Charli XCX Vroom Vroom [EP]

[Vroom Vroom; 2016]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: bubblegum bass, bubblegum pop
Others: bubblegum

“One can never know with perfect accuracy both of those two important factors which determine the movement of one of the smallest particles — its position and its velocity. It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the direction and speed of a particle at the same instant.”
– Werner Heisenberg, on his uncertainty principle

“Sippin sizzurp in my ride, like Three 6. Now I’m feeling so fly like a G6.”
– Far East Movement, “Like a G6”

“Let’s ride.”
– Charli XCX

During the mid-to-late 80s, artists like Madonna and Janet Jackson dropped the pop world on its axis with their unprecedented agency, brazen sexuality, and unique visions of female empowerment. With their work, these artists ultimately redefined what it means to be a woman within an institution informed not only by its place within a patriarchal social structure, but also by willfully outmoded notions of pop sensibility. Coupled with an aggressive, yet undeniably attractive, feminine sound — pioneered in part by the likes of Patrick Leonard, Shep Pettibone, and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, among numerous others — this upswell of female energy challenged listeners and surprised rockist-leaning, erstwhile cynical critics, ultimately establishing the text that an entire generation of young, intelligent, talented women could, and would, follow.

Both Madonna’s and Janet’s seminal records, Like a Prayer and Rhythm Nation 1814, respectively, were released in 1989. Charli XCX, for her part, wasn’t even alive at that time. Although one is loath to make sweeping, cross-cultural, cross-generational comparisons, I raise the connection because everything about Charli and SOPHIE’s joint effort, Vroom Vroom, seems to hearken back to the transgressive female pop tradition handed down by Charli’s forebears.

Like Madonna, Charli’s character here exemplifies resistance, blurring the line between virgin and whore, basking in the chaos created. SOPHIE steals the dropped baton from Pettibone and the Lewis Brothers, crafting what are arguably some of SOPHIE’s rawest, most compelling compositions to date, dizzying in disposition, underpinning the chaos that Charli’s character imparts. Together, they evoke a unique sound and vision that is miles ahead of the current pop landscape.


Asserting a femininity that is at times coy and at others downright ultra-violent, Vroom Vroom wields a subversive switchblade, at once courting and averting the male gaze in a manner both enticing and righteously terrifying. It should go without saying that this is not the persona Charli evokes in the likes of Billboard 100-topping “Boom Clap,” but rather an entirely different character altogether: Charli’s diabolical twin, a female counterpart to Alex DeLarge, or, more pointedly, the majority of male rappers.

But she is more than pro forma performance of the characteristic femme fatale: she is the arbiter of her own special brand of hedonistic disorder, disrupting the cultural process by which relations of power are established. “Bitch, I’m here to fuck you up. Wanna make that body drop,” she chants straight off the bat on “Trophy,” in a manner similar in substance to Madonna’s “Thief of Hearts” (a cut off of 1992’s infamous Erotica that begins with Madonna cooing “Bitch […] Which leg do you want me to break?”). A complex metaphor, to be sure, the “trophy” here could easily signify the affection of a male, a crucial role reversal that effectively castrates him while elevating her, denying him the power he seeks and that which Charli’s character craves.

“Trophy,” for what it’s worth, is emblematic of the arena Vroom Vroom inhabits. In a recent dialogue with The New York Times’s The Stone, philosopher Simon Critchley remarks upon sport: “[It] is obviously violent, and it is the violence we want to see […] Sport is a place where bodies break.” “Trophy,” then, with its transparent sports analogy, connotes the performance of violence through a distinctly feminine lens.

It’s difficult for me to overstate: Vroom Vroom’s title track is a near-masterpiece. “All my life, I’ve been waiting for a good time,” Charli spit-sings, reinforcing the crucial dichotomy that drives Vroom Vroom forward. It is a post-“Material Girl” hymn to independence, financial or otherwise: a desire for personal freedom, visions of lavender Lamborghinis and ocean-blue bikinis, “bitches on the beaches looking super cute and freaky.” “Paradise,” with its feature from PC Music star Hannah Diamond, provides a brief if necessary respite from the disorder. “Hope, I found it in your eyes,” sez Diamond, a foil to Charli’s character, one of radical passivity, coming off of a soaring EDM-send-up of a hook, arguably one of SOPHIE’s best.

Not immediately present, SOPHIE’s production is like liquid metal or maybe the noise equivalent of non-Euclidean geometry, often precluding ready perception and identification and escaping non-hyperbolic description. Denser, more cohesive, and more grounded than SOPHIE’s previous work, it consists, at times, of unearthly squeals, echoes, disembodied samples (“I want to win. I want that trophy.”), and body-slams of noise. Although it evokes the work of the Lewis Brothers in essence, it also calls to mind the contemporaneous destructive force of the Bomb Squad and their work with Public Enemy, especially when coupled with Charli’s unlikely, yet unshakable rhythm.

Vroom Vroom didn’t have to be this good. It could have easily been yet another de rigueur exercise in crossover, destined to be but a footnote in Charli’s career and a pit-stop along SOPHIE’s greater quest for pop world domination. That’s not the case, though. Pop music is often at its best when it seek to challenge its own established tradition, and imbued with a timeless feminine cultural residue, Vroom Vroom does just that. This is pop music reinventing itself, reasserting its autonomy. Vroom Vroom offers a brief, appealing glimpse of a world manifest with characters, ideas, and feelings, all presented with a novel exposition. This could be pop’s near-future: It’s just a hundred miles down the road.

Links: Charli XCX - Vroom Vroom

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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