Charli XCX and the Phenomenon of Modern Pop
At this ripe old age of twenty-five I have, over the last few months, found myself increasingly more likely to be saying “there’s no good music anymore” or“everything sounds the same”. It's an interesting perspective to hold, considering that I have always been conscious of being one of those people who seem to age themselves by only enjoying the music that they listened to in their “hey day”, or youth. You know the type; they dress within the era they were most socially capable. That said, my feelings about modern music aren’t borne of quite the same cultural self-sequestering. It just seems that there is a vacuum where musical innovation, the kind that captures the zeitgeist and imagination, used to be.
What’s propelling cultural attention now? You get a sense that someone, usually female and suitably instagrammable will be plucked out of obscurity and put on a heavily produced track that will then underscore the plot in a misguided.com advert. That’s not to say that any of those things are inherently wrong, but it becomes mentally numbing when there is no variety. We seem to be past the point of celebrating individuals like Madonna and Kylie for making ageless pop, in favour of an even more corporate approach to selling music that will be played in clubs and remixed continuously. Artists aren’t given any time. Sade famously and thankfully seems to only release an album every ten or so years – that’s not to say that’s a blueprint for others, however it is refreshing and unique in our current culture, which retains no patience or want for delayed gratification. One would hope, beyond the desire for everyone in the populous to be au fait with feminism, that our musical icons would be a representation of that as well. Women who seek to push back and equal men in tone and gusto.
Someone who has caught and held my attention in this respect is singer Charli XCX. In addition to championing other female artists in her collaborations, she has arguably been following the steady incline of new and newest-wave pop cultivated by the likes of the PC music collective. Arguably, especially in today’s competitive music industry, that is quite bold. Record labels more often than not like to package youth, and especially female youth, in a very formulaic way that is difficult for the artist to break free from. Ms XCX’s choices seem to be a conscious side-stepping of that notion to embrace being an outsider of sorts. Of uniqueness. And not in a way that makes individuality™ kitsch in a Glee-esque way, but rather with a frankness that bolsters the music itself.
Another charming facet of her existence is her willingness to subtly and cohesively address inclusivity of niche groups and minorities. The cultish hit 1 night that she features on by Mura Masa is an example of this. Rarely will you see a video that includes diversity in a way that doesn’t seem to be foisting a message on the viewer, or a contrived portrayal of the groups shown. 1 night, as the casual dance number that it is, shows a variety of youths, races and sexualities working harmoniously and fluidly. (Sexuality is italicised because of the sheer novelty of the gay couple in the video being non-white). The greater point of being able to enjoy musical releases like this is that it welcomingly speaks to a shift in culture where more people are normalised. We are moving past the sort of One Direction tropes of women being attractive because they themselves haven’t acknowledged how good looking they are, and into a place where everyone holds more autonomy.
Beyond that, you have the visual that accompanies her most recent release, Boys. The video serves as a tongue in cheek reversal of the male gaze and objectification. Anyone who grew up through the nineties and with an awareness of MTV will be more than aware of the normalisation of women being used as props within videos for heterosexual men to enjoy. Boys by comparison gathers a who’s-who of the music industry’s male talent, and parades them to parade in stages of undress and act out pseudo sexual gestures for a largely heterosexual female and gay male audience. Yet not done in a way that is sordid – there is humour and candor in the imagery, of a kind tangible for the viewer.
One only has to look at the discrepancy between the Boys video and the infamous video for Pharrell Williams’ Blurred Lines to see how necessary the former was. The former serves as an accessible view into a facet of female desire, while the latter is the reverse, with a darker undercurrent referring to date rape. So. Let that steep in your mind.
The overarching feeling that one is left with is that even though we seem to have been marooned on a cultural island, it's comforting to know that the industry is showing potential for regeneration, in a direction that is exciting and positive once more.