She might have had one of the summer’s biggest hits with “Boom Clap,” but Charli XCX is still best-known for her assists on other artists’ songs, most notably Iggy Azalea‘s “Fancy” and Icona Pop‘s “I Love It.” It’s not as if she has been hiding, Sia-like, in the background — in the past 18 months, she has toured extensively and cranked out a 15-track album, the critical-but-not-commercial favorite True Romance, as well as a half-dozen or so other songs and several features. But that was just a prelude: Her second LP, Sucker, is poised to be the album that makes the 22-year-old Brit a true stand-alone star — even if its opening track features the hook “F— you, sucker!”
In fact, virtually everything about this album is big and mouthy: Where True Romance was practically a mash note to the pop-critic intelligentsia — with shimmering production, clever samples and a big assist from alt-pop savant Ariel Rechtshaid — this one’s as subtle as a Super Bowl TV ad. That’s not to say the songs, nearly all of which have hooks big enough to be spotted from a satellite, aren’t sophisticated. They range from me-and-my-homies party anthems (“Break the Rules”) to buzzy new wave (“London Queen”), from a girl-group homage (“Need Your Love”) to a potential prom anthem (“Die Tonight”). Virtually every sound on the album is wielded like an earworm-y hook: the grinding guitars and video-game noises in “Gold Coins,” the synth squiggles in “London Queen,” the EDM-inspired breakdown in “Break the Rules,” the booms in “Boom Clap.”
Perhaps more than any other young hitmaker, Charli has a sound that is distinctively her own, despite the murderers’ row of producer-songwriters onboard: Stargate, Greg Kurstin, Benny Blanco and Rechtshaid weigh in with a song apiece; Patrik Berger (Robyn, Lana Del Rey) and frequent Rechtshaid collaborator Justin Raisen helm several others. The surprise, however, is Weezer‘s Rivers Cuomo. He’s one of four writers on “Hanging Around,” but his mark is unmistakable on the song’s lighter-waving chorus.
Thanks to “Fancy” and “Boom Clap,” Charli’s voice is already among the most ubiquitous of the year. But Sucker is likely to confirm that she’s one of pop’s biggest new stars — and biggest personalities.
This article first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of Billboard.