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The song of the summer is “Espresso” by Sabrina Carpenter, a former Disney child actor who is dating short-king-of-the-moment Barry Keoghan. It’s become a meme online because the Spotify algorithm is force-feeding the song to as many people as possible using that pesky autoplay feature. As of this week, Carpenter replaced herself at number one on the US Spotify chart with her next single, “Please Please Please.” Oh, and she has a collaboration with Van Leeuwen Ice Cream on the way, an “Espresso” flavor with her smiling face emblazoned on the carton. It’s all undeniable and Carpenter feels like a throwback to bubblegum-blond pop stars of early-aughts yore—but no one’s talking about her, because all anyone can talk about is Charli xcx.

Charli is the opposite of Sabrina. She is actually cool. You believe her. On her new album, Brat, she collaborates with interesting producers (AG Cook, Hudson Mohawke, George Daniel, The Dare) to great success. The music is aggressive and bold but still vulnerable. It’s a hit in more ways than one. The reviews were great. As I write this it’s looking like the album will debut at #4 on next week’s Hot 100. But cultural impact isn’t just about radio, sales or Spotify charts. We don’t really have the tools to measure it.

It’s a groundswell you see online and off. Charli is speaking to all the constituencies you need to rule pop in 2024: a massive queer fan base, but also music nerds and Girls Who Are Going to Be Okay. Every person I know is talking about this album: They are listening to it, they are posting about it, they are soundtracking their TikTok videos with it, and maybe most importantly, they are bringing it up in actual offline conversation.

Charli did the best album rollout we have seen in years, starting with the simple cover art designed by Special Offer, a low-res lime green square with the title disproportionately placed on it. It was an instant hit online, inspiring every fan to choose a word and do their own version. The color itself went viral; whatever Pantone shade it is, it’s forever Brat Green now. She painted walls in Brooklyn with color and text, and she showed up in an SUV in front of the wall to play music and party with her fans. There was a pop-up DJ set with her collaborators in Barcelona during the Primavera Festival, a club night in London, an insane Boiler Room in Bushwick earlier this year. She even curated a mini–film festival at the Roxy Cinema in New York City.

The difference is the overused word “authenticity.” When you see Charli doing what can be distilled into “album promo,” she is having fun in a way most of her contemporaries are not. Come to think of it, I am not sure Taylor Swift has ever had fun. All of this stuff is clearly coming from her brain and not some record-label bozo. And even record-label-bozo ideas get filtered in authentically Charli-esque ways. Back in January, her label sent her a list of viral-marketing ideas for the new album, suggesting that she leak a sex tape or a video of herself shoplifting, announce a presidential run, crash a drag brunch or a bat mitzvah to sing her own songs, or fake a mental breakdown on the Tube. Instead of trying any of these things, she leaked the cringey idea memo itself, then recruited friends to read aloud from it on her socials.

“They were really obsessed with me having viral posts,” she told GQ UK. “I was like, ‘Okay, everyone’s going to try their best!’ But I don’t think we can live and die on this hill of ‘We must have a viral post.’ So when they sent me these insane ideas, I was like, ‘Obviously, we just have to post this document.’” And, of course, those posts went viral.

Sometimes, being yourself is the most powerful marketing tool. As times change, we all want different things from our pop stars: good music, big tours, vulnerability. But for me, I want them to go with their gut and give us something they genuinely believe in. When Charli is standing on top of a black SUV in front of the Lot Radio in Brooklyn, surrounded by thousands of fans, I think she is doing exactly what she wants to do. If you have the goods, being yourself is enough.

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