BRAT – how i’m feeling now 2.0 (AOTY Review)

Charli has redefined pop music. Rather than morphing to what’s mainstream, she’s made a career of making the mainstream morph to her sound, guided by the wings of SOPHIE and A. G. Cook. Founded deep in this belief lies BRAT; it’s the album Charli wanted to make, and her best.

BRAT is a club record,” Charli says in an interview with GQ. She goes on describing it as “abrasive, in your face, and direct, both sonically and lyrically. Others might call it aggressive, I would call it honest.” She comes out arms swinging at the industry, shaking the board up with lines calling out even the most invincible of pop stars. As she screams, “I’m your number 1,” to an army of copycats, Charli places herself in her rightful throne at the top of the palace.

Before we go any further we have to address BRAT’s “confrontational” album art. The provocative lime green square, inside of which spells “brat” in low res ariel, has taken over the internet, lighting a fire of lime-green fanaticism. What was scoffed at by some as lazy has undisputedly disrupted the “status quo” and is now nothing short of iconic. The aesthetic is inspired by “making everything look like it’s been shot through a series of texts,” leaving only the beginning of tracks capitalized and letting autocorrect take care of the rest. 

She’s going less tryhard, completely countering the idea of CRASH, a previous work.

BRAT’s rollout has changed everything for Charli. BRAT received a total of 15,437,315 streams on the Spotify Counter in its first full day. 25 millions streams in two days is what Crash did in a full week. BRAT continues to climb in streams.

I started by thinking, “oh! I’ll do a track ranking for the new album”- but it’s too early and far too beautifully crafted for me to take it apart like that. Charli masterfully utilizes the notion that art is most impactful when it’s worth more than the sum of its parts. For the record, most of these tracks stand on their own as summer defining club bangers, but in the context of the album, these tracks speak on larger themes: the loss of friend and collaborator Sophie, Charli’s vulnerability and perspective from this point in her career, and the personal growth she has accomplished as both an artist and a person. She accomplishes all of this while cartwheeling from suicidal star to untouchable cool girl.

Anyway, here’s a tracklist ranking:

1. Sympathy is a knife
2. So I
3. Girl, so confusing
4. 360
5. Mean girls
6. Von dutch
7. I might say something stupid
8. I think about it all the time
9. Club classics
10. Rewind
11. B2b
12.  365
13. Spring breakers
14. Apple
15. Everything is romantic
16. Guess
17. Hello goodbye
18. Talk talk

Maybe you’ll agree, maybe you’ll disagree- let’s get into the tracks now.

As she dives through electricity on 360, she slings earworms like clockwork. The world spins and Charli sings, “I’m everywhere I’m so Julia, ah, ah, ah.” 

Julia Fox on What It Means To Be “So Julia” on Charli XCX’s “360”

“She really actually supports women. And she supports unconventional women, women that society maybe looks at, and is confused by. She’s not confused. She sees the truth” – Julia Fox

“Club classics” bounces along to A. G. & George’s dance beats while Charli’s ethereal chants captivate us, issuing a command to “Put your hands up and dance, yeah.” 

On the skyscraping “Sympathy is a knife”, Charli tears down the illusions and unveils her vulnerability in glimmering lights. “‘Cause I couldn’t even be her if I tried / I’m opposite, I’m on the other side / I feel all these feelings I can’t control / Oh no, don’t know why.” 

The catharsis makes this the best cut on the album.

“I might say something stupid” has Charli coming back down to earth for a moment of introspection. There’s an internal emptiness here, a longing for a dream, “I don’t feel like nothing special.” It hits me in the same way that “On Track” from The Slow Rush hit me years ago. It’s honest. In these rare still moments, Charli sings, “I’m famous but not quite / but I’m perfect for the background, one foot in a normal life.” As the track comes about, Charli closes on parting remarks, “And I don’t know if I belong here anymore.”

“Talk talk” showcases swirling synths over a beat destined for the dance-floor. See you at the club.

I had a friend ask if there was a song about a car on this album- “Von dutch” seems like the closest manifestation of that with its revving synth pads and racing game feel. As she shouts “I’m your number 1,” the track drifts and speeds off towards the finish line.

“Everything is romantic” builds into a climactic euphoria, a heavenly production. Beautiful.

“Rewind” comes at a critical moment in her aforementioned analysis of her path as both an artist and a human being. This questioning leads her to wondering if she’s been appropriately appreciated by the industry, singing, “I used to never think about Billboard but now I’ve started thinking again wondering about whether I deserve commercial success – it’s running through my mind.” The track is filled to the brim with cool production tricks and DJ swipes. Huge ups to Cirkut and of course, A. G. Cook, as always.

The most important song on this album is the heart-touching “So I,” dedicated to SOPHIE.

This is the soul of BRAT. Charli leaves everything else behind as she remembers her friend and collaborator. Charli chooses to honor the friendship she shared with SOPHIE in a very human tribute that feels more genuine than the tributes of St. Vincent or Polachek which simply memorialize the moment of her passing. Instead, Charli draws from SOPHIE’s lifeblood, her music, singing,

“(and I know you always said) ‘It’s okay to cry’
So, I know I can cry, I can cry, I can cry.”

This performance below is beautiful.

Charli XCX Performs “So I” | Billboard Women In Music 2024

She grapples with her regrets, thanks SOPHIE for her impact on her personal and creative growth, and tells SOPHIE of her adoration singing, “Always on my mind / You still burn so bright / I was scared sometimes / You had a power like a lightning strike.”

One of my favorite moments of “So I”  is hearing Charli sing as if she’s back in the studio together with SOPHIE. It’s a perfect emblem for SOPHIE’s mark on Charli’s music.

“Girl, so confusing” is another star track on this dazzling album, and one of its brightest.

First off, I just wanna say the lines, “You’re all about writing poems but I’m about throwing / parties, think you should come to my party and put your hands up,” are fire. Anyone criticizing the lyricism on BRAT is missing the point.

The track hooks in media res with it’s title and chorus, “Girl, it’s so confusing (sometimes to be a girl).” A. G. Cook chefs up some gnarly bass synths on this one, perfectly fit for maxed out speakers. Before breaking into a clubby techno beat, Charli reflects on her feelings on how public perception tangles with her relations in the industry. She pulls it all back singin’,”I don’t know I’m just a girl.”

Production from George Daniel and A. G. Cook yields track 11, “Apple.” This beat’s just a great vibe. Charli’s sugary vocal melodies sweeten the deal and elaborate on the album’s themes of escapism in the face of emotion.

B2b. Addicting. See you in the club. 

Charli let’s loose on “Mean girls,” soundtracking a new anthem for Lana Del Rey It Girlz.

Producers A. G. Cook and Hudson Mohawke bless this song with absolute banger production.

We break halfway through into a cascade of piano riffs, adorned by vocoder manipulated vocals.

The layers keep stacking as the track builds in erraticism til, finally, they bring out the big guns with some phased out sounds.

Between ticking beats and bubbly synthesizers, Charli puts everything in perspective on “I think about it all the time.” The track reflects on motherhood and if it might give her life new purpose. This is one of the realest songs on the album. It feels so very authentic to hear Charli with the autotune stripped away, where it’s just her storytelling with her thoughts. The closing verse of the album delivers the lines,

“And they’re exactly the same, but they’re different now

And I’m so scared I’m missin’ out on something

So, we had a conversation on the way home

Should I stop my birth control?

‘Cause my career feels so small in the existential scheme of it all”

It’s something pure and honest.

She brings it all back around with “365,” where she nitro boosts the beat of opener “360.” 

We hear the signature sounds of SOPHIE in track as she “365 partygirls” around the club for her first victory lap. On this self indulgent reprise, Charli is reckless and rowdy, simultaneolusy reigning over the room like royalty. The track closes out in full rave mode, true to BRAT’s very nature.

So that’s that. But, there’s no way that’s really the end for BRAT. This record will be on rotation in the clubs forever.

Antiart put something I’d been feeling to words perfectly. Around this time last year, the world was taken by storm by Barbie. This feels like the true experience.

Maybe the explosiveness of Oppenheimer too #Barbenheimer.

As for “Brat and it’s the same but there’s three more songs so it’s not”- this sums up my feelings.

The 3 tracks that dropped on Sunday, “Hello goodbye,” “Guess,” and “Spring breakers”, rule, but I get why they were b-sides.

Rating: 9.5

Anyway, this is our current AOTY. Please look forward to our upcoming “Best Albums Of 2024 (So Far)” feature.

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