Let’s ride! Take a quick drive with Charli XCX as she teams up with the biggest names in one of the smallest movements in recent music memory. Really, she’s more of a passenger in this trip. She’s the lead vocalist, the backseat driver, but SOPHIE’s at the wheel, leading Charli deep down into the depths of PC music. A.G. Cook and Hannah Diamond spruce up the journey with their respective songwriting and vocal features, polishing up potential kinks and providing the newcomer with a sense of direction toward her newest musical destination: uncanny valley.
There’s a million different pretentious ways to talk about PC music and what Charli XCX strives to do on this EP, something I’ve already written on (pretty pretentiously if I do say so myself). It’s fairly easy to get swept up in the hyperbolic nature of it all, skewing your views and the way you discuss it. When music is this laden in irony and built around a complete lack of subtleties, it’s understandable. But on Vroom Vroom, Charli XCX and all her collaborators give a dialed-back sampler platter of the different styles of the genre over the course of four tracks. She covers the dysfunction of bubblegum pop and the distortion of banger beats, offering these bite-sized snippets of off-putting tracks in a nicely concise package, topped with a neat, crisp bow of crossover appeal.
This EP may be a tough pill for the mainstream to swallow, especially given its exaggerated pastiche. “Paradise” is, in essence, a parallel to the digestion of the music. Starting with a chipmunk-esque cold open, the track slowly deludes into a safer approach to pop music, with a more humanized vocal track taking over before Charli and Hannah deliver their uneasily perfect verses. This song, like every song on the EP, starts with a jarring introduction to undercut anticipation. But much like walking down the stairs of the frigid public pool, once you’re completely submerged, the uncomfortable sensations stop. It just takes a little getting used to. Once you finally immerse yourself in the aesthetically unnerving approach, it’s apparent just how detailed and whole Vroom Vroom is.
“Paradise” and “Secrets (Shh)” are drenched in the fast-paced pop SOPHIE-isms that made PRODUCT so stunning. The former has a breakdown that sounds like someone stomping their boots to the rhythm of the tracks, provided their soles have suction cups attached to them. The latter recalls the darkly rumbling synth-driven “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye” and pairs it with a Britney Spears caricature, making it the only track that’s fitting as a nighttime driving anthem, though that sentiment is slightly lost with the screechy synth notes that play over the hip-shaking snaps. These intricacies and seemingly clashing elements blend together in an adrenaline-rush of alluring repellence.
But Charli XCX doesn’t just channel unsettling pop motifs. Much like her past releases, she sprinkles in touches of hip-hop and tracks that ever so beautifully bump in the whip. Fittingly, “Vroom Vroom” is a proper banger beat, the kind that could reasonably be blasted in a car ride with friends pretending to be in-touch with urban culture. And “Trophy” would have fit snugly on TNGHT, with the pounding beat underlying the “Throw it up!” chant feeling like a mix between the heavy-hitting “Bugg’n” and the glass-breaking, snare-clapping “Easy Easy”. It’s this effortless array of production styles that elevates Vroom Vroom to be so exceptional, which is ultimately hapless for Charli, whose efforts feel somewhat forgotten against SOPHIE’s immaculate additions.
So, what exactly were Charli’s intentions with Vroom Vroom, both the EP and the record label? If it were to popularize a style that’s been flying under the radar for years, then it’s somewhat succeeded. More and more people are discovering the artists she’s shed light on by attaching her name to this project, but it’s being talked about significantly less than any of her past outputs. But despite losing some stake in popularity (while giving comparative popularity to her underground counterparts), Charli has succeeded in garnering hype for what she’ll put out in the future, leaving her fans to wonder just how far she’ll go in dousing herself with this saturated chic. Her four-track joyride was but a glimpse into the possibilities she’s lent herself to create; a mere appetizer in what will hopefully be a five-course meal of self-indulgent eccentricities.
– Zach W.