“Boys” is a blast, ain’t it? The video Charli XCX directed for her new single, with its parade of preening male celebrities, is an instantly iconic flex that elevates “Boys” to a different level, but the song itself is a work of art, too. The bouncing, shimmering rhythmic undercurrent, the chiming video game sound effect, lyrics that put a fresh spin on Charli’s well-honed party-girl persona, a soft and breathy vocal performance with a slightly computerized edge, a bridge so effective you wonder why every A-list pop star isn’t paying this woman a zillion dollars to write songs for them: Its pleasures are manifold. And aside from its appeal as a standalone pop single, the buzz around “Boys” has me hopeful that maybe, just maybe, Charli’s third album will finally get a release date.
The ramp-up to a Charli XCX LP tends to be messy and protracted. Charli, the 24-year-old UK singer-songwriter born Charlotte Aitchison, never stops releasing new music for long, but much of that output seems to exist in a perpetual state of album launch. In hindsight it’s amazing that the loudmouthed punk-as-pop compendium Sucker, her most recent official LP, came out less than two years after goth-informed debut True Romance, because for a while Sucker seemed to be always approaching, never arriving. Consider that the video for “SuperLove,” billed as the lead single from Charli’s second album, dropped 15 months before Sucker’s eventual release date and didn’t even end up on the final tracklist.
That sort of false start is standard practice for modern pop stars. In recent years Ariana Grande, Gwen Stefani, and Charli’s “Fancy” duet partner Iggy Azalea have all unleashed alleged lead singles that didn’t end up on their albums (actually, in Iggy’s case, there is still no album to speak of a year and a half after “Team” tanked). And don’t even get me started about what’s happened to Tinashe in the two years since we first heard about Joyride. But poor Charli has now suffered through album release limbo two cycles in a row. It’s been nearly 18 months since XCX said she was finishing a new album that “could change the sound of pop music,” and when we spoke to her late last year she was teasing a May 2017 release date for LP3. Yet when May rolled around she told The FADER we probably wouldn’t hear her new album until 2018 even though it was already finished, partially because she wanted to release a bunch of other music first.
Given Atlantic’s history of delaying and then under-promoting XCX albums, that rationale may just be a smokescreen for behind-the-scenes discord. But if it’s true it makes me wonder just how much unreleased music she has in the vault because she has already shared so much in the years since Sucker. For spring 2016’s Vroom Vroom EP she teamed with the PC Music braintrust, leaning hard into their brand of abrasive metallic futurism. The four-song set blended dark, aggressive trap beats and the sweetest candy-coated melodies the uncanny valley has to offer. It was by far the most avant garde release in Charli’s catalog so far, one that seemed designed to indulge her wildest sonic impulses in a pressure-free context. I respect the boldness, but let’s just say I don’t often find myself humming any of those songs to myself.
By Halloween she had veered back toward accessibility with “After The Afterparty,” a playful and pop-minded collaboration with Lil Yachty. It was produced by Scandinavian hit-making team Stargate plus the PC Music-adjacent duo SOPHIE and A. G. Cook, representing the full scope of the underground-to-mainstream spectrum Charli inhabits, and it boasted one of those barbed, top-of-your-lungs chorus melodies that have always been her specialty. “After The Afterparty” was supposed to be the lead single from her third album, but like all Charli XCX singles not titled “Boom Clap,” it didn’t catch on with a mass audience. [Here is the obligatory mention that she basically gifted “I Love It” to Icona Pop and wrote all the best parts of “Fancy,” and those two songs most definitely caught on with a mass audience.]
Then came last March’s Number 1 Angel, a full-length project recorded behind Atlantic’s back while Charli was feeling “very frustrated and annoyed.” She initially planned to release it as a free mixtape, but when the label got involved it ended up for sale on iTunes and streaming on all the major services. Number 1 Angel is not the proper follow-up to Sucker, but it’s way more rewarding than a stopgap mixtape has any right to be. Again working with the PC Music crew, Charli this time found a satisfying middle ground between outré experimentation and radio-readiness, resulting in highlights like the supercharged “ILY2″ and the frenetic “Roll With Me.” Number 1 Angel also shared Charli’s spotlight with a small army of guest stars, most notably young Chicago rapper CupcakKe on “Lipgloss,” most of them sounding right at home in the project’s digital playland.
Charli’s mixtape may not represent the landscape-transforming force she teased umpteen months ago, but it’s an extremely appealing forward-thinking vision from one of pop’s most talented young voices. The fact that she could kick out such a cohesive and enjoyable 10-song set more or less off the cuff makes me extremely eager to hear the album she devoted her full effort and attention to. Her label has often seemed confused about how to promote her, and Charli has even sometimes seemed at cross-purposes with herself, unsure whether she’s vying for full-fledged pop stardom or content to be a rabble-rouser skirting the edges of the mainstream. But her output this year suggests she’s operating on a high level right now, figuring out ways to merge those competing instincts into remarkably satisfying music that manages to have it both ways. Hopefully “Boys” proves to be a catalyst for getting much more of it into the world much faster than expected.
Rap albums occupy the top five spots on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week. Jay-Z’s 4:44 rules for a second straight week thanks to 87,000 equivalent album units and 61,000 in traditional album sales. Per Billboard, Jay-Z’s 14 #1 albums have spent a combined 25 weeks atop the chart, second only to Eminem’s 31 weeks.
Kendrick Lamar’s resilient DAMN. is at #2, followed by the debut of French Montana’s Jungle Rules at #3 with 52,000 units but only 16,000 in actual sales. It’s his highest charting debut, surpassing Excuse My French’s #4 debut, although that album’s 56,000 first-week sales figure beats Jungle Rules pretty soundly. DJ Khaled’s Grateful is at #4, while 21 Savage’s Issa clocks in at #5.
Ed Sheeran, Imagine Dragons, and the Moana soundtrack are at 6-7-8, and then Khalid’s American Teen jumps back up to #9, surely due to my column about Khalid a few weeks ago. (According to Billboard, “The rise of the album is concurrent with the continued popularity of its single ‘Location,’ which has spent more than four months lodged in the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart.”) Rounding out the top 10 is Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic.
Over on the Hot 100 singles chart, “Despacito” is on top for an 11th straight week, which means it’s fair to start wondering whether Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber will break Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s record for the most weeks at #1. “One Sweet Day” held onto the top spot for 16 weeks, so “Despacito” would have to remain at #1 for more than a month to pull it off, and as Billboard’s Andrew Unterberger notes, “five weeks away is still a long time in Hot 100 terms. It’s often around this time that even the most seemingly world-conquering singles begin to lose just enough steam to be overtaken by a sometimes unforeseen challenger.” In the meantime, next week “Despacito” could match Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” for the longest run at #1 this year, and by lasting up to 14 weeks it would tie “Uptown Funk!” as the longest-tenured #1 this decade. These next few weeks will be very exciting for chart nerds!
There are, of course, other songs on the top 10. DJ Khaled has two of them: “Wild Thoughts” featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller at #2 and “I’m The One” featuring Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Wayne at #4. If you’ve been following the charts this summer you will not be surprised to learn Bruno Mars is up there too with “That’s What I Like” lingering at #3. Perhaps the most impressive movement belongs to French Montana and Swae Lee, whose “Unforgettable” rises to a new #5 peak, knocking Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” out of the top five for the first time. That’s at #6, followed by Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” at #7 and Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” at #8. Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Back Road” rises back to #9, and then comes Week In Pop nemesis Charlie Puth with his admittedly decent “Attention” at #10. It’s Puth’s third top-10 hit following the Selena Gomez duet “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and the inescapable #1 smash “See You Again” with Wiz Khalifa.
Kesha – “Learn To Let Go”
This is the least compelling of the three Rainbow singles so far, but as inspirational midtempo pop anthems go it’s not bad. If nothing else it reminds us what a powerful instrument Kesha’s voice is.
Macklemore – “Marmalade” (Feat. Lil Yachty)
I do not feel as negatively about this song as my colleague Tom Breihan. I’d rather Macklemore be out here ripping off “Broccoli” than doing his usual after-school special shtick.
Louis Tomlinson – “Back To You” (Feat. Bebe Rexha & Digital Farm Animals)
Real talk: This week’s column was going to be a former One Direction member power rankings until The Ringer did it first. Would the inoffensively mediocre “Back To You” be enough to bump Tomlinson ahead of Liam Payne at the bottom of my list? The world may never know!
Skrillex & Poo Bear – “Would You Ever”
In which two guys responsible for making a ton of hit songs with Justin Bieber team up for a propulsive electronic bop just because they can.
X Ambassadors – “Ahead Of Myself”
More like Why Ambassadors am I right?
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Earlier this month it was revealed that in 2012 Usher paid a $1.1M settlement to a stylist who claimed the pop star gave her herpes. Now a second woman is suing him for $40M for allegedly giving her the STD. [TMZ]
- Justin Bieber cancelled his tour because he “rededicated his life to Christ,” sources connected to Hillsong Church told TMZ. [TMZ]
- Meanwhile, Bieber accidentally hit a photographer with his truck on Wednesday night in Beverly Hills. [Twitter]
- And Bieber’s collaborators Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee want Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to stop using “Despacito” for political purposes, calling it “illegal.” [Guardian]
- Quincy Jones was awarded $9.42 million in his royalties suit against Michael Jackson’s Estate. [LA Times]
- Madonna performed a hits set at Leonardo DiCaprio’s foundation’s fourth annual fundraiser in St. Tropez. [THR]
- A Louisiana federal judge denied Beyoncé’s motion to dismiss a copyright claim that she unlawfully sampled Messy Mya on “Formation.” [THR]
- Rihanna met with French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife in support of the Global Partnership For Education. [ABC]
- Kesha performed “Woman” live for the first time in Iowa. [YouTube]
- Kygo and Ellie Goulding performed “First Time” for the first time on Fallon. [YouTube]
- Chris Brown has sued a concert promoter who he says tried to extort him for $300k in order to leave the Philippines after his concert there. [TMZ]
- Kylie Minogue is reportedly recording a country album. [Metro]
- Fifth Harmony performed with Gucci Mane on The Tonight Show, and Jimmy Fallon revealed their first album without Camila Cabello will be self-titled. [YouTube]
- Kelsea Ballerini announced her new album Unapologetically, out 11/3. [Billboard]
- Pink’s new single “What About Us” is out 8/10. [Instagram]
- The umbrella a shaven-headed Britney Spears infamously unleashed on a paparazzo’s car in 2007 is going up for auction. [TMZ]
- Mariah Carey shared a teaser of the upcoming animated movie The Star which features her new Christmas song of the same name. [Twitter]
- Taylor Swift was spotted heading into a NYC office building on Saturday. She was not in a suitcase. [Tumblr]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
Containing my disappointment that nobody asked me to be in the "Boys" video.
— Tom Breihan (@tombreihan) July 27, 2017