ARE YOU WASTING MY TIME? ARE YOU JUST BEING KIND?
The crunch of car on car is scraping metals and peeled-off paints, but it may as well be the sound of our fleshy bodies in collision. “I didn’t see you there!” the drivers say, “Your body, my body/ We were close, but still so far away” or worse: “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” We’re always rubbing up against each other, taking turns too tight and colliding our selves together, then apart, always surprised that there’s another body, a different life, a separate existence in our path, that prayer like Madonna, the coo husk “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide/ That’s how I feel: Don’t fog my mind.”
We’re masses of flesh and bone and neuron and we supposed we would strike out on the terms of our own individualities: we terraformed something called a self out of the oppressing forces of time and physics and scrutinized our own country of “I” against outer-infrastructures, riding out the individual shiftings and erosions in the days that became what we called lives. Maintaining our countries of self is the only and hardest thing we’ll all do, maintaining feels improbable in optimals, impossible in winters. Engaging in our humanity is hard.
And then there’s everybody else’s car on the highway, everybody else’s everybody, bumping colliding, crossing our skin and brain’s borders, violating our selves with waves of thems. Everybody lives alone together; no humanity in a vacuum. Engaging in our humanity is hard. Engaging in someone else’s humanity is life stuff, raw divine and wrenching pain, the flower and the petals pulled off. Engaging hurts. “Are you wasting my time? ” I ask you. “Are you just being kind?” I ask myself.
Like Madonna’s “Love Song” for impassioned relating and the two humans arguing over whose car hit whose, Charli XCX’s Number 1 Angel is a text for mitigating engagements. Charli’s language — whether it’s a stutter boom of drum and vocal fry, the automobile verse-chasing ecstasy on “Dreamer,” or the heart-pumping pink gasoline into da-doo trance on “Pull Up” — is the language of pop music always becoming pop music. Number 1 Angel is a maybe mixtape, sorta free, but released by a voice that’s constantly solving life’s real problems with the imagined solutions of pop music. “I’m a dreamer,” Charli reminds us. Pop is dream stuff for bodies.
IT’S NATURAL, IT’S CHEMICAL, IT’S LOGICAL, HABITUAL: CAN WE DO IT?
The promise of pop is that all the traumas and collisions in life and parking lots can be ameliorated in the three-and-a-half-minute hit; like humanity, there’s no pop without engaging in other voices and ears. “You know I never really thought about/ How it feels to say these words aloud,”” Charli confesses on the blip-glitter-blip of “Ily2,” a song for swaying shaking before it bottoms out in a screaming lipstick guitar squeal, a soliloquy like screaming at the club floor. Number 1 Angel is music for ears, proof for engaging, and its sonics follows Charli’s Vroom Vroom; this is pop as excision, removal of nicety, addition of excess. But pop music has always been a language of both engaging with (M’s manifesto: “I wanna dedicate it, infiltrate it/ Everybody made it, activate it”) and engaging out (M’s make-it-up: “Shoobie doobie doo-wop/ Bop bop shoo-wop””). And Number 1 Angel — the pop-rotting root-canalled “Lip Gloss,” the bare-stare numbing “Drugs” — is music for moving that makes you a little afraid that you wanna move this much. It kisses us, and it rots our teeth. “There’s things that you guess and things that you know,” and pop knows that you’re both those things.
Pop music and Number 1 Angel needs our ears, chooses to engage our faculties in pleasure; without us, pop is mute and without pleasure, pop is oblivion. But its best architects (George Michael: “Somewhere along the way, pop lost all its respect. And I think I kind of stubbornly stick up for all of that.”) know that the whole of the thing is chasing wholeness in itself. Pop music has to be the boom, and the clap, the bigness of the hit (dual languages of physical pummeling and quantifiable mass) followed by the imploding clap. George Michael’s faith reversed the revered object: the lust-object, formerly just your ears and attentions, is pop itself. The pronouns, the muse Charli and George seduce and can’t resist, are the sugar apocalypses of pop music. “It’s natural, it’s chemical: can we do it? ” and Charli and all her angels know: “I went to go get it, I get it, I got it, I went to go get it, I get it, I got it.”
Pop as apocalypse orgasm (all-consuming never-ending nothing-elsing until the song is over) is its natural state. “Uh-huh, so good, but I know you’re bad for me/ You got control, and you love the game,” Charli bangs out on “Blame it On You,” leveling: “with you I’m an addict” over the throb of A. G. Cook, of blood hitting all the extremities. The you is pop music; the muse we’re all trying to get with is the art itself. Number 1 Angel cracks some of Vroom Vroom’s cerebral ice to follow that heat source before it recedes a little, un-resolves. Pop needs you and your sex, and pop needs itself always to be never ending. “Emotional” is that perfect pop moment, the beginning of ending “All over, deep under my skin,” the body being wanted and the pulling, engaging, “You got me so emotional,” the bottom-out bass dropped admission: “We had something that never happened.”
And then the song is over, three minutes and fifty-four seconds. Number 1 Angel makes me feel like I don’t ever want to say goodbye, but I can’t not.
YOU MAKE ME FEEL GOOD, COME ON TO ME COME ON TO ME NOW
It’s tempting, too easy, to slide Number 1 Angel in as an inevitable Charli release, impossible accessible, unable to hear too much of — the pop for us, the pop wanting itself. That possible narrative postulates pop as result-based, almost automatic, and would have our ears buy Number 1 Angel as a next step after Vroom Vroom, after everything that already happened. Pop is always validation, and it doesn’t need lines of occasion or inevitables. The genes and vulgarities are there, the knuckle curves and diving slider sounds of A. G. Cook and SOPHIE and Danny L Harle distorting the warm crackle of knowable features by Abra and Starrah and Raye. But the pop model of mythologies has always disserviced its architects (Madonna: “I’ll stop doing everything that I do when I don’t want to do it anymore. I’ll stop when I run out of ideas. I’ll stop when you fucking kill me.”) Mythology proposes Number 1 Angel as the weird in-between moment, an improper release that weirds out as a reaction to “Fancy” and “I Love It” being bank, to Sucker’s comparable stalling after a darling Nuclear Season. But pop music, like the way human beings talk to/crash into human beings, like Charli XCX, doesn’t occur in a straight line because “the beat goes on and on and on and on and— ”
It’s the dipping and sharp turns and the collisions that inform an art, give our bodies reason to move and live. Number 1 Angel: the un-mixtape before the who knows what is out of time, already after “After the Afterparty” and done before “1 Night.” It’s non-linear Technicolor, an ode to you and me and pop music and, ultimately, to Charli XCX: “It’s Charli, baby/ It’s Charli.” We’re all always colliding, peeling our petals together: pop music always sounds like love, because how else do we ever really get together? It’s messy and it’s unsavory, sounding this good, this “Babygirl” fever: “Think about us, we could burn up the second we fuck.” It’s the fuck and funk of the individuated humans trying to relate and sound right together alone. “I’m so sick of that same old love/ That shit it tears me up” someone sang. “I don’t care/ I love it,” said someone else. It’s the universal words we all hear together, but the author is Charli, and the love, the it, is giving, reciprocating, growing. There’s no humanity without the thing that we sometimes call engaging, sometimes call colliding; any reason for meaning, for being these bodies with each other, is art. Charli’s art is giving pop away to get back to the Number 1 Angel, which is her, which is me, which is you. It’s pop becoming us for us, and it always has been. “Je suis prete. Est-ce que vous etes pret, aussi?”// I am ready. Are you ready too?”