BRAT’s Manifesto for the Modern Party Girl

By Jude Jones.

With BRAT, Charli XCX promised her most “aggressive” release to date. Maintaining her aloof distance from the usual pop-girl Svengalis who dominate the charts with iron fists in clean-girl gloves, Charli’s epic promotional campaign – well-rounded by a record-breaking Boiler Room set in New York and her star-studded “360” music video – announced a new, oppositional archetype: the Party Girl, cool, cold, and coked the fuck up. With it, a new antihero rises, the cult classic David to our mainstream’s tortured poet Goliath.

Charli XCX performs at her “PARTYGIRL” Boiler Room set in February 2024.

Charli’s marketing has been a stroke of deranged genius. Single releases like “Club classics” and “b2b” forewarned a project cultivated on and for the dancefloor, resplendent with bouncing basslines and cheeky Charli-verse references (“I want to dance to A.G. / I want to dance to Hud-Mo”) to make her cult of tank-topped devotees scream. These tracks promised a new form of club euphoria against headlines of the post-COVID murder of the dancefloor and an album that would give us one thing above all else: a party.

And so, BRAT drops. Everybody listens. And my first impression is emphatic, leaving me with a sense of whiplash. This whiplash, though, is far from that which I had expected, the sort induced by the break-neck BPM’s and the rubberised kicks of the illegal raves Charli says raised her and cited as foundational influences on the album. No, my whiplash is a tonal one, as BRAT’s unfurling steadily betrays each of these expectations.

Where I had prepared myself, eager-eared, for SOPHIE-inspired synthscapes that melt the body then put it back together, I was met instead with French producer Gesaffelstein’s soft, house-inspired piano. And where I had anticipated winking lyrics that would have been well at home on a club-sleaze track from Kesha’s Cannibal or Britney Spears’ Blackout, there were instead the autotuned introspections of a woman in her early-30s, fretting about her face shape, her dating life, and chances at motherhood slowly escaping her.

Charli promised us a party. But the party she gives is knotty and complex, gratingly realist. BRAT traces, with confessional rawness, the volatile topography of the night and of Party Girl life. Its high-adrenaline promotional campaign then served as something of the come-up, that tiny pill you took to start the night settling in, its bitterness sweet with the promise of a good time. Tracks like “Von dutch” or “Everything is romantic” are the swift delivery of that promise, that dancing-euphoric-with-the-only-people-you-will-ever-love and the transcendental smiles plastered on your warm, sweat-drunk faces. But then the air changes. On comes “I might say something stupid” or “Girl, so confusing”, songs whose lyrics read like the Notes-app Milk and Honey poems you type, jaw clenched, as you sit in the toilet cubicle, chemically tossed into bizarre introspection.

This mutates into “So I” or “I think about it all the time”, the extension of these anxieties into the next-day come-down, with all its apocalyptic existentialism, burrowing out with an ineffable determination all the worst of your worries and fears. And then, at last, “365”, which wraps all this transitory feeling back into a little plastic bag, scrunches that back into a Tripp NYC denim cargo pocket, and texts into the group chat “what’s happening next weekend?”.

Maybe that’s all reading too much into it. But for an artist whose career has until now been defined by an experimental, meta-commentary maximalism, the pulsing minimalism of BRAT – with its unflowery lyricism, its pulled-back production – gestures toward a genuine artistic soul-searching that, among Charli’s normally shameless and hedonistic oeuvre, is headturningly stoic, a sort of dancefloor self-vivisection. The album’s vertigo-inducing climb to the no.16 spot on Metacritic’s list of best albums of all time speaks to its successes on this front, congratulations peppered with words like “fragility”, “vulnerability”, and “masterpiece.”

BRAT is thus the triumphant genesis of pop music’s Party Girl anti-hero, “succubus-looking [and] dead-eyed,” as Charli describes her. Yet Charli’s Party Girl is at the same time thoughtful, with her head screwed on. She’s the Party Girl of the post-Perez Hilton, Free(d) Britney zeitgeist, of a media and cultural climate confronting, albeit tepidly, the ghosts of its own recent, paparazzied past. Charli may say, “I miss the Paris Hilton days,” with all the Simple Life plasticity and Von Dutch Americana it evokes, but her BRAT is a manifesto for a new, post-Paris type of Party Girl, with all the same Y2K style but now with the substance to back it all up, too. (Even if that substance is sometimes a healthy bump, balancing on a newly-done French tip).

Jude Jones is the Managing Editor of GAY45 and is an interdisciplinary journalist, currently completing an undergraduate degree in History & French at the University of Cambridge. Their writing – covering photography, nightlife, fashion, gallery reviews, interest pieces, and political comments – has also been published by Varsity, The Cambridge Language Collective, DISRUPTION, and the Cambridge Review of Books, among others. 

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