REVIEW: Charli XCX at Summerfest

Pop star Charli XCX arrived at Summerfest Friday night taking the stage at BMO Harris Pavilion. It was her second time at Summerfest and fourth time in Milwaukee overall.

Charli XCX hails from England. Her musical career started when she’d post songs on Myspace as a teenager, eventually attracting the attention of a promoter who started booking her for warehouse raves in east London; from there, she signed with Asylum Records in 2010 and began working with producers Ariel Rechtshaid and Patrik Berger. Her name comes from the MSN Messenger username she had at the time. One of her early highlights was doing vocals on the hit song “I Don’t Care” by Swedish duo Icona Pop in 2012.

Her debut album “True Romance” came out in 2013, exploring the darker side of synthpop. Her 2014 sophomore album “SUCKER” found her channeling a lot of frustration she had with the music industry at the time through combining elements of electropop with pop punk sensibilities; the record was written for women and girls to feel a sense of empowerment, XCX said in interviews. Also in 2014, she was featured on Iggy Azalea’s single “Fancy” and then her song “Boom Clap” from “SUCKER” was featured in the film “The Fault in Our Stars.” In 2015, she toured with Katy Perry and then Jack Antonoff before headlining her own UK tour.

Starting with her 2016 EP “Vroom Vroom”, Charli XCX began moving in a more experimental, hyper-electronic, and future-pop direction. She recorded a third album but scrapped it after it got leaked; instead, in 2017 she released the mixtapes “Number 1 Angel” and “Pop 2” featuring production from A.G. Cook. She continued working with Cook on her highly ambitious 2019 album “Charli” that found her collaborating with over a dozen artists ranging from Troye Sivan to Lizzo to Haim and many more. “How I’m Feeling Now” is XCX’s fourth album and was her “quarantine record” done DIY-style in six weeks when COVID hit. Her most recent album “CRASH” came out earlier this year in March; with this record, XCX went for a more conventional dance-pop sound inspired by stars of the 80’s and 90’s such as Janet Jackson.

Almost half of XCX’s set Friday consisted of songs from “Crash”, opening with “Lightning” and finishing with “Good Ones.” Her three covers of the right weren’t really covers; rather, they were songs by other artists she’d done vocals on (“I Don’t Care” as mentioned before, “Spicy” by Diplo, and “Out Out” by Joel Corry and Jax Jones). She also performed “Boom Clap”, “Vroom Vroom”, two songs from “Charli”, and a couple others including her most recent single “Hot in It” with Tiesto.

XCX brought plenty of excitement to the pavilion; she engaged with each section of the crowd frequently and was elated to be at Summerfest, especially since it was her first concert in two weeks. There was a stage platform that she frequently leapt to the top of as she’d sing although she spent plenty of her set running across the stage singing as well. Accompanying her were two marvelous backup dancers that left for wardrobe changes periodically. The visuals were stunning as well; animations throughout her set featured lightning, the moon, volcanoes, and a cryptic-looking hall.

Charli XCX was a blast. She’s off to the 80/35 Music Festival in Des Moines, Iowa tonight!

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