Charli XCX is a pop music pioneer.
Since releasing her debut album True Romance in 2013, Charlotte Aitchison has refused to stick to any script, instead choosing to flip between styles and soundscapes through her releases in a way that none of her contemporaries have been able — or are brave enough — to follow.
Whether she’s screaming over fuzzy ’90s guitars, brooding in dark witch pop synths, or mixing cotton candy vocals over clanging metallic beats, Charli XCX has proved there’s nowhere she won’t go.
She’s also very much an artist of the social media age — she brings fans into every part of her emotional and musical journey, leaving nothing behind closed doors. Perhaps this explains how she’s rallied one of the most dedicated fanbases in the pop world.
Her endless list of collaborators only continues to expand, and despite them often coming from wildly different worlds, they all seem natural; she has a remarkable knack for making a featured artist feel right at home, from Haim to Brooke Candy to Yaeji.
Having just released her new full-length Charli, we decided it was time to look back over Aitchison’s eclectic discography, and rank the hell out of it.
A note to die-hard fans: ‘Taxi’ and ‘Bounce’ aren’t in this list, as they’ve never officially been released. Similarly, ‘Fancy’ and ‘I Love It’ were written by Charli, but weren’t released by her — so they don’t merit inclusion.
#76. ‘Die Tonight’
This toes dangerously on Coldplay territory, and must never be spoken of again.
#75. ‘London Queen’
Tacky lyrics, a half-ass sounding chorus and weirdly forced “oi! oi!” deem ‘London Queen’ a rare dull point in Charli’s catalogue.
#74. ‘Break The Rules’
For what it’s worth, this was a break-out track for Charli but it misses the mark in terms of the anarchic punk vibe she was clearly going for with Sucker. It feels inauthentic and trite, and she agrees.
#73. ‘Caught In The Middle’
I’m going to Maccas, y’all want anything?
#72. ‘Gold Coins’
Looking back on Sucker, why was so much of it so boring?
#71. ‘Red Balloon’
Can you tell this was made to soundtrack an animated film? Can you?
#70. ‘So Far Away’
Well, not everything on True Romance was going to be a teen dream.
#69. ‘Stay Away’
One of True Romance’s shortcomings is that you can only throw so much dark and brooding synths and fuzzy vocals in one album before it all blends in with one another.
#68. ‘Porsche’ (feat. MØ)
Most records have a skip, and this is POP 2’s.
#67. ‘Doing It’ (feat. Rita Ora)
By all definitions, Charli XCX in the year 2019 is a maximalist — maximum production, maximum energy, maximum sound. Her ability to pack so much into one song and have it still sound coherent and natural is unmatched. Retrospectively, then, ‘Doing It’ falls terribly and quietly flat. The Rita Ora feature brings nothing to the already barely-there track, and the song is one, all-encompassing yawn.
#66. ‘After The Afterparty’ (feat. Lil Yachty)
Released between the Vroom Vroom EP and Number 1 Angel – both of which have a clear sonic link to one another — ‘After The Afterparty’ just seems a little vacant. It’s raucous and booming, and while Yachty slots in perfectly, but it still comes off as half-cooked.
#65. ‘Tears’ (feat. Caroline Polachek)
It just doesn’t hold up to the rest of Pop 2. Perfectly fine, but forgettable.
#64. ‘Black Roses’
A song made for the discotheque with a chorus that hints at the sound she’d explore on Sucker. Another one for the ‘fine but forgettable’ file.
#63. ‘Drugs’ (feat. ABRA)
If Number 1 Angel has one downfall, it’s ‘Drugs’. It sounds dry, a little lazy and unbothered. The idea of love being a drug is a main motif across the mixtape, but ‘Drugs’ is where it doesn’t add up.
#62. ‘Lock You Up’
Imagine Charli XCX wrote a song for Blade Runner. Here you have it.
#61. ‘Miss U’
A completely inoffensive synth-led bop that shows Charli can play it safe when she needs to.
#60. ‘So Over You’
You could tell me this was The Naked & Famous and I’d believe you.
#59. ‘Out Of My Head’ (feat. Tove Lo & ALMA)
A squeaky, infectious bop that sees three of Europe’s most interesting pop stars collide in one super colourful explosion.
It’s Number 1 Angel’s most radio-friendly and accessible track, made for screaming with a half-finished bottle of cheap red in hand, and isn’t that all Charli has wanted for us?
#57. ‘Babygirl’ (feat. Uffie)
Uffie’s influence can be seen throughout all of Charli’s music, but especially across True Romance. So, it should come as no surprise that collaboration between the two, despite its 2017 release, sounds like a 2013 deep cut. It’s smooth, flirty, and sex-playlist ready.
#56. ‘Hanging Around’
It’s a song that was made to soundtrack a ’90s teen movie. Yes, that was the idea for a large portion of Sucker, but this one has it down to a formula. Stomping drums, searing guitars, a painful desire to “get out of this town” — it’s got it all.
A Purity Ring song that never was. That’s a compliment.
#54. ‘Take My Hand’
An intergalactic journey through a pop galaxy that I’ll gladly take again.
#53. ‘Paradise’ (feat. Hannah Diamond)
It’s pitched beyond recognition and features some of the most restless production a Charli track has ever seen — it would feel right at home on any ’90s video game.
#52. ‘Body Of My Own’
While Charli XCX and a guitar is a combo that is largely hit and miss, ‘Body Of My Own’ is the proud masturbation anthem we all need to hear.
#51. ‘Set Me Free’
Remember when ‘Fancy’ came out and everyone thought Charli XCX was actually Lorde for some reason? Well, this song sounds like an XCX-ed version of some Pure Heroine deep cuts which is, obviously, a very good thing.
#50. ‘Warm’ (feat. HAIM)
Charli XCX and HAIM are musically worlds apart, but she found a way to make the band’s instantly recognisable sun-drenched vocals work in this futuristic fantasy.
#49. ‘White Mercedes’
Charli mixes the weird with the contemporary a lot, but ‘White Mercedes’ is almost strictly the latter. Sounding like a Bebe Rexha or Camila Cabello B-side but with a signature XCX twist, ‘White Mercedes’ is for those that still crave top 40 Charli.
#48. ‘Femmebot’ (feat. Dorian Electra & Mykki Blanco)
It’s exactly what it says on the label. It’s mechanical, sexy, glitchy technicolour with a punchy and memorable final verse from Mykki Blanco, who completely steals the show.
Sucker cops a lot of flak — most of it warranted — but you can’t deny that it was buckets of fun. Sure it’s not the NSFW, ecstasy-laced fun that Charli has crafted into her later work, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. ‘Famous’ sees Charli buy into the trope of crashing a party but making it her own, and you just can’t help but want to party with her.
#46. ‘Dreamer’ (feat. Starrah & RAYE)
Charli is no stranger to writing an absolute banger of a hook, but the “I’m a dreamer/step, step out the beamer” in ‘Dreamer’ hits differently. It is irresistible.
This is Charli XCX singing a song that Britney Spears could’ve released a version in the ’90s, and it’s delicious.
#44. ‘Silver Cross’
This is going to go all the way off when Charli performs Charli. I can smell the sweat and the poppers from here.
#43. ‘White Roses’
Where ‘Black Roses’ ultimately wilted under the pressure of its own mediocrity, ‘White Roses’ smells sickly sweet and will prick you with its slow-burning confession of love — but you’ll like it.
If there’s any song from Sucker that Charli could get away with performing now, it’s the title track. An unapologetically angry, fiercely feminist war cry that is made so much better with the chants of “Fuck you, sucker!”
#41. ‘Nuclear Seasons’
‘Nuclear Seasons’ epitomises everything True Romance was about. It is hyper-produced and hazy beyond belief, but still dances through that dark witch pop that Charli owned at the start of the decade.
“When you go, please don’t leave your love in the sun/My heart will melt away” she sings before erupting into a No Doubt-inspired pre-chorus followed by a glitchy hook that gave us glimpses into just how far into the cosmos she’d travel in later years.
#40. ‘Backseat’ (feat. Carly Rae Jepsen)
The gays still haven’t recovered.
#39. ‘Girls Night Out’
No further comment needed.
— Charli (@charli_xcx) December 30, 2018
#38. ‘Cloud Aura’ (feat. Brooke Candy)
This is platform sneakers, galaxy print, 2012 Tumblrcore that gave us a glimpse into what these two future stars were capable of. While Brooke gives us the gritty rap we’ve come to expect from her, Charli seamlessly ventures between vulnerable, scorned, angry and unbothered in just a few minutes.
#37. ‘Unlock It’ (feat. Kim Petras & Jay Park)
It’s everything ‘Paradise’ wishes it was, and ‘Paradise’ was still pretty good.
It’s like if Bring It On was set in the year 2099. Fuck, this is so good.
#35. ‘How Can I’
It’s amazing that in 2013 Charli XCX released a song that would’ve been right at home on her 2017 Number 1 Angel mixtape, but that just proves she’s always been ahead of her time. It’s got that haunting vulnerability that she likes, and still sounds completely fresh today.
#34. ‘3AM (Pull Up)’ [feat. MØ]
‘3AM’ is the first strike of a gut-wrenching one-two punch, the second being ‘Blame It On U’. Over a bubblegum melody, Charli rolls her eyes as she’s just sick and tired of her lover’s bullshit. MØ’s instantly recognisable vocals fit in perfectly.
#33. ‘1999’ (feat. Troye Sivan)
Nineties pop culture can be seen in everything Charli XCX has ever done, from True Romance to Sucker to Charli. She has made no secret of her undying for love for Britney Spears and the Spice Girls, and she’s now given them both a sonic love letter that is a halfway point between ‘Boom Clap’ and ‘Track 10’.
It’s pop enough for the pop kids, and weird enough for the weird kids, and Troye’s smooth vocals tie it all together in a nice, cute scrunchie.
#32. ‘Need Ur Luv’
A standout of Sucker — we’ll take what we can get — ‘Need Ur Luv’ sees Charli give us a different style of vocal delivery. It’s breathy and high with a sound that feels loosely inspired by ’60s and early ’70s pop, but cloaked with a baby pink haze.
Somehow this meeting point between the deep purple of True Romance and the bright, raging pink of Sucker is one of her most catchy efforts. It’s infectious and uber-pop without being cheesy or too manufactured. Brilliant.
#30. ‘What I Like’
It can be hard to believe that a large portion of True Romance was written and recorded when Charli was just a teenager, but it shines through in moments like ‘What I Like’. It’s still got those gritty and edgy lyrics that she loved back in 2013, but there’s a rose-coloured lens on Charli’s view of her lover that makes you want to cringe, but only because it’s so deeply relatable.
#29. ‘Track 10’
Whether you love or hate ‘Track 10’, there’s no denying that this Pop 2 closer is a milestone moment in showing the world just what Charli was capable of.
#28. ‘You (Ha Ha Ha)’
If there’s any song you bump from True Romance on repeat, it’s this one. It’s not completely drowned in the dark pop sound that can overwhelm the album at times, but it’s still laced with the type of ‘fuck you’ cynicism that made Charli’s early years so instrumental for the rest of her career. Not to mention, the “Ha ha ha ha, I was right” hook — sampled from Gold Panda’s ‘You’ — is a dream.
#27. ‘Blame It On Your Love’ (feat. Lizzo)
It is ‘Track’ 10 in its final form. While the former served as a cool prototype to see where Charli could go, ‘Blame It On Your Love’ sees it polished, shiny and completely fresh. Enlisting 2019’s hottest property, Lizzo, to provide a guest verse was a genius marketing move.
‘Focus’ sounds like the club. It sounds like sweat dripping down your forehead. It sounds like looking for your friends through a haze of smoke and lasers, while also looking for your next drink. ‘Focus’ sounds like underground partying despite whatever trauma that’s going on above you. It is escapist pop with grimy undertones, a masterful use of auto-tune, and an A.G. Cook-produced melody that is to die for.
#25. ‘Next Level Charli’
A song that will surely open the rest of her sets until the end of time, ‘Next Level Charli’ is both an invitation and a warning. With little more than a few colourful synths and a beat to sing over, Charli instructs us all on how to party with her. She’s telling you to hop in her lavender Lamborghini, but also letting you know she’s not about to follow the speed limit. It’s full speed ahead from here on out, and it might be best for you to catch the bus if you can’t hang.
If Kanye West’s ‘Wolves’ met Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime’ and you chucked it in a blender with decent smack of autotune, ‘Lucky’ would be the result. It’s heartfelt, visceral, and totally lacking in a beat — something Charli seldom does. But it proves that she doesn’t always need thumping and hyperactive production to shine.
#23. ‘Breaking Up’
One of the best songs on Sucker.
#22. ‘Blame It On U’
A heavy, thumping beat underscores an unapologetic Charli blaming her lover for her addiction to them — despite knowing how bad they are for her. Honestly, me with Tim Tams.
#21. ‘5 In The Morning’
Charli’s voice over a trap beat is something we need more of. This song shoots for the heart of an afterparty in ways ‘After The Afterparty’ failed — it’s sexy, it’s dark, and ultimately uncertain. She remains in control, but knows that no high is permanent and wants to make sure that whoever is with her is truly with her.
#20. ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’
This sounds like being alone on the dancefloor at prom. It sounds like high school heartbreak as you stand there with balloons at your feet and a silver spotlight zooming across you, while couples locked in arms with one another surround you — completely devastating and beautiful.
#19. ‘Kingdom’ (feat. Simon Le Bon)
This is easily the most acoustic Charli has ever been. Taken from the Lorde-curated soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack, we’ve got Charli singing with a fragility we rarely hear from her.
Stripped of everything, she delivers us a beautiful, heart-wrenching ballad with some of her strongest lyrics to date: “I dance around, and I lost you now/I breathed you out, I kept you out/But I could, I’d turn back around.”
#18. ‘Secret (Shh)’
Venturing into the rap melodies she’d explore on later mixtapes, ‘Secret (Shh)’ is one of Charli’s more original sounding bangers and maybe that’s because this marked the first track in her catalogue that she didn’t have a part in writing.
Jesse Saint John and Jessica Harper pen the track, which explains the layered ’90s R&B vocals inspired by Spice Girls and En Vogue. But then Jodie Marsh and SOPHIE’s warped and alarming production crash in, filling you up until you burst and making this a secret that you’re definitely not going to keep.
‘Thoughts’ is a stream of consciousness gone into hyper-drive, an alcohol-fuelled head-first dive into her own mind where she hides nothing. An ongoing theme throughout Charli is the imbalance she feels between her love of partying and whatever detriment it might have on her, and ‘Thoughts’ is where she exposes it all for us to see and relate to.
#16. ‘I Got It’ (feat. Brooke Candy, CupcakKe & Pabllo Vittar)
This wouldn’t be the last time these four collaborated on a song together, and nor would it be the wildest, but ‘I Got It’ gave us a true moment. It’s feisty, chaotic and unhinged, yet everyone involved is on the same wavelength as one another.
Vittar’s clean Spanish singing is the perfect pallet cleanser after CupcakKe’s unusually aggressive verse, while Brooke and Charli give you that too-cool sex appeal they’ve had locked down for years. Everything reaches a grinding, industrial climax in the songs final seconds, and there’s no way you’re not dancing once you hear it.
#15. ‘Roll With Me’
A Number 1 Angel highlight, ‘Roll With Me’ is punchy, electrifying, and breathless. The chorus in particular is an absolute onslaught of synths and beats that’ll have you jumping until your ankles give in.
#14. ‘2099’ (feat. Troye Sivan)
It’s the final song on Charli, and as she as stayed ahead of her time for a few years now, her and Sivan’s time machine is being sent back to the future in what is a haunting, beautiful showcase of both artists like we’ve never seen before.
It’s glitchy and gritty, with an ending that sounds like Charli is off to dive further into the dark abyss of pop music, conquering sonic landscapes yet to be explored.
#13. ‘Cross You Out’ (feat. Sky Ferreira)
‘Cross You Out’ is a refreshing respite from Charli’s typical “who gives a fuck” attitude. It’s almost as if she’s singing in a mirror, tears streaming down her glitter-laden cheek, trying to convince herself that she’s over a lover that has hurt her. Hurt is a theme Sky Ferreira is well acquainted with, so her ethereal voice blends nicely with a clearly heartbroken and distraught Charli.
#12. ‘February 2017’ (feat. Clairo & Yaeji)
The best part about Charli XCX is her ability to join two artists from completely different worlds and make the collaboration seem natural for all three parties.
‘February 2017’, however, is a collab that may as well have been written in the stars. The vulnerable and emotional back-and-forth with Charli and Clairo pulls at the heartstrings, but it’s the raw outro led by Yaeji, singing in Korean, that takes it home.
Her verse translated reads “That one word I said so timidly/Isn’t it too late to want to apologise/ for saying that I’m sorry?” which adds a heartbreak that Charli herself simply couldn’t have conveyed alone.
#11. ‘Click’ (feat. Kim Petras & Tommy Cash)
If The Plastics from Mean Girls were a song, it’d be this. This is aggressive production from 100 Gecs, umru and A.G. Cook and it is divine. It’s bitchy and biting — “all you bitches fucking wish” — with Charli flexing constantly. Kim Petras bursts in with sex appeal and ferocity — “Cookie super sweet, put it on a tray/Got an appetite, come and lick the plate” — and Tommy Cash rounds it off by setting it ablaze before the track jumps into complete chaos.
The best part about Charli’s songwriting is that she is fearless. She’s untouchable. There’s nowhere her mind won’t go and her collaborators help bring that out of her, just as much as she pushes them. If she wants it done, it gets done and no one is going to stop her.
#10. ‘Boom Clap’
The importance of ‘Boom Clap’ cannot be understated, as it served as the larger world’s introduction to Charli XCX as her own entity — without a ‘feat.’ in front of her name. The song is as the title suggests; while also being a perfect example of glittery, youthful and romantic pop writing.
It’s not the experimental, hyper-autotuned realm of pop we’ve come to expect from XCX now, but you have to think where we, and she, would be without it.
#9. ‘Delicious’ (feat. Tommy Cash)
A defining song of Pop 2, ‘Delicious’ embodies everything that mixtape was about — unrestricted autotune, underground club-ready beats, thumping bass, distorted vocals, and love under the influence.
But it’s the hollowed, church choir vocals at the end of the song that really drives the song’s meaning home. “I always think about you when I’m high,” Charli sings in the chorus, longing for her lover’s company and attention — even though she knows she’s not going to get it.
#8. ‘Lipgloss’ (feat. CupcakKe)
Charli has collaborated with plenty of rappers in her time — like Brooke Candy, Lil Yachty, Ty Dolla $ign and, er, Iggy Azalea to name a few — yet none of them make a better yin to Charli’s yang than CupcakKe does.
With the same, deep understanding of millennial internet and meme culture, Charli and CupcakKe have demonstrated their ability to bounce off of one another time and time again. But it was their first offering, Number 1 Angel’s ‘Lipgloss’, that remains their strongest.
It’s a sickly sweet and deliciously nasty treat that sees XCX hold down the hook while CupcakKe absolutely unleashes on the verses. “Come get you a sample, lick between the camel/Pussy taste sweet ’cause I ate my pineapple/Light a couple candles, prove you could handle/A pussy gooey like yolk before the egg scrambled” she spits halfway through the first verse, lending her brand of filthy lyrics to the crunchy production helmed by SOPHIE, A.G. Cook and Life Sim.
#7. ‘No Angel’
Slimy production courtesy of The Invisible Men and SOPHIE lead this rare moment where Charli considers chilling out and hanging up the thigh highs and the glitter.
It’s a bubblegum confessional that sees her admit her flaws, but acknowledging that there’s room and time to change. It’s not an apology, and she’s not asking for repentance; she sings the whole song looking back fondly on her wild past, asking that you take her with all her sins and help her to become better for both you and her.
A moment of clarity on Charli, and a necessary one before bursting into the madness that is ‘Shake It’, ‘Official’ is a flowery, springtime jam and an ode to that weird transition from dating to dating.
“You know the shapes that my body makes under the sheets at 4am with you/The things that we break when we’re switching positions” is a stunning balance between intimate and explicit. On ‘Official’, she immortalises the moments that make love as magical as it is. It’s not the overwhelming gestures of romance or the Hollywood-style confessions of “I love you” — it’s those stupid, seemingly insignificant moments that no one else would understand.
#5. ‘You’re The One’
‘You’re The One’ is dazzling — a midnight throwdown that conceals a heartfelt love letter. “My body is screaming/I’m staying right here, no I’ll never be leaving” she speaks on the outro, showing that she can be honest and raw without having to be swallowed in indecision and melancholy. She’s letting herself succumb to love, and she wants you to do the same.
While ‘Doing It’ was minimalistic and boring, there’s something about the equally as minimalistic ‘Boys’ that is totally endearing. The Super Mario-led melody ties in with Charli’s playful, hair-twirling lyrics. It’s a dreamy daze that’s equal parts horny and innocent, and sees an understated side of Charli in the midst of two completely raucous and explosive mixtapes.
As for the video, it’s simply perfect.
#3. ‘Shake It’ (feat. Big Freedia, Brooke Candy, CupcakKe & Pabllo Vittar)
Charli XCX will never write another song like this again. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone will write another song like this again. It is a boundary smashing, rule breaking anthem, sure to become a classic in her discography.
The whole song is a complete, mind-bending journey from start to finish. It opens with drippy synths that keeps Charli’s intro afloat which then cops a swift uppercut by the ringing alarms backing Big Freedia’s iconic bounce bars. CupcakKe takes us for a spin with her ASMR-style verse before smashing in with those signature brash vocals, which then is thrown off guard with Brooke Candy’s extra-terrestrial sexuality. Closed with Pabllo Vittar’s smooth crooning, ‘Shake It’ packs an almost infinite amount of sounds into one four minute package — and it works better than almost anything she’s ever done.
There’s courageous writing, and then there’s anarchic songwriting. Charli goes beyond all of that in ‘Shake It’ as she may have re-defined — again — just how far pop music can go.
#2. ‘Gone’ (feat. Christine and the Queens)
If this ranking has taught us anything, it’s that Charli XCX can collaborate with anyone and it’ll make sense. From the harsh raps of Tommy Cash and CupcakKe to the fragile and delicate voices of Clairo and Yaeji, XCX has a gift into making anyone she works with feel comfortable and encouraged within her weird, synth-driven wonderland.
But no collaboration she’s ever had matches the finesse, skill, and undeniable chemistry that she has with Christine and the Queens’ Héloïse Letissier on ‘Gone.’
The track is electric — it’s like they’ve captured lightning in a bottle and unleashed it without warning. It’s a dingy pop banger that is too big for any venue, making even the smallest bars feel like the biggest stadiums. It feels intensely intimate yet dangerously explosive. The energy that bounces between these two pop pioneers is undeniable, and it is — quite simply — one of the best songs either of them have ever released.
#1. ‘Vroom Vroom’
Life is defined by moments, right? It’s not just a highlight reel of experiences we’ve had or relationships we’ve made, it’s those individual points in time that stick with us and make us reminisce on how something smelled or how someone felt. Charli XCX’s discography is much the same, and while it is packed to the brim with moments, none of them will be as important, as influential or as perfect as 2015’s ‘Vroom Vroom’.
“Let’s ride,” she says, as we’re strapped onto a rollercoaster that — before then — we were completely unfamiliar with. This is the first song she had released since 2014’s Sucker, and it could not have been more different. Switching out the fuzzy 1990s guitars for the clanging 2090s synths, it’s a nitrous-fuelled electronic trip that will sound ahead of its time even 20 years from now.
It’s a song from the era when Charli was at peak visibility, and she skrrted all the way into complete musical mayhem, creating a defining and pivotal moment of her career.
“Bitches know they can’t catch me” is the lead of the song’s metallic hook, and it’s true. She said this four years ago, and still no one has. It’s rare to see an artist have such a clear growth where each era is so distinguishable from the one that came before it.
While Charli will never stop growing, ‘Vroom Vroom’ will always be the song that made her one of the most buzzed-about artists of the decade, so we can either hop in or eat her purple, glittery dust.
Jackson Langford is a writer and critic from Newcastle. He actually does own a lavender Lamborghini. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Marcus Cooper