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story / Erica Russell
photos / Spencer Kohn
The first thing I notice as I veer towards the front of the stage is how many moms are in the audience. I’ve seen Charli XCX before – at least 4, maybe 5 times over the past few years – but usually the crowd is comprised of the typical indie/pop crew, not moms and dads with little girls. But there we stand, my photographer and I, in a sea of micro-families, parents aggressively shoving their kiddies forward to get the best view of their favorite pop star as if we’re at a Katy Perry show.

But that’s exactly what Charli XCX is at her sold out (“suckers!!!” as the marquee tauntingly reads) Webster Hall show: a pop star for the anti-pop. No longer the emerging indie darling once rapping at underground raves, Charli XCX has arrived, and she rules.

Never one to shy away from girl power, Charli seizes the opportunity to introduce other innovative women pop artists to her fans during her US tour, inviting London electro-pop artist FEMME as well as genre-busting Swedish powerhouse Elliphant to open. Opening the show, FEMME – a tiny, powder-pink haired pixie and possibly the musical manifestation of Frenchy from Grease – summons the eternal holy ghost of “Like A Virgin”-era Madonna. Her set of retro-tinged dance-pop is brimming with attitude and classic pop sass. Bringing her Bullet Girl dancers onstage, FEMME gyrates and gets down like it’s 1965 to fuzzy, buzzy pop tracks “Fever Boy” and “High.”
Next on the roster, Elliphant bursts onto the stage, all guttural Swedish rasp and effortless cool, announcing her excitement for being in New York, as well as her birthday and period among other revelations. An electrified mix between ear-busting electro, dancehall, and, dare I say, nu-metal, Elliphant’s heavy set explodes through the venue like a chemical fire, causing the uninitiated to bristle before succumbing to the bass. Between swigs of beer, the experimental artist gets down and dirty to grimy reggae-dance-rap tracks like “Music Is Life” and “Tekkno Scene.”

Finally, prancing onstage alongside her band in matching cheer uniforms, Charli – her impressively thick mane topped with a tiny rhinestone tiara – catapults into the titular track off her upcoming sophomore album. Middle fingers raised high in the air, causing moms and dads to squirm and eye their pre-teens suspiciously, Charli opens with “Sucker,” punctuating the riotous spirit of the track by shouting to the crowd, “Fuck you, sucker!” The introduction is a telling precursor to the remainder of the performance. Charli is the high school-crashing prom queen throwing her own fucked up punk-rock prom, complete with graffiti PUSSY POWER banners and gold metallic balloons hanging from the rafters.

She kicks, she jumps, she screams. She performs brand new tracks (“Famous,” “London Queen”) and old (“Nuclear Seasons,” “Grins”). Her hair is a wild tangle of shiny black, and it keeps getting caught in her tiara as she struts across the stage, screeching teenagers with desperately outstretched fingers reaching for her. During “Break The Rules,” hundreds of pink and silver balloons are released from the ceiling. With the venue swathed in 90’s prom memorabilia, Charli is a sort of teen dream-killing prom queen on stage, the kind that blows bubble-gum in the faces of her runner-ups before running off with the school goth. And as the moms and dads and teenage girls and 20-somethings and bloggers and fans of all assortments all shout along in unison to her encore performance of “Boom Clap,” it’s clear: this pop princess is officially a queen.


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