Music Review

At House of Blues, Charli XCX leans forward into pop’s future

Charli XCX (pictured in Atlanta) played Boston Thursday.
Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP/file
Charli XCX (pictured in Atlanta) played Boston Thursday.

The career of Charli XCX, who brought her high-energy, high-drama live show to House of Blues on Thursday night, could only exist in the age when “pop” is more of a concept than a shorthand descriptor for songs that get played on the radio. She’s certainly achieved the latter milestone: her burn-it-down collaboration with Icona Pop “I Love It” was one of 2013’s most raucous party anthems; her insouciant insistence that she was “so fanc-ehhhh!” made Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” rule the airwaves the following summer; and her gothy solo track “Boom Clap” came fast on that song’s heels.

But the British singer-songwriter-artist has, in recent years, been more about chasing down pop’s potential futures than revisiting her own past for the purposes of achieving megafame. (Indeed, of the three hits mentioned above, only “I Love It” got an airing on Thursday night.) The follow-up to two mixtapes where she explored the boundaries of what blends of noise could be spun into big hooks, her third album, “Charli,” released last month, is a wild ride into pop’s next phase. Executive produced with A.G. Cook of the similarly minded collective PC Music and filled with collaborators from all over the festival-pop map (Lizzo, Big Freedia, Haim), it ranges sonically from the harsh abstractions of the innuendo-heavy “Click” to the swirling longing of the gorgeous “White Mercedes.” Its adventurousness makes one grateful for streaming-era vagaries — particularly the ability to evade radio’s research-minded gatekeepers — that allow certain artists to amass loyal and large, if not stadium-filling, fanbases.

Since her earliest singles, Charli’s voice has provided the key emotional linchpin to her songs, and that held true on Thursday, even when it was run through processing to make it seem slightly out of this world. “Gone,” her quick-stepping collaboration with Christine and the Queens, combines portrait-of-an-outcast lyrics with a smooth groove, but its scales are tipped into sympathy by the slight catch in Charli’s alto; the lyrics to the minimalist “Official,” for which Charli requested a singalong, have an affecting specificity as they describe a connection being forged at full speed. These moments were counterbalanced by clamorous, speed-of-light bangers like the hyper “Vroom Vroom” and the glitching “2099,” as well as Charli’s stage presence; she’s long been a dynamo in concert, and the tonal shifts on Thursday seemed to give her extra energy.


“I’m the best pop star ever,” Charli cheekily declared before giving props to her opening act Allie X and the artists who accompanied her onstage for the manic posse cut “Shake It.” Whether she’s at the very top of the list is likely up for protracted debate — but the brassy confidence exhibited by that statement, as well as the way she’s able to fuse future-shocked ideas of pop music’s potential with to-the-quick emotionalism and a riotously fun stage show, puts her in the field’s highest echelons.

Charli XCX

With Allie X. At House of Blues, Oct. 17

Maura Johnston can be reached at