Photos By Aleksander Lee, Words By Courtney Pitman
Holy. Shit. You guys, Charli XCX is the real deal.
Let’s forget #WCW and talk Woman Crush Saturday… Her dead sprint of a sold-out show at U Street Music Hall on Saturday was a 90’s girl-band themed volcano of euphoria, with the 21 year-old Charli at the helm of the eruption button. Taking all of 10 seconds between soaring dance tracks to earnestly demand more _______ (clapping/hands/jumping/noise/etc) of an already hot and bothered crowd, Charli XCX and her all-girl backing band almost rabidly propelled us through 14 songs in their one-hour set.
Charli’s show was more than I thought it would or could be in every way possible. The English singer’s frigid pop music, though frequently catchy, tends to be slightly alienating—the beats too polished, obscuring a voice that’s too detached. Backed live by a guitar, bass and drums, however, the game has changed. Turns out Charli’s not some adolescent girl playing coy with a synth machine. She’s a popstar with real affect who knows how to dictate a crowd, loves DC and loves to yell the word fuck. I dare you not to be in love with her.
“DC! Lemme see your haaaands!!! I fucking love this city!”
You know how Charli XCX was attached to Icona Pop’s little “I Love It” ditty as a featured artist? And you know how “I Love It” grips you with a combination of sing-song chanting and chest-jolting guitar riffs before unleashing you just in time for an ecstatic chorus? That was more or less the standard for all 14 songs. She ropes you in, mandating whether your hands are up or down and the pace at which they’re clapping, and just when you feel like you’re a part of something bigger, completely in unison with 500 of your new best friends, the beat drops and the ensuing melee leaves you begging for further instruction.
It’s impossible to pinpoint even a handful of highlights among a night full of them. Charli jumped immediately into “What I Like” and didn’t lose steam for a moment for the rest of the night. Repeatedly pivoting from pop-princess high notes to grungy-goth dissonance to boss-bitch rapping cadence, she was her own 90’s girl group. Though all of these elements exist on her album, none are as pronounced as her live renditions. I was repeatedly surprised by the strength and fluidity of her voice, which for reasons I now cannot fathom is harnessed within a narrow range on her recordings. Together with the (seemingly) legitimate appreciation that she showered on the crowd and to U Hall itself, this revelation humanized a hollow voice. “This is my third time in this very venue. This city is fucking dope!”
“This is some girl power shit right here”
I had already jotted down ‘girl power’ by the time Charli declared its presence on stage, but her reaction to an instrumental solo at the end of “How Can I” solidified it nonetheless. The song’s repeated plea, “How can I fix what I fucked up?” was the hardest-hitting line of the night, and the finale splattered Sleigh Bells-esque guitars all over the crowd. Charli was panting by the time she introduced “Black Roses,” her catchiest song that infused another rock-heavy skew in the live rendition. Eight songs deep, the evening had been a steady climb upward, each song topping the previous, each song refusing to relinquish a moment of the crowd’s attention.
……and then “I Love It” happened. I lied before, this was definitely the highlight. If only I’d traded someone for their mesh shirt before dancing like this. I don’t care. I loved it.
Charli XCX is a nineties bitch because she’s a one-woman T-Boz, Left Eye or Chilli at any given moment. She’s also a nineties bitch because she was born in 1992, and her “zero fucks given” attitude is emblematic of a new class of female singers changing the paradigm of the female popstar. 16 year-old KIWI Lorde scores an unlikely number one Billboard single. Fellow 21 year-old Sky Ferreira’s album is a jaded debutante—see: cover art—after being shelved by the big-time record labels for years (she’s at 9:30 Club tonight, BTW). And Charli XCX’s was definitely on some girl power shit on Saturday night, but not in the way that Baby Spice was supposedly a torch-carrier for female empowerment. It was in a good way.
What I Like Set Me Free (Feel My Pain)
Lock You Up
You (Ha Ha Ha)
How Can I
I Love It
Take My Hand
You’re The One
I Want Candy (The Strangeloves cover)