Charli XCX Credit: Kathleen Hinkel

When Charli XCX dropped the single “Blame It on Your Love” on May 15, she posted an Instagram story of herself posing with guest vocalist Lizzo and a sign reading “Bout 2 Save Pop Music.” The British singer’s new full-length, Charli (released last month), suggests that she’s not just trying to save pop—she’s trying to shift the pop paradigm. She hasn’t succeeded yet, but the complicated and occasionally chaotic Charli feels like a stepping stone in that direction—its songs don’t immediately feel ready for the Top 40, but they further her distinctive sound. The album builds on the distorted electro-pop Charli has explored since 2017, when she made a sharp departure from a radio-friendly rock-influenced sound. With its layered synths and screeches, Charli posits itself as the future of pop music, but rather than being decades ahead of its time, it’s just a few years down the road. (“I’m so 2021,” she boasts on the dense hyperpop track “Click.”) As she did on the guest-crammed 2017 mixtape Pop 2, Charli once again serves as pop music’s resident BFF: the 15 tracks, almost all produced or coproduced by A.G. Cook of the PC Music collective, include 12 featured artists, among them Troye Sivan, Sky Ferreira, and Big Freedia. But Charli shines brightest on her solo songs, such as the lovelorn “Thoughts” and the masterfully stripped-down ballad “Official.” In interviews and on social media, Charli has struggled with her lack of chart success, and she recently announced that she won’t perform any songs from her first two albums on this tour—a choice that reflects where she’s at in her career. Suspended in a strange ether between Top 40 and experimental pop, she’s working hard to define her particular sound and waiting to see if the world catches up.   v