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Charli XCX, Sophie, MNDR and PC Music: The malleable nature of pop music

1 March 2016 | 12:03 pm | Caitlin Medcalf

How malleable is pop music? We take a look at Charli XCX's latest release to see how the pop music world is being changed by innovative producers.

Popular music. It's not so much a genre, but a concept. Music that's considered to be popular at one point in time. Heralded by the mainstream, accepted as the norm. But moreso in this timeline, it's become a genre in itself. One accentuated by synthetic sounds and heavily produced vocals. I'm probably exaggerating, but the general gist is there.

What's important to note about the general concept of popular music is that it is always changing. Always evolving, and ever present too. We tend to take for granted the work that goes on behind the scenes for any one track, we're just ready to consume whatever comes our way. And I think when you step back and begin to look at a body of work from a critical perspective, the definition of popular music begins to shift.

I think that there's a lot to say for producers that venture out of the mainstream and lend their creative flair to someone else's project. As consumers, I think we tend to forget that artists aren't explicitly bound to one particular project and in fact, most tend to produce for other artists.

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CHARLI XCX is fast becoming a recognisable name when it comes to pop music, but better yet, she's pushing innovative pop music in a consumable market that's so entirely saturated with over-produced drivel, and totally killing it. She's proven time and time again as a musician that she's not the little guy anymore, and with each release, she seemingly brings out more and more big guns to the party to help prove this.

Vroom Vroom is the English popstar's latest output, and it's seen her not only undertake a new project, but it's seen her entirely revamp her creative style too. With this release has simultaneously come the announcement of the establishment of her own label. Also called Vroom Vroom, she's said in a statement that she's wanting to use this as a space to push artists who are not only thinking outside of the box, but are also creating clever pop music that fights the mainstream. CuckooLander and RIVRS are the first two signees to her label, and aptly so too.

Staying true to her statements of intent, Charli XCX has more than reflected this new sentiment in her latest approach to music. Enlisting the help of mastermind SOPHIE, superstar MNDR, PC Music founder A.G. Cook and more, the team on board for this record literally defies all conceptual norms of traditional popular music at this point in time.

PC Music is everything but the mainstream right now. If anything, it's one of those genres that kind of gets snobbed on in some communities, but to be honest, it runs deeper than its bubblegum pop sheen on the surface. If you look a little further, it's a complete adaptation of something so regular and accepted, but not only that, it's been appropriated to suit a new aesthetic and from this, new subcultures have even been born. PC Music isn't just a genre anymore, it's fast becoming a lifestyle.

And I think it's interesting to see artists like Sophie and A.G. Cook becoming associated with bigger acts like Charli XCX because it not only indicates a change, it indicates ripples in the way artists in the mainstream are thinking too. You could question whether this was a move by her label, but I highly doubt it.

Looking critically at the sound of the EP itself, it's got that same dirty-pop sound Charli's recognised for, but there's more to it. Of course with Sophie holding the majority of the production duties, you know it's going to be something quite manic and incredibly bassy. And that's exactly what it is. But what works best, is that Sophie knows exactly how to use his sound to better compliment the qualities Charli already had within her sound. It's him, but in a different context, and it's smart.

From the grimy legato waves of deep industrial sounds rolling through 'Secret (Shh)' to the classic fast-paced panic that is enduced within 'Vroom Vroom', he's Sophie, but tactical. He's giving it away, but not all of it. It's cheeky in that sense. You're happy with what you're given, but you know there's more to it.

You'll probably remember MNDR from her vocal spot on Mark Ronson's 'Bang Bang Bang' a couple of years back, but since then, she's been busy not only with her own music, but writing and to some degree, A&R'ing too. She had a stint with Nathan and Joel Williams' Sweet Valley project with the two groups piecing together some magical sounds.

According to the EP credits, she's credited to the two most definite stand out tracks. Title track Vroom Vroom is an acid trip of colours, freaky scenes and bubblegum pop sensibilities, but even more so, the vocals are catchy, infectious and best of all, bore straight into your mind. Trophy is the answer to 'Hollaback Girl' we've been waiting for with a bassline to punch you in the face and a sassiness that edges this one further from conventional.

A.G. Cook and Hannah Diamond, both PC Music family members lend their hand for 'Paradise', the most PC we've heard Charli to date. It's a throwback to early 2000's rave culture, and in all honesty, it's the most refreshing track on this EP. It's a vocal showcase, but more than that, it shows how effective a smart collab can be.

What I want to take from this EP is that the pop world is changing. It's questionable to start with as to whether Charli XCX sits in the same rankings as the likes of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga - I think her music is too edgy, I suppose you could say. But still, her sound existed in the same realm as these artists to regular listeners, and that's important to note.

Not only that, but I think it's also imperative to note that the producers that we see on face value may actually be doing some incredibly game-changing work behind the scenes and we may not even know it. It was already clear that the likes of Sophie, A.G. Cook, Hannah Diamond and more were changing the pop game, but the fact that their work is being sought after by high ranking artists, it's an incredibly clear indication that pop music was, and will always be malleable.