Formidable pop princess
Charli XCX - Live At KOKO, London

Outside MTV's Brand New showcase in Camden, a crowd of music fans are doing what can only be described as "clucking". They scurry around looking concerned, with abrupt high-pitched exchanges and urgent hunches over their iPhones. At first you may think something awful has happened, and then you see a hastily-printed sign and realise it's worse: "Lana Del Rey is unable to perform tonight due to illness."

After the critical panning she got after her Saturday Night Live performance it's no wonder that Lana's not quite feeling herself. Her billing tonight was a strange fit, slotted in between Charli XCX's goth-pop and The Maccabees' riffy dreamscapes at KOKO, especially given that she could easily fill the 2000 capacity venue herself.

Moving into Lana's slot tonight is the formidable Charli XCX, a pop princess at nineteen years old with big hair and bigger tunes. Once styled as a Grindie Princess (see her 2008 single '!Franchesckaar!'), Miss XCX has now gone all alt-pop with new material devised with Diplo, producer Ariel Rechtshaid and Swedish mastermind Patrik Berger. She motors onto the stage like she owns it, looking like Princess Jasmine grew up in a Hackney warehouse, wearing a loose black crop-top and glittery high-waist pantaloons.

Tonight she delivers a set of slick pop bolstered by crunching synths, with her voice veering from a chatter-stopping full belt to measured raps that are more The xx than the Lady Sov bolshiness of Charli's early material. On the mesmerising opener 'Stay Away' the full-throttled chorus is backed with haunting vocoders and the unnerving lyrics of the spoken-word breakdown: “Pulled on the chains/Licking up the blood yeah I made this decision.”

The set highlight is the pulsating, tubular bells-gone-haywire 'Nuclear Seasons', a huge pop tune with crashing bass drums and a fuzzy Italo twinkle. She sways to the song with a belly-dancer's confidence, tossing her head with mock-naïveté during the chorus' “oh oh oh, oh oh oh” her pentagram pendant swinging from her neck. In the pulsating 'Mess' she fist-pumps into the audience with trousers billowing around her legs like a ringside boxer raised on electro-pop.

New single 'You're The One' is a touching off-kilter love song with the admission “You're the one who could make me stay/You're the only one that makes me feel this way” before it morphs into a squelchy dub breakdown made for body popping.

As her set finishes I hear a couple talking behind me: "She's not pop really though, is she? More like These New Puritans." They're wrong, but understandably so. Charli XCX is a pop star as much as Robyn or Marina, she just happens to look like she lives in Dalston. Going home in the knowledge that Lana Del Rey's album had leaked, there was only one song to put on: 'Nuclear Seasons' by Charli XCX.

Words by Owen Myers

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