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With a fresh new take combined with an interesting electronic sound, Pop 2 by Charli XCX truly subverts and reinvents the genre.
In December 2017, artist Charlotte Aitchison, better known by her stage name Charli XCX, released her second consecutive mixtape, Pop 2. It comes a measly 9 months after her first successful release of the mixtape Number 1 Angel. Since her debut in 2013, Charli XCX has slowly become a “tour de force” as a successful singer/songwriter. The release of this genre-crossing, creative mixtape helps solidify that. In the realm of electronic music, this album doesn't really bring anything new to the table. However, if we were to take the title quite literally, it could be said that this project truly reinvents the pop genre.
The album is mainly produced by British music producer and singer A.G. Cook. It has electronic dance influences with a standard pop base, and its futuristic sound gives a sense nostalgia. The first track, “Backseat," features Carly Rae Jepsen and is a strong example of genre mixing. The song starts with a very “different” instrumental which I can only describe as the sound of "someone rubbing a stainless steel bowl too hard.” Charli comes in during the first verse to make it all come together as a standard love song/duet with a special twist. A very unusual, but very well executed production decision, is the use of autotune. This technique appears throughout Pop 2, but it's not intended for the improvement of the artist's voice. Instead, autotune adds another layer to the "holism" of this mixtape. This seemingly “regular” downtempo song devolves into a very “glitchy” yet relaxing jaunt.This sound, in particular, is what works great for her, and it's what she does best.
Charli XCX's previous mixtape, Number 1 Angel, is very similar to Pop 2, but not in the way where it all runs together. Previous songs like “Lip Gloss” featuring CupcakKe, and “Roll With Me,” were small glimpses of what was to come next. In fact, this and her other mixtapes and EPs have made her early work seem more brave and daring. What is most remarkable is the production and translation of that usual dance sound to a slow mid-tempo song.
Another thing this album does really well is its features. You really could say that Charli XCX is a very generous person to let all of these up and coming artists to feature alongside her. For example, in track 5 titled “I Got It” (featuring Brooke Candy, CupcakKe, and Pablo Vitar), it's mostly all about the features. Although the album tries to keep a cohesive sound, it sort of gets lost and goes “off the rails” a bit on this track. The musical production on this track is definitely very “different,” and it definitely has its own strengths and weaknesses. The sharp heavy beat is something that really makes this song special. However, the previously referenced “glitchy” sound really takes the listener out of it. On another note, I feel that Brooke Candy really brought a lot to this song. Surprisingly besides singing the hook, Charli XCX does not actually provide much to the song. Up and coming rapper and familiar face; CupcakKe makes a special appearance for a quick verse. All of this, combined with the sultry vocals of Pablo Vitar makes this quite enjoyable.
What really sets this album and the artist apart was the first single released. Track eight titled “Unlock It” (Featuring Kim Petras and Jay Park) is the definition of a true pop song. In the fact that it sets out to just be a pop song. Charli XCX is mainly known for her early work in singing/writing love songs. Most of her songs have a sort of underlying meaning, but “Unlock It” is just meant to be true dance/pop song with no message except to have fun. It's very hard to discredit this song as anything but good. The production value is incredible, and it has this amazing light pop beat that gets stuck in your head. However where the song really gets good is the large subversion towards the end where it slows down and that signature electronic sound that adds something extra to round it out.
Although the artist has had some missteps in some of her musical eras, this is surely not one of them. This album has a cohesive sound, that only gets amplified as the songs go on. The production also focuses on the features a lot, lending the featured artists with writing credits, while also letting Charli step back. This is also very important to note because the artist is now trying to get into directing and producing. A lot of artists are simply that, usually singers and songwriters. However, it could be said that you can feel her “creative expertise” throughout the entire project.
This is clearly a contender for Best New Album, and I'm sure that we will see so much more from her in the future.