Charli xcx’s London show proves she’s a popstar with a vision
The CRASH singer’s sold out Alexandra Palace gig served main character performance, an arena-worthy production, and gay rights of course
image Henry Radcliffe
words Anna Cafolla
The rapturous, rebel yell response to Charli XCX’s opener, “Lightning” would have you believe it to be a long-running classic of a starry set, that’s now an entrenched narrative marker in a dappled pop career. But it’s one of many standout tunes from the pop innovator’s very recent 2022 album CRASH – the 10,000 strong crowd at London’s Alexandra Palace knows every lyric, every sigh and whoop-ah, every computerised and elastic vocalisation: “So tell me what you want and I'ma give it to ya, like lightning”.
CRASH is the final record of Charli’s major label five-album deal. She’s spent the last few years frustrated and gridlocked by contractual obligations, delays and demands by the label. Rather than rush out a swansong and flee to a new era defined by independence and subversion, Charli gives wall-to-wall pop bangers. It approaches her personal struggles with a composed, canny and camp tone, bouncing from millennium-turning house to metallic pop, with flamenco guitars and bright synths. It is a love letter to the best factions of pop, and a testament to a future she steers.
The stage set complements the dionysian evening, Charli as a pop prophet set against a backdrop of large Greek pillars drenched in neon lighting. Two shirtless dancers flank her for her most impressive choreography of any performance I’ve seen of hers before. Lasers dazzle for “1999” and the production for eurodance juggernaut “Beg For You” is sublime, a storm exploding on the video visuals. Three outfit changes are titillating, from a black latex bodysuit and BDSM boots to silver sunglasses and a white puffer.
The show then, serves main pop girl with stolen side eyes, style, and a spectacular vision, as only Charli could. The 20-song long performance is a tour-de-force of album and mixtape highlights, singles, and cult faves, but CRASH-dominant. “Move Me” is a cathartic, all-too-swift moment .the setlist is deftly put together, with each song acting as a flashcard for the career of a subversive pop mastermind. The late and great SOPHIE collaboration “Vroom Vroom”, POP 2 banger “Unlock It”, and lockdown definer how i’m feeling now’s “Visions” rock the crowd, dissolving into pure ecstasy in the headmelting house-y interludes. A brief appearance by Caroline Polachek for “New Shapes” is a divine moment. Then, Charli even skips across her early days of SUCKER with “Boom Clap”, to Ally Pally’s delight – day dot Angels, rise up. “I’ve got hits, you know,” she drawls.
Her personality punctuates the performance, which never loses momentum across 90 minutes – “Boys” is dedicated “to all the gay boys out there tonight”, provoking sheer frenzy, and she puts to the crowd her wish to cast Julia Foxx in the video for “Yuck”. “Rules” feels like a truly intimate moment – she lounges on the steps for the electro-soaked ballad, at maybe the only beat where the crowd hushes. The crowd are die-hard fans as well as co-conspirators to the show – ”I’m cute and I’m rude!” they scream back in “Constant Repeat”; imitating her stretched out English vowels with reverence; singing and vocalising all the refrains and callbacks for “Vroom Vroom”: “let’s ride!”
“I never thought I’d be able to do this,” Charli tells the crowd tearfully, at this point wrapped in a trans pride flag that also features an image of Princess Diana which was thrown onstage from the crowd. She thanks her host of collaborators and fellow innovators: A.G. Cook, SOPHIE, Rina Sawayama, Caroline Polachek. “It’s taken a really long time to get here, so thank you.”
“This is extremely fucking overwhelming.”
It’s a performance that exculpates a blissed-out audience that has long been buckled in, assured in the knowledge that Charli is a superstar who can pull off a ballistic, arena-worthy show. She deserves headline slots, festival mainstages, the world’s biggest stages. Pop’s most future-facing act is driving full-force into a thrilling new era.