26 Apr 2018

Charli XCX and her posse are shifting pop music’s equilibrium

9:49 am on 26 April 2018

Five of her closest collaborators are making some of the strongest, most interesting pop music around right now.

Charli XCX

Charli XCX Photo: Charlotte Rutherford.

Charli XCX is making the best pop music in the world right now. There, I said it. 100 percent confident I could write you a doctoral thesis on why she’s sitting at the top of the game right now, there’s a faster way to reach the same conclusion, and it’s through her collaborators.

First breaking onto New Zealand airwaves in 2012 as a feature on Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’, British singer-songwriter Charli XCX has spent the years since releasing two albums and four mixtapes, co-writing for artists ranging from Camila Cabello to James Blunt, directing the best music video of all time for 'Boys', and earning a reputation for working with super producers and hitmakers before they crack the big time (we’re looking at you, BloodPop).  

If you’ve given her most recent can’t-be-flawed mixtapes Number 1 Angel and Pop 2 a spin, you’ll know she’s no stranger to features. Among the impressive names she’s been collecting are ALMA, Cupcakke, MØ, Kim Petras and Tove Lo, who, each in their own way, are pushing pop into places we’ve never seen before. A narrative that’s been rolled out time and again in recent years suggests that you don’t realise what you’ve been missing out on until someone puts it in front of you, and that’s exactly what these women represent. They’re introducing narratives that pop music has long glazed over, creating access points we never knew existed, and prying open doors that up until now, very few in positions of influence were able to. It’s impossible to say from this side of the world whether all of these people are actually mates, but there is one point where all dots intersect, and that’s with pop powerhouse Charli XCX. 

Finnish singer/songwriter ALMA first broke onto the scene in 2013 when she came fifth on talent show Idols. But much like Benny Tipene’s The X-Factor days, that chapter of her life has now been buried. Signed to Universal Music in 2013, ALMA can now be found occupying a raft of Spotify’s most popular curated playlists with her singles ‘Good Vibes’ (featuring Tove Styrke) and summer party essential ‘Chasing Highs’. You’ll say you haven’t heard of her, but I can confidently say you’ve heard the two aforementioned bops at least once, have probably partied to her song ‘Out Of My Head’ with Charli XCX, and maybe even indulged in her feature on the official remix of Years & Years comeback track ‘Sanctify’. Pairing light, breezy beats with punchy lyrics and a booming voice, ALMA will have you wondering whether you could pull off neon green hair just like her, because she’s just that cool. Jump on the bandwagon now or risk arriving way too late. Your call. 


Chicago rapper CupcakKe doesn’t sell tickets, she sells “dickets”. If you’re not familiar with her back catalogue, that’s about the most apt description her music could be given. Delivering provocative lyrics prudes will shake their heads at, she’s a unique female voice the rap world has been in need of for years. Featuring on both Charli XCX’s Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, nothing is off limits, something so on brand for Charli that you can’t help but wonder when the pair will drop their own mixtape. From ‘Spoiled Milk Titties’ to her viral hit ‘Deepthroat’, CupcakKe does dirty better than X-Tina ever could, and any sext you send from this day forth will be plagued by the knowledge CupcakKe could write one better. 


One of the most understated hitmakers on the scene right now, Swedish artist MØ has quietly cemented herself as one of pop music’s greatest assets. Billed above Charli XCX when the pair were in the country late last year opening for Sia, MØ has become a staple on some of Charli’s biggest hits, most notably on the ode to booty calls, ‘3AM (Pull Up)’. Electro-pop is a tough world to stand out in because everyone’s doing it, but MØ has an intelligence and a creative edge that’s never seen her name attached to a dud track. To go even deeper, Scandinavian pop music has never been complacent or a slave to trends, an attitude and a work ethic that has MØ showing absolutely no sign of slowing down in a genre that loves to tear its stars down the second they find their feet. 


Kim Petras
If pop stars are your game and the opening bars of ‘Toxic’ still send your heart aflutter, pop purist Kim Petras is a name to take note of. First making headlines back in 2009 as the world’s youngest person to undergo gender reassignment surgery, Petras has had her sights set on the glitz and glam that comes with the pop star status for as long as she can remember. Now managed by Larry Rudolph, the same man who built and sustained the careers of Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Fifth Harmony, industry folk are following her every sparkling move like hawks. Current single ‘Heart To Break’ has the punchy empowerment of a Dua Lipa number and  the likeable diva of a Kylie Minogue track that will have you thirsty for more. It’s pop in its most excessive form, and should you need further convincing, Paris Hilton features in her music video for ‘I Don’t Want It At All”. The actual kween!

Tove Lo
If the name Tove Lo still has you thinking back to her breakthrough hit ‘Stay High’, then it’s time to pull your head out of the sand because times have changed and shit got gritty! Gritty, sexy, intense, euphoric and everything in between, all at once. Most recently releasing Lady Wood and BLUE LIPS (lady wood phase II) as part of a piece, these albums aren’t for the faint-hearted. Exploring the highs and lows of romantic relationships, sexual agency, the inner musings of the mind and the relationship with self, Tove Lo is as much a cheerleader you can count on as she is a reminder that life is messy and feelings don’t fit in perfect little rom-com sized boxes. The hazy downtempo distorted production of it all adding one more layer of depth to her now-signature sound. The charts might not be into it, but if you know good pop you’ll embrace it with open arms.