“This account is a safe space for evil and sinister women. You are loved and seen,” reads a screenshot from Instagram meme page and frequent poster of hyperpop content, @on_a_downward_spiral — a sentiment certainly echoed on Charli XCX’s robust, synthpop single “Good Ones,” which dropped Sept. 2. The single’s release follows an extended period of cryptic tweeting from Charli. Demonic aesthetics reverberate throughout the track’s accompanying music video, which sees Charli reclining languidly on her ex’s coffin, each lyric she sings imbued with divine feminine energy.
Charli is the creative voice behind some of the most polished dance pop singles to emerge from the past decade. Tracks such as “Vroom Vroom” and “Unlock It (Lock It)” have become hyperpop staples, inextricable from online culture. Rather than shying away from social media like many of her contemporaries, Charli has doubled down on her efforts to harness new technologies and internet zeitgeists to promote her work.
In her recent discography additions, Charli appears to be grappling with her identity as an artist in an utterly new way. In true Bo Burnham-esque fashion, Charli conceived and recorded her latest album in her own home during the first few weeks of quarantine. As she proved with her lyrically raw 2020 LP How I’m Feeling Now and numerous creative endeavors since then, Charli has her finger right on the pulse of not only pandemic internet culture, but the emotional ethos of a generation.
With “Good Ones,” Charli explores themes of self-sabotage with remarkable candor and ease. On the pre-chorus, she sings, “I want the bad ones, ‘causе they’re all I know / I always let thе good ones go,” revealing an underlying tension between self-awareness and a tendency toward romantic treachery. Charli’s transparent lyrics sit right in line with her recent social media posts, which have made visible a more uninhibited side of the hyperpop icon. Last month, Charli posted a TikTok airing her grievances with the music industry, and a few weeks later, she shared a photo of her bloody broken acrylic nail with the caption, “tips for new artists: suffer in silence.”
The track’s thematic elements of fraught personal relationships echo Charli’s tenuous relationship to her status within an industry largely predicated on the loss of autonomy. On her single, Charli manufactures a carefully rendered duality of letting oneself be manipulated on both interpersonal and structural scales.
Along with its intoxicating energy and added sinister flair, the single is bolstered by an energetic synth reminiscent of ‘80s dance pop anthems. The bouncy, distorted baseline underlying the opening bars of the song help build anticipation. Shortly after, when the instrumental is stripped back and Charli’s eerie falsetto dominates, the result is a sonic experience akin to levitating. The more restrained nature of the instrumentation proves compelling, though it at times leaves the listener unsatiated. Charli overwhelmingly succeeds with “Good Ones,” however, and it’s evident that she is laying the groundwork for more lyrically and musically uncurbed material to drop in the future.
“Good Ones” is liquid epinephrine: It’s unrestrained and effortlessly danceable, yet it still retains an element of emotional intelligence and clarity. The future of Charli XCX looks bright.