It’s sometimes hard to remember Charli XCX actually exists outside of the Internet. Named for her first MSN Messenger display name, the star kicked off her career on MySpace at the dawn of social media and has populated SoundCloud with euphorically digitized, Auto-Tuned pop ever since, maintaining a near-constant Twitter and Instagram presence for the fans she calls “angels.”
And with the release of her mixtape Pop 2 last December, Charli solidified her allegiance to the web, tapping streaming favorites like CupcakKe and Tommy Cash for a glitched-out collection of songs that seem to occur in a futuristic, pixelated world — far from our own.
So when Charlotte Emma Aitchison, in the flesh, took the sold-out stage at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere to perform Pop 2 in its entirety on Sunday (March 18), the effect was almost surreal.
“Are you guys ready to fuck it up with me or what?” Charli roared, flouncing onstage in a gauzy two-piece and crystal choker — one of three outfits she’d don over her 18-song set, which followed up a show in Los Angeles three days prior. As the crowd of twenty-somethings surged forward, the 25-year-old star pulled collaborator Kim Petras onstage to open with “Unlock It,” followed by a slew of Pop 2 favorites like “Lucky,” “Tears” and “Femmebot.”
There were more surprises in store. Everyone from Brooke Candy to Chairlift‘s Caroline Polachek emerged from backstage to perform alongside Charli, who often yielded the spotlight to her pop-world friends and their own material. While Candy took the stage solo to perform her bubbly “Don’t Touch My Hair Hoe,” CupcakKe offered a NSFW rendition of her “Duck Duck Goose,” as Charli sang along to every word, sipping from a red cup on the sidelines.
By the time Charli arrived at her 2017 singalong single “Boys,” where nearly 20 dancers and collaborators clad in pale pink garb joined her onstage, the scene resembled more of a rowdy house party than an exclusive headline show. “If you’re hooking up with someone tonight, this one’s for you,” Charli hollered before the bubblegum-pop number, during which several of her dancers locked lips onstage themselves.
But guest appearances aside, it was Charli’s interactions with her fans that helped bring the star’s cyber-presence down to earth. Throughout, Charli treated her fans just as lovingly as the stars on her stage, crowd-surfing during a chest-rattling performance of “I Got It,” collecting gifts from concert-goers between songs (including a cream cheese bagel) and at one point, even hopping on a lucky fan’s shoulders.
Finally, for a star largely born out of the Internet, it seemed only right that Charli should close the night with the still-unreleased “Girls Night Out” — a SOPHIE-produced track known to fans only via MP3 rips and fan-shot YouTube videos. The crowd knew every word.
“Pop 2 is the fucking future,” Charli proclaimed before disappearing back into the virtual sphere. “And you guys are the future, too.”