No One Is Doing Bratty, Bad Girl Pop Stardom Like Charli XCX

With her new album, the British artist is filling the void.

charli xcx in a baby tee
(Image credit: Harley Weird)

Just when there hasn’t been a certified, reigning bad girl in pop in a minute, Charli XCX declares herself a brat.

The British hyperpop phenom is more brash and confrontational than ever on her sixth studio album Brat (which dropped on June 7 via Atlantic Records). She laments how she’s everybody’s “favorite reference” and questions why she’s not more famous (“360”), while still feeling nostalgic for the days when she didn’t value fame quite as much (“Rewind”). She forgoes niceties to analyze the complexities of female relationships (“Girl, so confusing”) and criticizes expectations placed on women ("Mean girls," “Sympathy is a knife”). Most importantly, she confronts herself and the role of the messy girl she’s both played and has been prescribed to her (“I might say something stupid”). She’s the life of the party at a rave under club lights, and in the quiet car ride home, she can’t help but have an attitude over either the world’s or her own perception of who she is and her desires. So, she’ll be a brat, embrace it all, and do it unlike anybody else in her league or beyond it.

charli xcx in a real winner tee

Charli XCX attends The BRIT Awards 2023 Warner Records afterparty at NoMad on February 11, 2023 in London, England.

(Image credit: Neil Mockford/Ricky Vigil M/GC Images/Getty Images)

The narrative surrounding Charli XCX’s career has long been that she’s never quite broken into the mainstream—but only because she’s always 10 steps ahead of it. Her fans have found her more interesting for it, and she has always seemed to like creating experimental music catered toward her queer and indiehead fanbase known as the Angels, rather than making pop anthems for the masses. Now, with Brat—which comes at the height of her career, over a decade after she debuted with 2013’s True Romance—it’s as if she’s leaning into a bad-girl attitude because she’s over the wider music landscape not getting her, so she might as well have fun playing with an often misunderstood pop persona.

charli xcx at the 2024 met gala

Charli XCX at the 2024 Met Gala "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2024 in New York City.

(Image credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Charli XCX occupies a bad-girl space in pop that hasn’t been filled in some time. For as long as bubblegum has been a leader on the charts, so have boundary-pushers. Madonna built her career on controversy, sex positivity, and elevating the LGBTQ+ community. Y2K pop princesses like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera flirted with dirtiness as much as they did cuteness. Miley Cyrus came in like a wrecking ball with her hedonistic Bangerz era. In the mainstream landscape nowadays, Olivia Rodrigo is a proponent of youthful rebellion and pushing against expectations that women be “good” and polite, but in an approachable way. Lana Del Rey may be the closest, having debuted as the self-described “gangster Nancy Sinatra” and playing with counterculture American iconography throughout her work. But the bad girl now mostly pervades hip-hop, with fierce women (like Cardi B, Sexyy Red, Doja Cat, and others) leading the genre. As of late, pop itself has largely been dominated by the concept of relatability and safeness.

God forbid some of us crave for the purveyors of culture to be untouchably and effortlessly cool, though—and that’s exactly what Charli, a chic, bratty club kid through and through, is. Throughout the Brat album cycle, the singer (whose real name is Charlotte Aitchison) has playfully emphasized what an it girl she is. She released a music video for the single “360,” dubbed “the cool girl summit” with its cast of her famous friends like Gabbriette, Julia Fox, and Rachel Sennott. She’s also done copious IYKYK pop-up events at scene-y electronic music spaces like The Lot Radio and Boiler Room in Brooklyn, which thousands of fans showed up to or RSVP-ed to with just hours’ notice.

While many stars could have that pull in hosting last-minute events, few meet their fans in the spaces they occupy and also create a sense of exclusivity. Even as Charli XCX has reached a new level of fame, setting out on her first co-headlining stadium tour with Troye Sivan later this year, she’s stayed true to the underground nightlife world she came up in, and continues to love to be a part of. She’s on the dance floor with her fans, signing their poppers canisters while grinding to the beat, and making sure those on the list are the fans who’ve been with her since the beginning.

The entire Brat era began with Charli XCX launching a private Instagram (@360_brat) where she posted track teases and had frank Q&As with fans in which she offered blunt opinions on other artists and their albums, the music industry, and her personal life. For a period, she briefly only accepted requests from several thousands of fans at a time and it felt like a bold, no-f---s-given move in an age when celebrity social media is highly curated. The page now has over 150K followers, but she uses it to post tips about her pop-ups before announcing them publicly (and by then, the list is often closed).

charli xcx performing at leeds festival 2022

Charli XCX performing at Leeds Festival on August 26, 2022 in Leeds, England.

(Image credit: Matthew Baker/Getty Images)

The candidness of the @360_brat AMAs translates to Charli XCX's album in many forms, including her ability to be unafraid to explore the dynamics of female friendships, frenemies, or acquaintances you may envy or may envy you. For a long time, pop has been a proponent of uplifting female friendships and empowerment—a worthy and necessary cause—although that often feels as though it becomes warped when fandoms assume that critiques of the artist they stan is a misogynistic attack. But on Brat, Charli XCX is direct in her feelings of inferiority when faced by certain women—despite herself possessing an undeniable it girl factor—and she ponders whether it’s unhealthy and unrealistic that we all be “girls' girls,” a concept that itself ends up putting other women down. It may be controversial, but it feels more nuanced and real than some pop branded as relatable. Perhaps airing out her complicated feelings this way will be an entry point for the current phase of feminism in pop culture to feel more comfortable discussing the intricacies of women's relationships and insecurities.

Sonically, Brat (which features Charli XCX’s longtime collaborator A.G. Cook as lead producer) calls back to the London techno scene she came up in when she was a teenager releasing tracks on MySpace. Aside from a few punchy singles (“Von Dutch,” “360”), few of these songs have radio appeal, with their bumping drum beats and electroclash synths. Even the album cover resembles lo-fi rave flyers of yesteryear. It was a concept that some criticized, and while many image-conscious stars wouldn’t comment on the matter, Charli defended it with sass and confidence. She responded both on social media and in interviews about the public’s overzealous demand to see and commercialize women’s bodies. Now, the cover is a meme, and any spot of green IRL looks like guerilla Brat promo; as always, she trusted her taste, coolness, and badness, and was right.

charli xcx brat album artwork

(Image credit: Atlantic Records)

Now more than ever, it's as though Charli XCX is harkening to the scene that raised her because if the mainstream won’t accept her in real-time, she’ll lean in harder to who she’s always been—fully knowing others are carbon copying her style and attempting to replicate her sound (“Von dutch,” “The 360 remix with robyn and yung lean”). Still, she’s bigger than ever (reaching her biggest streaming debut on Spotify with Brat), and it’s a thrill to have someone so braggadocious and a fearless trendsetter inching toward the top—and creating something truly defining—in years. Leave it to Charli to say it best on her lead single: She’s just living that life, a cult classic but she still pops.

Sadie Bell
Senior Culture Editor

Sadie Bell is the Senior Culture Editor at Marie Claire, where she edits, writes, and helps to ideate stories across movies, TV, books, and music, from interviews with talent to pop culture features and trend stories. She has a passion for uplifting rising stars, and a special interest in cult-classic movies, emerging arts scenes, and music. She has over eight years of experience covering pop culture and her byline has appeared in Billboard, Interview Magazine, NYLON, PEOPLE, Rolling Stone, Thrillist and other outlets.