Charli XCX loves lots of things. She’s infatuated with the future, adores the unexpected and like, likes the new. But most of all, she loves Good Times, Mates, Pop Bangers and Capital Lettered Excitement. Tonight, she’s head over heels.
Taking to London’s Village Underground, Charli finally brings ‘Pop 2’ home. It’s been over a year since she was here last, at The Jazz Café to celebrate ‘Number 1 Angel’, and a lot has changed since. Because of course it has. She’s continued her journey into progressive party anthems and emotional outpourings with the untethered collaboration of ‘Pop 2’, all late night reflection, sunrise epiphanies and dancing in the dark, while also taking over the airwaves with the golden sparkle of ‘Boys’. She’s an artist at peace with existing in two worlds, but tonight, there’s no divide. Pop star and progressive thinker. Pushing things forward while making sure everyone is involved. This is pure Charli.
From the moment A.G. Cook takes to the stage to deliver his hype mix, the atmosphere inside the room shifts from anticipation to something that fizzes and crackles. There are whispers of what’s to come, but nothing can really prepare you for Charli’s entrance. The second she appears on stage, it’s pandemonium. As the key clicks into ‘Unlock It’, Charli is relentless, powerful and determined to get the most fun out of every second. Dialling up the intensity, the track glitches and hammers. Charli, her own hype person, bounces between spotlight and shadows as she sings, dances, gets lost in the music and encourages the room to let go. One song in and already tonight feels like a victory. It feels like a celebration. It’s jubilant, defiant and knowing. What happens next should be an easy win, she’s just got to follow the path that’s before her and keep the party going. Easy, we all know how many electrified bangers she has in her back pocket. She’s armed for evenings like this.
The thing is, that would be too easy. And that’s never been Charli’s way. Straight from kicking down doors with ‘Unlock It’, she slows things down with the aching swing of ‘Lucky’. In bloom and avoiding eye contact, it’s deliberate and dripping in let down. The crowd follows this sudden shift completely. Tonight isn’t just about the rainbow soaked highs; it’s about the full, uncompromising picture. There’s a swell of menace before ‘Roll With Me’, the atmospheric swell of ‘ILY2’ sees the room sway as one as Charli blurts out “I love this,” before ‘Lipgloss’, extended and exceptional, is dedicated to Cupcakke, “one of the greatest rappers of this generation.” Charli fills in, rapping some of her lines, too busy dancing for the others.
The rest of the night is spent toing-and-froing from the centre of attention, spotlight demanding anthems of starshine and speckled joy, to lonely moments of uncertainty. They never last for long though. Rina Sawayama joins her for ‘Backseat’, strobe-lit and foot down, RAYE comes onstage like a lightning bolt for the zig-zag escape of ‘Dreamer’ and Tommy Cash jumps on for the misty sparkle of ‘Delicious’ before he takes the spotlight for his slanted whirlwind of ‘Mona Lisa’. It turns out Charli isn’t the only one in love with the night. Before a weighted ‘All Alone’, she shares her thanks for an “intelligent and open-minded audience that just gets me,” before promising, “I might not be the biggest, but I’m definitely one of the best.” Truer words…
Tonight isn’t just a victory lap though. There’s a lot of new on offer. ‘5 In The Morning’ is still packet fresh, lurching under the cover of darkness and driven by the promise of new dawns and break-downs, it fidgets every which way, but that’s just the start. ‘Focus’ is hyperactive, full of self-love and thunderous applause, ‘Taxi’ pops with bubblegum sheen and ‘No Angel’ takes that rebellious smirk and gives it a glittering purpose while ‘Girls Night Out’, stomping about the place and glinting with the promise of what comes next, closes the show.
Charli is one of a kind, doing things her own way and without apology, but she’s always made space for collaboration. For team work. For making her world bigger than herself. Maybe it’s because she grew up on the girl power of The Spice Girls, maybe she just likes the different energies but Post-‘Sucker’, she’s shared her space at every opportunity. There’s been a revolving cast of friends and inspirations, from Carly Rey Jepsen to Cupcakke, but at the centre of it all has been Charli and her vision. Unwavering and ever-changing. Just alongside her, SOPHIE and A.G. Cook. Tonight they share the stage for the first time in a forever. “This feels fucking special, y’know,” Charli beams. “And we’re the future,” she adds with a grin. We welcome it with open arms.
Words: Ali Shutler