For female pop stars, especially, the game is thoroughly fraught with peril; one minute they love you (Rihanna), the next, they hate you (Rihanna six months later, post- reunion with Chris Brown). The path to stardom is so littered with queen bees, wannabes, and one-hit-wonder radio rejects, that it’s task enough for a young newcomer to simply step over the pile on her way to the top.
Enter Charlotte Aitchison, aka Charli XCX. At twenty, she’s already responsible for the year’s biggest dance-pop hit, Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” Despite the fact that we don’t hear her voice, the track’s obscene catchiness– from its bold, ballsy lyrics to that that irresistible beat– is all Charli’s handiwork. So now, by the time her own True Romance has rolled around, it feels wrong to say that Charli XCX is a pop star in the making. She already is one, and one of the coolest, baddest, most promising ones, at that.
Charli XCX has miles to go– True Romance is only her debut, after all– but that doesn’t make her first go at superstardom any less impressive. Highlights include the previously released Gold Panda-sampled “You (Ha Ha Ha),” a melancholy, yet ultimately bouncy, tribute to broken hearts. True Romance opener “Nuclear Seasons” proves just how far Charli’s voice can travel; she’s equally adept at sing-song rapping like fellow Brit Lily Allen or crooning with a high, delicate power.
Most tracks on True Romance are meant to move us, and while many of them do– over synth-pop beats that mix grit and grime with glossy shine– there are a more than a few that fall flat. The supremely sweet, video game/electro vibe of “Take My Hand” is pretty and girly, but the bare background of “Grins” doesn’t quite make the cut. There are plenty of highs and lows with Charli XCX, but she’s riding them in style.
In thirteen tracks, True Romance is supposed to convince us that Charli XCX is the future of pop music. The thing is, though, we’re pretty much already convinced. Despite its shortcomings, True Romance showcases a young singer whose music deftly combines, EDM, synthpop, Britpop, and plenty of black eyeliner into a dark, danceable delight. Charli has admitted to loving The Spice Girls, The Cure, and Bjork all equally, and her debut certainly reflects her eclectic taste. She just needs to fully parse out where Charli XCX herself fits into that mix.