Charli XCX is, without a doubt, one of the most forward-thinking voices in the 2018 pop landscape. From her two critically-acclaimed PC Music-produced mixtapes in 2017 to the string of leaked singles released this year, the 26 year-old pop provocateur has fully embraced pop in its purest, most euphoria-inducing form.
Her latest release, ‘1999’, opens straight into its chorus, with a throbbing sawtooth bassline underscoring 90s-house synth chords. Europop piano stabs come in and lend the track an unrelenting dance pop energy. It’s without a doubt a throwback jam, sonically packing in the feel of the past without necessarily being a 1:1 sonic recreation of 90s music.
The drums, for example, with their rapid-fire trap hi-hats, sound straight out of 2018’s musical soundbank. Charli XCX’s and Troye Sivan’s vocals are processed, layered and cut in ways only done in the past decade: slick and metallic, fully-embracing of human artifice. Like the Matrix iconography on the single art, Oscar Holter’s production manages to feel decidedly retro yet futuristic at the same time.
That confused millennial nostalgia is the blood of the song; Charli XCX sings “I just wanna go back / Back to 1999”, a time when she was just 7 years old. The lyrics feel like a nostalgic half-remembered fever dream, with callbacks to Michael Jackson (complete with an impression of Jackson’s iconic “Hee hee!”) and the Britney Spears’ ‘Baby One More Time’. The two crave not necessarily 1999, but rather a time when things were simpler; “Never under pressure / Those days it was so much better”.
But the song hits its highest point in Sivan’s bridge, who recalls his childhood crush on Jonathan Taylor Thomas from Home Improvement on MTV. It’s a quietly subversive moment, placing his queerness in the context of his childhood. The past is dominated by straight, white imagery of straight, white people, but here Sivan is, reasserting his queerness back in time, 18 years before Australia legalised same-sex marriage.
Image: Charli XCX