“Oh, I didn’t realize she sang this!” I heard this sentiment several times while standing around the glowing blue pool on the rooftop of the W Hotel overlooking Hollywood Boulevard below. It was as glamorous a crowd as you’re ever likely to navigate anywhere on the planet — hype beasts and influencers abounded — all gathered here on this cool August evening to take part in the Wake Up Call Festival, a new event put on by the hotel in a bid to tout a luxury fest done right. Champagne, lights and loud music until the early morning, then a short elevator ride down to your room to recover. The marquee entertainer for the weekend, Charli XCX was about a hundred feet away, just inside the tight, dark club-like space dubbed The Loft, pouring her heart out onstage for a select group lucky enough to gain entry into the event.
This wasn’t your typical Charli crowd. In fact, I’m couldn’t tell you exactly how many people were here specifically to watch her perform, but leading up to her set, most people seemed more content to drink into oblivion and hobnob around the wet deck with the shining lights of the Hollywood Hill twinkling just across the horizon. Nevertheless, once she made her way out and the first notes of “Unlock It” (featuring none other than Kim Petras) blasted out of the large speakers set on either side of the stage and out in the wide open night sky, all attention shifted. Conversations ceased as people began to dance and sing the choruses to Charli’s collection of ubiquitous hits.
Charli XCX is a star. This is indisputable. But can she make the jump to superstardom? Does she have that certain something that could elevate her position up the pop hierarchy to the point we’re talking about her in the same reverential tones as Gaga, and Katy, or Ariana? I think she does.
Ever since “Boom Clap” dominated the charts after its inclusion on the Fault In Our Stars soundtrack, Charli has made all the right moves to earn that particular distinction. She’s shown up as a guest for flavors of the moment, providing the pivotal hook to Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” and Iggy Azalea’s No. 1 worldwide smash “Fancy.” She’s become a regular fixture on the large outdoor music circuit and recently locked down a spot at the opener for Taylor Swift’s stadium-hopping Redemption tour this summer. She’s also put in the effort to cultivate a die-hard fan base, and though she hasn’t released a formal album since 2014’s Sucker, she regularly keeps them fed rolling out interesting mixtape projects like last year’s Pop 2.
She also does the off-kilter things that make her an irresistible attraction to self-proclaimed “smart pop music fans,” the kind who worship at the altar of say, Carly Rae Jepsen. For instance, just last week she rolled out an unexpected and wildly fun cover of Cher’s iconic “Do You Believe,” seemingly for no other reason than the fact that she loves it. She can also see music in colors — it’s called synesthesia — much like Lorde and Jimi Hendrix, which is just a badass “affliction” to be born with. I wonder what color “3 AM (Pull Up)” is? Red right? Maybe purple?
“That’s where my music really goes down best,” Charli told The Guardian recently of her affinity for playing smaller settings. “The Taylor shows have been really great, but it’s a different beast… I’m not a pristine pop performer. I’m born to play in club environments, rave environments.”
She might be on to something. I happened to catch Charli just last year during her late afternoon set at Lollapalooza and definitely came away impressed. During that performance, she surprised the Chicago crowd with an uptempo rendition of The Spice Girls “Wannabe,” during which she brought out no less than Halsey to help her out. (Reader, the audience flipped the f*ck out.) Nevertheless, I think she might have been even more compelling here, in a tiny dark room on top of a giant building in Hollywood. There was no pressure on her really; she could have cashed the fat festival check, run through her ten or so song setlist and booked it back to LAX for the next flight back across the pond. But it was evident from the moment she stepped out that she wanted to be here — that she needed to win this crowd over. Far bigger performers have sunk in a setting like that one, but Charli thrived, and by the end of it we were all screaming “Boom Clap” like our lives depended on it.
Charli has rolled out four solo singles thus far in 2018, including “5 In The Morning,” “No Angel,” “Focus,” and “Girls Night Out,” but it still hasn’t announced when her next studio album will finally arrive. Promised deadlines have come and gone time and again, but her fans have remained patient. It’s not a stretch to say she has quite a lot riding on this next record. It could be the moment she ascends to top of pop Olympus or becomes another cult act.
“I feel like I’m in a space that only I could be in,” she told The Guardian. “Nobody can do what I do, apart from me.” That is an undeniably true statement. Charli XCX has proven time and again over the last four years that she has all the talent, chops, and charisma necessary to make it to the next level. The only question that remains is when she’ll make the leap.
Uproxx was hosted for this story via accommodations provided by the W Hotel. More on the Uproxx press trip policy can be found here.