What Charli’s Mixtape Means for Music
In a world where the music industry has shifted so quickly and definitely towards streaming, a major star putting one foot out of line could mean the end of a career. These days, pop stars have two options when it comes to digital releases: put the album on every streaming service and give people the option to pay for it in full on iTunes, or withhold the album from free streaming sites and force people to buy the album or pay for site memberships to get exclusive deals like Beyoncé putting Lemonade on Tidal.
Charli XCX (known for “Boom Clap”) has opted out of making this choice. In an extremely unorthodox fashion, she came out with a mixtape (different from an album, details to follow) that was uploaded in full on every free major streaming site, including SoundCloud and YouTube, where listeners do not need an account to tune in. “Mixtape” is not a term used frequently in music today, and this is because they are not made often. A mixtape is a collection of songs, just like an album, except that the songs are typically more experimental and are rarely intended for radio or promotion. Their main purpose is usually to build up hype around a particular artist, and most of the time they can be downloaded for free online and will not be found on places like iTunes. Nowadays, it is mostly rappers who make mixtapes, which adds to the surprise of Charli XCX coming out with one of her own.
It’s a risky move, one that not only shies away from but flat out rejects the commercialism surrounding most of today’s pop releases. Today, virtually every pop album is accompanied by a radio single or two and a massive media campaign to go alongside. The release of XCX’s mixtape, Number 1 Angel, was officially announced just a few short days ahead of time, with no prior warning except for a few vague teases XCX had made in the past regarding the project. There is no hit single and there probably won’t be. The current Charli XCX tune dominating radiowaves, “After the Afterparty,” is the lead single from XCX’s forthcoming album, a work which will inevitably conform to pop music’s rules. But on Number 1 Angel, XCX is not afraid to color outside of the lines.
On her mixtape, XCX experiments while still managing to keep the infectious, party-all-day brand that made her famous in the first place. She invites a plethora of up-and-coming artists and enlists multiple producers to help her in her efforts, leading to a pleasantly surprising diversity of sound throughout the project’s 10 tracks. The darker trap sounds of “Drugs” and the R-rated lyrics of “Lipgloss” solidify the fact that Number 1 Angel is not meant for radio ears. That is not to say that the music as a whole is not listener-friendly, however; “Babygirl” could dominate charts with a snap of XCX’s fingers, and never before “Roll With Me” has it been so attractive a prospect to caption an Instagram post with, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Simplistic lyrics, a Charli XCX staple, do not detract from Number 1 Angel’s overall picture but rather add to it, as each song is easy to sing along to while still remaining musically complex and inventive.
Will this mean anything to the music industry? I think so. I can’t remember the last time a major-label pop artist embarked on a project like this, shunning the Top 40 list to collaborate with names like Uffie and Starrah, whose work have not graced many human eardrums. In truth, many pop stars are afraid to go against the grain — using real instruments as opposed to synths, for example, was novelty when Mumford & Sons brought it back to mainstream but is no longer a rarity like Ed Sheeran and co. still pretend like it is. The release of Number 1 Angel symbolizes a rejection of hyper-commercialism, of winning formulas that churn out hits by the minute. Hopefully, a new era is coming, one where more and more celebrities become less and less afraid to break the rules.
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Number 1 Angel can be listened to in full for free on SoundCloud or Youtube, or with an account on streaming sites such as Spotify. It can be downloaded on iTunes for $4.99.