Charli XCX: Her 17 Best Songs

Ranking her best work...

Charli XCX is one of pop’s most extraordinary figures, someone capable of commanding the attention of the mainstream while absorbing some defiantly left-field ideas.

Each new era seems to bring with it a plethora of surprises, whether that’s her trailblazing early work, those game-changing SOPHIE link-ups, or her recent No. 1 album ‘CRASH’.

With the Easter break upon us the Clash team decided to piece together our list of Charli’s finest moments – and there’s bound to be many more to come, too.

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‘Trophy’

“I want to win, I want that trophy” – one opening line that accelerates pounding banger ‘Trophy’ into overdrive. Charli XCX’s ‘Vroom Vroom EP’ era marks a strategic escapade from the more straightforward, pop-centric days of debut album ‘SUCKER.’ Merging forces with PC music spearhead SOPHIE, ‘Trophy’ is a bold single in which to foreshadow this turn in Charli’s career.

As one of the significantly shorter tracks across the project, it’s through a super-charged production that favours the digitalised, pitch-bending tropes of hyper-pop in which the track fulfils itself, whilst leaving room for more. Weaving between sugary, twinkling synths into the heavy mechanical hook, Charli XCX is at her most fierce and boastful – “bitch I’m here to fuck you up” makes for a near iconic outburst from the UK’s It-Girl.

In fact so much so, that one must question whether she makes for a satirical critique of the superficial qualities of commercial success. Sampling Pulp Fiction’s Uma Thurman, it’s safe to say we’re here for it. (Ana Lamond)

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‘Lipgloss’

Number 1 Angel’s closing track ‘Lipgloss’ is a sickly sweet display of cacophonous synths, expertly utilising the creative genius of producers SOPHIE and A. G. Cook alongside a powerhouse feature from CupcakKe. Unabashed and bold, the NC-17 tune was apart of an ensemble track list that brought Charli into the realm of avant-garde pop.

Charli was always alternative-leaning when she entered the pop world, having always embraced the sweet pursuit of hedonism and the life of a party girl. The track is experimental, fun, and cohesive with Charli’s left-field, ‘punky’ approach to pop music. Charli and CupcakKe cleverly pair repetitive, catchy lyrics with a neon ear-worm of musical production, with the two forces expertly navigating a track with their big personalities and even bigger joint creative genius.  

‘Lipgloss’ segues into the pop-girl era for Charli, aided by a constellation of friends and collaborators from London’s experimental PC Music label.

The respective outputs of these creative forces would eventually culminate into an arch-joke of consumerism and selling out within the music industry, spread across later Charli releases. Projects like ‘Lipgloss’ are endeavours that grew more iconic with time. When avant-pop stepped into the scene, critics were often divided, if not outright ignorant, of the creative beauty in discordant synths and ultraviolet production.

At the end of the day, any Charli collaboration with SOPHIE and A. G. Cook is bound to be iconic, especially when aided by the enigmatic and fun CupcakKe. This is what makes tracks like Lipgloss not only so exciting, but so important to the changing landscape of pop music by challenging the confines of what can exist in the genre. (Ruby Carter)

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‘Unlock It’ (feat. Kim Petras and Jay Park)

‘Unlock It’ is an essential track on Charli’s cult mixtape ‘Pop 2’. Released back in 2017, she condenses her epic talent as an innovator into the space of a three minute hyper-pop track. Featuring Kim Petras and Jay Park, she leans into her experimental side with the A.G. Cook ‘Beautiful’ clipped sample, which shows listeners the beauty of curation.

A power chorus, pure electronic happiness, bold, computerized melodies, and lyrics that offer cosmic escapism, there’s no doubt that ‘Unlock It’ would resurface again. Now in the hands of mainstream popularity thanks to TikTok, it’s great to witness the songs that bring you joy getting a new lease of life and love they deserve. Thanks to Charli’s artistry and one TikTok dance, ‘Unlock It’ currently stands as being used in more than 2.3 million videos.

And is there really a line as sweetly satisfying as “Cosmic kiss, tastes like cherry maraschino”? (Sahar Ghadirian)

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‘Boom Clap’

Teenagers of 2014 will remember the buzz that surrounded the release of coming-of-age romance The Fault In Our Stars, a film adapted from John Green’s 2012 novel. The movie’s soundtrack was led by Charli’s “radio ready” electro-pop banger ‘Boom Clap’. Utilising electronic synths alongside vivacious drums, this infectious single made its way to number six in the UK charts and still enjoys countless spins today.

‘Boom Clap’ was a perfect match for the Fault In Our Stars soundtrack as it captures the essence of youth culture with timeless stylistic and lyrical content that awakens the 2014 Tumblr teen in us all. (Isabella Miller)

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‘1999’ feat. Troye Sivan

Charli joined forces with Australian singer-songwriter Troye Sivan in 2018 with contagious single ‘1999’. Alongside the tune that invites listeners to reminisce over a much-missed era of pop culture, this track comes with a video which showcases Charli and Troye portraying prominent characters such as Steve Jobs, Leo and Kate, the Spice Girls, N*SYNC and even one of the student filmmakers from the Blair Witch Project, amongst other who shaped the 90s scene. (Isabella Miller)

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‘Boys’

2017 single ‘Boys’ was a triumph not just due to its infectious style and composition, stemming from a sample of the sound effects found in Nintendo’s Mario Bros, but because it accounts an experience many will be able to identify with, the ageless practice of thinking about boys. The video for this fun bubble-gum pop, electronically infused track features the likes of Mac DeMarco, Joe Jonas, Riz Ahmed, Oli Sykes, Khalid and Stormzy. ‘Boys’ was due to be lead cut on Charli’s third studio christened ‘XCX World’ by fans, but due to leaks, the album remains unreleased. (Isabella Miller)

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‘Track 10’

Before ‘Crash’, ‘Pop 2’ was a utopian look at what pop could be. It was Charli’s ambitious attempt at examining pop as a commodity. It’s a classic pop melody infused with her unique approach to pop – a sound that is indescribable yet somehow intrinsic to Charli. She describes the production as euphoric and symphonic in the way it builds.

‘Track 10’ is an important Charli bop because it helped solidify her image of “Charli 2.0,” on the heels of her ‘Vroom Vroom EP.’ Produced by an ensemble of visionaries, most notably Charli and her long-time friend and collaborator A.G. Cook, ‘Track 10’ is a masterpiece that continues to build off itself, layering seemingly contradictory synth after synth over a melodic clanging (seemingly an oxymoron). It disrupted the monotonous top-40 pop charts of 2017, and helped to redefine the unlimited potential of pop music in the contemporary era. Whether you love it or hate it, ‘Track 10’ was a milestone in showcasing both Charli’s and pop music’s vast range and capabilities. (Ruby Carter)

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‘Lightning’

Charli XCX teams back up with former ‘True Romance’-collaborator Ariel Reichstaid on one of my favourite ‘Crash’ tracks (and admittedly one of Charli’s own favourites): ‘Lightning.’ Layered over an 80s-style orchestral backdrop, Charli playfully introduces some of Crash’s role as her last studio album signed with Atlantic. She sings, “tell me what you want and Imma give it to ya like lightning,” playing on her fascination with pop musicians as a commodity who produce prolific discographies destined to be confined to mindless, Top 40 radio backdrop.

The glitchy pre-chorus is my favourite sound on all of ‘Crash’; Followed by a catchy, faithful pop hook, it is a perfect example in two bars of Charli’s duality as a mainstream pop icon and as an underground, avant-garde visionary. I’ll personally be dividing the rest of life as Pre-LPC (lightning-pre-chorus) and Post-LPC, as the ear worm it provides has played back in my mind since the album’s release a week ago. (Ruby Carter)

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‘Vroom Vroom’

‘Vroom Vroom’ might be one of the best songs to introduce someone to Charli’s more left-field work. The song, for lack of a better term, is unapologetically insane, and has obtained a cult status among Charli’s Angel fanbase and the LGBTQ+ community at large. Sonically, the song is noisy, imposing, and fun. In its subtlety, the song is a hybrid between crazy and beautiful, and is personally one of Charli’s favourite songs she’s ever created. She’s described the chorus as like a nursery-rhyme, contradicted with an erratic production and an intense verse flow. Overall, there is a tension between its roots in classic pop and general insanity.

The ‘Vroom Vroom EP,’ produced by the late icon SOPHIE, is a blueprint for bubblegum pop and sweet tones merging with a hint of darkness. Cementing her vision for Charli 2.0 and a predecessor for her more experimental work on ‘Pop 2’, ‘Charli’, and ‘how i’m feeling now’, a saccharine voice drips over hypnotic, discordant beats, as the visionary minds of SOPHIE and Charli spit-ball back and forth over a classic sweet-and-sour mix. (Ruby Carter)

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‘Pink Diamond’

‘how i’m feeling now’ will serve as a relic of an era. Made entirely during the COVID Lockdown, and a masterpiece of vulnerability, the album acts as a sign of the times. Charli XCX left us on ‘Charli’ with ‘“I go hard, I go fast, and I never look back,” and picks up a year later on pink diamond with a repetitive, deadpan “I just wanna go real hard” layered over a claustrophobic synths, almost as if she’s trying to convince herself of it.

‘pink diamond’ is personally my most listened to song from the first lockdown, and is a perfect example of the power of music to transport someone to a certain place and time. The opening synths immediately take me back to a time of TikTok, solo walks in the spring sun, and a sense of dread, hopelessness, and confusion.

Lockdown was antithetical to Charli’s cultivated persona – a self-described party girl cannot thrive in the confines of her own home. Her songs are meant to be shared and enjoyed; They are intended to be exchanged at the pre’s, in the Uber to the party, and on the dance floor. ‘pink diamond’ is apart of Charli’s rawest and most personal work, and one of her most laborious and detail oriented project. (Ruby Carter)

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‘Next Level Charli’

‘Next Level Charli’ is not only one of Charli’s most iconic bops, but one of the all-time best album openers. The opening synths grow, almost as if Charli herself is rising from the ground up. The melodic rhythm stays at the same pace for the entirety of the song, bar a not-so-subtle introduction of a backing drum beat. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling, undistracted by harsh and cacophonous backing music, and forces the listener to hold on to her every word. ‘Next Level Charli’ immediately sets the tone for her third studio album, and lets the listener know they’re in for a ride. In the words of Pitchfork, ‘Charli’ is when Charli XCX constructs and masters her own mutant strain of pop.

Charli, a quintessential party girl, has described the song as the perfect anthem for her fans to get ready to go out to. ‘Next Level Charli’ is an invitation for her Angels fanbase to party with Charli, baby. (Ruby Carter)

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‘Babygirl’

‘Number 1 Angel’ holds a resilience in its stride, drawing none of its attention to the cries from ‘Sucker’ Charli XCX fans, pleading for a to return to the more commercial, the more conventional breakthrough days. By no means does the mixtape play things safe, making for a bold attempt in re-defining pop music with its embrace for PC Music.

A standout moment across the tracklist is ‘Babygirl,’an indulgent throwback to the 80’s, sporting big drums and bright, twinkling synths. Charli XCX is at her dreamiest, fulfilling her fantasy through glitzy hooks and sensual vocals. There’s a shift in energy when Uffie takes the spotlight, contrasting Charli’s smooth delivery with a punchy, almost rap-like entrance. The two combine to bring both a playful and glamorous record, an addictive find for anyone with a sweet-tooth.

Yet, we’re still left with one, perhaps selfish, question: why is there no music video? (Ana Lamond)

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‘New Shapes’

The union of Charli XCX, Christine and The Queens and Caroline Polachek is always a welcomed one. Bringing a new element to Charli XCX’s larger-than-life, sparkling finish, the French multi-disciplinary offers a minimal approach, inviting for more vulnerable themes. Previously, the two had come together on ‘Gone’ for Charli’s self-titled album, today we are blessed with ‘New Shapes.’

Following teased snippets across social media and live shows, ‘New Shapes’ made it’s way to fans on Charli XCX’s most recent endeavour, ‘CRASH.’ In its opening swelling synths, there is a transcendent, almost astral quality to the production that leans towards the album’s 80’s influence.

The single takes an alternative route to empowerment, with a laser focused hook that proclaims “what you want, I ain’t got it” seeing the hyper-pop connoisseurs rise above the manipulative relationships they find themselves haunted by. Moulding its title into various different meanings, the most resonating strikes on Caroline Polachek’s verse where she confesses “you pulled on my heart, and you twisted it into a new shape.” The track is about prioritising oneself and, in some ways, could be signalling towards a broader statement on Charli XCX’s turbulent relationship with her record label, which seemingly placed her artistic autonomy at risk. (Ana Lamond)

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‘Taxi’

Intended for Charli’s third studio album concept that was later scrapped, ‘Taxi’ has remained a true fan favourite, despite never being released. Teased during a number of performances in 2016 and 2017, ‘Taxi’ is a fast-paced hyperpop track with elements of bubblegum pop and synthesised rubber sounds courtesy of the iconic late producer, SOPHIE. The lyrics are a light-hearted tale of sending home a date that’s bitten off more than they can chew: “Boy you’re in over your head/ Think it’s time that I called you a taxi.”

But it may be Charli herself who is in over her head after releasing the smash-hit; Charli’s fans, appropriately named ‘Angels’, have been known to torment Charli during her live shows and press appearances, badgering her to play and release the track. Hopefully one day the singer will release a studio version, but until then, we’ll have to keep on rinsing the pitched-up YouTube versions that have somehow evaded copyright strike. (Gem Stokes)

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‘claws’

‘claws’ is the second single from Charli XCX’s fourth studio album, ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, a creative product of the 2020 lockdown. Produced by Dylan Brady of 100 Gecs, ‘claws’ is made great by its infectious, rhythmic production that sinks its claws into your brain. The track’s lyrics are a simple ode to being very much in love, written about Charli’s experience of self-isolating with her boyfriend.

The track plays a part in the hyper-pop style that Charli XCX has come to be associated with, detailing a love that sounds so futuristic it could only ever have been penned by Charli. Glittering synths tussle with some of the fan-named ‘pots and pans’ percussive sounds for a rich, well-mixed pop banger. Charli chirps: “I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you”, and we feel the same about this track. (Gem Stokes)

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‘Good Ones’

The moment the throbbing synthy bassline of ‘Good Ones’ bleeds through the speakers at the club, you know it’s going to be a good night out. ‘Good Ones’ marks a return to Charli’s conventional poppier side, but is anything but simplistic. The track laments letting the good ones go, wrapping lyrics of heartbreak and regret in an infectious hook and pounding percussion.

‘Good Ones’ was released alongside a cinematic music video that has Charli donning black mesh at a funeral, giving choreography on top of a gravestone marked with her own name and the release date of her latest album, ‘Crash’. The concept of this video was created by Charli herself and directed alongside pop video maverick Hannah Lux Davis, citing influences of Janet Jackson and Britney Spears.

As if we had any doubts already, ‘Good Ones’ has reinforced Charli XCX’s status as a pop icon. Our only complaint: we wish it was longer! (Gem Stokes)

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‘Girls Night Out’

Another dance-floor filler from Charli XCX, ‘Girls Night Out’ is the purest of light-hearted fun. Possessing a playful melody and production style reminiscent of Madonna’s ‘Holiday’, ‘Girls Night Out’ is the ultimate party anthem. This carefree atmosphere is also demonstrated in the track’s lyrics: “I can’t wait to live it up tonight / It’s a girls night out/ No boys, no boys”, chants Aitchison and friends, likely three vodka-lime-sodas in, Urban Outfitters-clad limbs akimbo.

For Charli’s Angels, the hype of ‘G.N.O’ was conjured when several versions of the track (amongst others from her scrapped third album) were leaked. Each version of the track is tinged with the artistry of electronic producer SOPHIE. What makes ‘Girls Night Out’ so enjoyable is its complete unpretentious freedom. The track is aware it’s trashy and fun and revels in this simplicity. ‘Girls Night Out’ is best enjoyed when screamed full-volume alongside your best girls. (Gem Stokes)

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Photo Credit: Emily Lipson

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