Charli XCX’s Secret Sydney Show Was More Than A ‘Little Bit Fucked Up’, And We Loved It

It's a Wednesday night before 10pm, but the amount of amyl in the air suggests it's at least 3am.

Charli XCX

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“I’m not going to lie. I’m a little bit fucked up,” says Charli XCX, who is halfway through a short 45-minute ‘secret show’ at Oxford Art Factory, arguably Sydney’s sweatiest venue.

Despite the haze — a combination of stage smoke, human-made humidity, and vapes — she is wearing a rainbow-tessellating Moncler ski jacket, which is too much for the August night, let alone in here. But Charli loves to be too much — and looking around, so do her fans.

It’s a Wednesday night before 10pm, but the amount of amyl in the air suggests it’s at least 3am. People are very excited; the show was announced just last week, as a one-off promo show for Charli, her long-awaited third album, which you had to pre-order to land in the lottery for tickets, and the room’s packed well before she’s slated to come on.

A scroll-through Twitter and pop-frenzied Facebook groups shows people bought flights and accomodation before they had a ticket, convinced they’d simply find a way in, as if there’d be a bouncer to sweet talk, rather than label heads. But that’s Charli’s whole thing — her Pop 2 and 1999 concerts in Australia last year felt much more like club nights than a major label pop-star’s show.

Somehow, she even brought that same club energy to her pre-opener slot on Taylor Swift’s reputation tour — admittedly, to a slightly less-responsive audience. Last week, Charli got in trouble with Swift’s fans for comparing the tour in a Pitchfork feature to “getting up on stage and waving to five-year-olds”, but if they’d been to her solo show, they would’ve known it wasn’t an insult; they’re just different worlds.

Despite this being an album promo show, the crowd didn’t get a sneak peak of any new songs from Charli to gauge whether she’s aiming for stadium success. Halfway through, Charli apologised about that, saying she planned to play her next single live for the first time, but didn’t get to it in soundcheck. “I’m really lazy!”, she jokes, before launching into ‘Unlock It’ and jumping up and down higher than anyone in a ski jacket ever has before.

What did she play? A super tight selection of greatest hits which didn’t even touch her first two albums. While they feature some of her most commercially successful tracks (‘Boom Clap’, ‘Doing It’), they just aren’t turbo enough for the set. Instead, it’s all post 2016 (save for ‘I Love It’, a pulsating and aggressively bratty track perfect for both Girls‘ drug-fuelled dancing scene and K-Mart ads), which is when Charli first dipped her toe into the PC Music waters, working with the likes of fellow London producers A.G. Cook and SOPHIE. Not to say it’s their magic work; as her set makes clear, it’s Charli baby. Charli XCX.

Where other pop-stars might promote fun, Charli just is fun.

It’s an absolute blitz of a show. From ‘Boys’ to Pop 2 ballad ‘Lucky’ and even ‘Wannabe’ interpolation ‘Spicy’, the first notes of each song are met with more screams than the last. Charli’s alone on stage, surrounded by the aforementioned sweat/vog/vape air and two lasers — it’s all she needs, as her energy is absolutely infectious. Where other pop-stars might promote fun, Charli just is fun (even when on Sunrise talking about how long you should leave your tea bags in for).

And she knows that’s the appeal. The set started a little late — Charli explains she had one too many espresso martinis at dinner before, but no one’s wanting an apology. While Ninajirachi warmed the room up with a turbo DJ set, the truth is, that crowd would have gone off to anything. Just before Charli comes on, OAF blasts her most recent song, ‘Flash Pose’, through the speakers, and the reaction’s like she’s performing it. People are there to see Charli, but they’re mostly there to have fun with Charli.

“I like to party! It’s part of my brand,” she says, before pausing. “But I do.”

The thing with parties, though, is nailing that sweet spot between being both intimate and an event. Charli could make these small shows a thing of the past. The feature list alone (Troye SivanLizzoChristine and The Queens, Haim, Yaeji, Sky Ferreira, Kim Petras., et al.) suggests that Charli wants to be reach new audiences and be big — not just in ‘fucking Germany‘, but the world.

Then again, Charli‘s features are a savvy selection of very on-trend people, rather than the sort of carefully engineered collabs we’ve seen recently. While Charli used to throw open house parties and see who rocks up, now she’s created a careful guest-list — but you’re welcome to come, if you’re up for it.

Charli XCX’s third album Charli is out September 13 via Warner Music Australia.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.

Lead photo: Jordan Munns — @jordankmunns