Charli XCX played twice in Auckland on Friday night – at Mt Smart Stadium and a performance space/yoga studio on K Road. Dejan Jotanovic was there.
I don’t have many regrets in life but being “too hungover” for a Charli XCX show I had tickets for back in 2015 is absolutely up there. At the time Charli was touring for her second studio album, Sucker, a delicious rocky road slice of a record with pop marshmallow dance party bits melted together with the tougher crunch of punk rock beats. Rolling Stone ranked it 6th on their 50 Best Albums of 2014 list.
The album spawned singles ‘Break the Rules’, ‘Doing It’, ‘Famous’, and the hugely popular ‘Boom Clap’ which peaked at number 7 on the NZ charts. The latter, popularised by the film The Fault in Our Stars and originally offered to Hilary Duff (lol), was intended for Charli’s debut album, True Romance, the album that first had me scribbling ‘blood type: xcx’ on my medical records.
When Charli announced that she’d be performing two shows in Auckland on the same night my debit card started to tingle. This was my chance to rewrite history.
As an artist, Charli XCX has always been around, with a prevalence likely to increase if you’re 1. gay, or 2. lurking on Gay Twitter. In 2012 she had her first major break after co-writing and contributing vocals to Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’ (“I crashed my car into the bridge, I watched, I let it burn” – you know the one, even if Germany doesn’t). In 2014 she featured on Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ and climbed to the top of the NZ charts.
The beauty of Charli XCX lies in her constant craving for musical reinvention; always sonically looking to push pop – a fetish for its future – while unapologetically celebrating ideas she deems most important: fun, friendship, feminism.
There’s an integrity in her work that makes you believe she practises what she preaches – without ever compromising on the bop. In 2015 she directed to her own documentary, The F Word and Me, exploring women’s relationship to the music industry and where their power lies within it. “I make my own decisions, good and bad, and to me, that’s what feminism is all about,” she said. Then in 2017, she released the video to fun ‘n’ flirty hit, ‘Boys‘ which she also directed. Here she subverts the traditional male gaze and features a slew of internet-famous men, eroticised like their female counterparts have been since forever.
She performed these bops – ‘I Love It’, ‘Fancy’, ‘Boom Clap’, ‘Boys’ – this past Friday at Mt Smart Stadium when opening for Taylor Swift, deciding to treat audiences to her more recognisable hits. She also played her latest single, ‘1999′, a collab with Australian sweetheart Troye Sivan. It’s a sleek and catchy tune that makes you entirely forget that the two of them were only seven and four years old when the threat of Y2k loomed large. “Oh, those days it was so much better.”
But banger after absolute fucking banger aside, my love for Charli shines brightest in response to how she approaches her work. “I try so hard to be as involved with the LGBTQ community as possible. Without that community, my career would not really be anything,” she told Rolling Stone. It’s this level of self-awareness I find most gratifying – especially when many in the game are fiendishly looking to cash in on the queer dollar. Her single with Troye Sivan is the latest in a lengthy list of queer artists she’s worked with. In 2016 she collaborated with Scottish experimental avant-pop electronica goddess SOPHIE on her Vroom Vroom EP, and her latest mixtape, Pop 2, is peppered with underground queer acts from across the globe (Dorian Electra, Mykki Blanco, Pabllo Vittar, Kim Petras, to name a few).
Pop music has typically been understood as an almost feudal system: there’s one queen to rule them all. The boom of the internet offered new ways of interacting with art and each other but only fueled the competitive mudslinging between fan groups. It’s what Lily Allen was parodying in 2014: “Give me that crown, bitch I wanna be Sheezus.” But Charli offers a new world order, a new way of doing things. In Charli’s world, there’s enough room for all – it’s the future of pop, the timely sequel. Pop 2 has 13 features for its 10 tracks, with most identifying as women, queer or femme; a refreshing change of pace from artists who want to embrace feminism for their brand but rarely collaborate or congratulate their contemporaries.
It’s these values that she took to Karangahape Road later in the night for her second, more intimate, perhaps more authentic, act. It made sense that she’d do a gig on K Road, an infamous Auckland street known for its constant reinvention while maintaining an exceptional uniqueness and edge. The road is mapped with a history that would speak directly to Charli’s artistry: a thriving gay community, sex positivity, beauty, fashion, and the city’s nucleus for art galleries.
The 1999 show itself, a site of collaboration with Brown Boy Magik, featured sets by Banoffee, Ceci G, COVEN, Selecta Rei and VILLETTE. Charli performed last which was perfect timing as I made my merry rain-kissed way from Mt Smart Stadium. She opened the set with the turbo-pop ‘Vroom Vroom’, and continued to rev up the energy through a performance of my personal favourite, ‘Femmebot‘. “Go fuck your prototype, I’m an upgrade of your stereotype” perfectly encapsulating her position on the pop stage. Her energy as an entertainer is intoxicating (she’s a Leo), and she carries the aura of someone who’s immediately cool but also makes you feel comfortable in their presence.
The set was short (she performed ‘I Got It’ and ‘1999′ before closing out the show with ‘Girls Night Out’) but the crowd was ravenous for her sound. “You know I love to party,” she said as we all cheered amidst the green light projected from the stage, “but please leave plenty of space for everyone, the ones at the front are getting squashed!”
This is Charli’s world and she’ll make sure there’s enough room for everyone to have a good time.