Charli XCX Shines at Pitchfork Chicago

Cover Photo By Marcus Cooper

By: Graeme Guttmann, Contributor, Regional Music Journal

In an unreleased song, one that belongs in the graveyard of Best Pop Songs That Will Never See The Light of Day, Charli XCX asks, “Do you want to come to my party?” The question acts as a sort of mission statement for her entire career. With her Sunday night setlist at Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park, Charli brought the party to Chicago and with it, thousands of fans that made good on their promise to party with Charli.

Aerial Shot of Pitchfork in Chicago – Photo by Matt Lief Anderson

As soon as the distorted electro-production of “Track 10” sounded from the speakers, not a single person stopped screaming. Charli took the stage in a crop top and shorts, sunglasses perched cockily on her nose. With an excited smile, and after basking in the glow of adoring fans, Charli dove into the performance with a determination that is rare amongst her peers.

The chaotic pop-noise production of Charli’s recent work with the PC Music collective felt amplified within Union Park’s intimate setting, which only allotted space for three stages, two of which are next to each other. Charli dominated the west side of the park as she played a mixture of deep cuts, fan favorites, and her biggest singles and features.

“Vroom Vroom,” from the similarly titled 2016 EP, was the first sign that Charli would not back down during her set. The crowd sang every word of the rap-like verses, laced with menacing production, before Charli led them into the sugary-sweet chorus with the ease of someone who knows how to have a good time – and that seems to be all that Charli wants, to have a good time and make sure that her fans do, too.

As Charli transitioned into deep cuts from her mixtapes to one-off singles like “Boys,” her relentless energy bled into the crowd. “Gone,” the most recent single from her upcoming album, was sung by nearly every fan, despite the fact that the song had just come out four days prior to the set. During the coda, Charli wildly danced around the stage, putting her microphone down for maximum range of movement. The crowd danced along with her, sweat and mud and spilling drinks be damned.

It has been a long four years since Charli’s last album, Sucker, a period of time that has proved tumultuous for the singer. After being forced to scrap the original concept for her third album due to a massive leak, Charli leaned heavily into collaborations. Most every song from both of her critically lauded 2017 mixtapes, Number One Angel and Pop 2, is a collaboration and Charli does some of her best work when she’s working with some of pop’s biggest rising stars.

Charli brought one of these collaborations to life towards the end of her set. Local Chicago rapper Cupcakke came out to perform “Lipgloss” from Number One Angel, sending the crowd into hysteria. Although you could barely hear Cupcakke rapping over the screams, she slid across the stage with confident ease, Charli dancing around her, the best hype man anyone could ask for.

Charli made it clear on Sunday night that, although this stage of her career has been heavily collaborative, she is ready to once again step into the spotlight and claim her rightful spot as pop music’s most exciting and experimental act working today. Charli’s third album, eponymously titled Charli, will be released on September 13th via Atlantic Records and with six of the fifteen tracks being solo records, it is Charli’s largest output of solo work since 2014’s Sucker.

Two of Charli’s collaborators on the upcoming album, Sky Ferreira and HAIM, also played sets during the weekend. Both debuted new material from their highly anticipated upcoming albums and a surprise appearance during Charli’s set wasn’t impossible, but it did turn out to be a fever dream. It seems that Charli is saving some of her most exciting work for the album’s release, a move that makes sense after the numerous leaks she has suffered.

Robyn Performing at Pitchfork Chicago 2019 – Photo By Pooneh Ghana

Robyn also played a set Sunday night directly after Charli XCX, delivering an ethereal performance that was comparable to Charli’s in its energy and its bona fide pop perfection. Charli and Robyn may seem like odd choices for Pitchfork, which strives to provide an alternative to festivals around the country that prop up the latest Top 40 acts, but both Charli and Robyn proved on Sunday night that their work not only transcends Top 40 pop, but lays the groundwork for what the pop music landscape will look like in the years to come.

In the midst of her performance on Sunday, Charli asked the crowd, “Make some noise if me, Charli XCX, is one of the top 15 pop stars in the world!”  Charli took the noise in with a wry smirk and said, “Keeping it arrogant, but also fair, you know?” Charli has every right to be arrogant. She is involved with every step of the creative process from the top down, writing, producing, and singing her own work and putting out some of the most exciting collaborations this side of the millennium. Charli isn’t just a top 15 pop star, but a tastemaker, eyes steadily gazing towards the future with the resolve of someone who knows she’s going to conquer it all.

© Copyright 2019 Regional Music Journal