Arts album review

Obsession, grief, and club bangers: 2024’s brat is Charli XCX’s best album to date

The queen of innovative pop is back and better than ever


brat by Charli XCX

Atlantic Recording Corporation

June 7, 2024


I first listened to brat while sitting in an Oreo-themed diner in Hamad International Airport, jet-lagged out of my mind, and moist from walking around for half an hour in search of a table. The lighting was fluorescent; the tall suited men who stood in front of every nearby store were creepy. The vibes were decidedly surreal, yet this was the perfect place to hear pop innovator Charli XCX’s most recent album.

The album title is stylized either brat, BRAT, or Brat, depending on where you look: the comically sparse album cover; the album’s Spotify page; or Wikipedia. I’ll go with brat. Genre-wise this album is quintessentially Charli: packed with energetic hyperpop, EDM and club music tracks (“club classics,” if you will) while retaining the experimental flavor of some of Charli’s strongest prior work. Lyrically, brat dives into Charli’s experiences as a woman in the music industry, exploring jealousy and obsession over other women, rumination over the past, and the archetypes of female celebrity, with some of the most honest and confessional lyrics of Charli’s career so far. 

brat is a perfect blend of high-energy bangers and soft ballads. Its fast-paced club tracks include “Club classics”, “Von dutch”, “B2b”, and “Mean girls”, the first three of which were released earlier in the year as promotional singles, and all of which feature thumping bass lines and brash lyrics. The album has more vulnerable moments too. On “I might say something stupid”, Charli reveals her feelings of insecurity in the music industry over soft acoustic instrumentation: “I’m famous but not quite / But I’m perfect for the background / One foot in a normal life”. Later on “So I”, perhaps the most powerful moment on the album, Charli mourns her collaborator and friend SOPHIE, a highly influential producer who passed in 2021 in an auto-tuned lament. She quotes SOPHIE’s track “It’s Okay To Cry”: “And I know you always said ‘It’s okay to cry’ / So I know I can cry, I can cry, so I cry”. Connecting the club music and the quieter moments are more conventional tracks like “Talk talk”, a fun pop song with a club beat, and “Apple”, a track that explores generational trauma and Charli’s relationship with her parents with a light touch and comical lyrical stylings, like the way Charli pronounces “airport” to sound like “apple”. 

Charli XCX is at her strongest when she experiments (check out her album how i’m feeling now and her mixtapes Pop 2 and Number 1 Angel), and that adventurous flavor permeates this album too. The track “Everything is romantic” blends idiosyncratic lyrics with club beats and acoustic orchestral instrumentation, and the club track “Mean girls” features a bouncy jazz piano interlude that somehow works. But while the experimental twist of Charli’s previous work lay mostly in the production with lyrics that were otherwise relatively simple (yet still great – “beep beep” on her 2015 track “Vroom Vroom” was a stroke of genius), in brat we see Charli writing more emotionally incisive lyrics alongside the meme-able repetitive quality of some of her previous work. She also explores topics like alienation, jealousy and obsession in the world of celebrity with an honesty not yet seen in mainstream pop. Consider the line “I don’t know if I belong here anymore" in “I might say something stupid”, a resigned admission of Charli’s sense of not fitting into the archetypes of fame that surround her in the industry, or “When I’m on stage, sometimes I lie / Say that I love singing these songs you left behind” in “So I”, a gut-wrenching line in light of the fact that Charli frequently performs songs she and SOPHIE worked on together in her live performances and tours. In “Girl, so confusing”, Charli admits that she “Can’t tell if you wanna see me / falling over and failing” about another female musician and potential collaborator. The lyrics on this album are also more visual than in previous work too. In “Mean girls”, Charli XCX sings about a Lana Del Ray-listening internet “it” girl who calls men “Daddy” while “fingering a gold cross”; in “Rewind” she reminisces about a time before fame, sitting in her bedroom and “putting polish on [her] toes”. 

This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the music videos for “360”, the first track on this album and the last promotional single of brat in early May, and “Von dutch”, which are a welcome addition to the new self-aware and ironic strain of pop music videos. In the “360” video, we see Charli and a bunch of glammed–up, dead-eyed women (who those chronically online may instantly recognize as darlings of the internet) strut around a quiet suburb wreaking havoc. In the “Von dutch” video, Charli runs around an airport while throwing punches at the camera, before ultimately being pulled away on a baggage claim conveyor belt. The music video for “360” was what first pulled me into Charli’s discography – I couldn’t stop replaying the dinner party moment at the beginning where Charli says “It’s definitely a je-ne-sais-quois kind of situation” to the waitress that she and the other women have decided will become the next “it” girl. Before this video came out in early May, though, I hadn’t actually heard much of her music at all beyond the more well known songs (which are also her worst). Since then, I’ve listened to pretty much no one else and just last week I was hunting down some of her unreleased tracks on YouTube (“Taxi”, my beloved . . .). Thanks to my binge-listening, I was caught up on her work before brat came out, and having that background made brat an even better experience. 

The lyrics and production on brat are blunt, bitchy, and firmly cemented in the present, a bold step against the wave of retrospective production and wishy-washy, navel-gazing lyricism taking over the rest of pop music right now. If brat sparks your interest, here are some other Charli tracks to check out: the 2015 track “Vroom Vroom”, produced by SOPHIE; “claws” off her quarantine album how i’m feeling now; “I Got It” off of 2017’s Pop 2; and “ILY2” off 2017’s Number 1 Angel. For long-time Charli fans, brat is a shining addition to an already sparkling discography. For new listeners, it’s an excellent introduction. 


Genres: hyperpop, EDM, dance

Duration: 41:30

Favorite track(s): Talk talk, So I, Apple, B2b 

Least favorite track(s): None - actually, everything is good