Thursday, August 10th, 2017

Charli XCX – Boys

Who’s looking for a good time?


Eleanor Graham: Video game noises will only ever be cute. They will never be evocative in the way that a synth line, a “woah” or even a “hey” can be. They may serve once or twice as punctuation but they cannot, aided only by a one-syllable word, carry a hook. But I do like the languorous glitter plod of this. And the sugar rush of bridge: “I was miles away, yeah!” I love to have fun, honestly. I’m just bitter because the video coerced me into a crush on [redacted].

Anthony Easton: The video is a masterpiece, a weaponized, high femme, millennial pink reworking of the ironic/not-ironic gender trouble of Collier Schorr — made even more disturbing by finding out how hot I find Charlie Puth. The song, with its hint of Super Mario coins like a wink against capitalism, with the minimal drum beat like blood flowing from the heart to more southern regions, that laconic kind of delivery that suggests a louche moral decadence. Plus, how she sings the phrase ring tone, is almost as good, as ear wormy, as the perfect hook line of “I’m sorry, I missed your party.”

Nellie Gayle: ‘I need that bad boy to do me right on a Friday/ ‘And I need that good one to wake me up on a Sunday/’That one from work can come over on Monday night/ I want em all.’ Never have the bubblegum archetypes of boy toys been so clearly joyously articulated as in Charli XCX’s newest single. A pop star who clearly enjoys taking the piss out of that title (when once asked about why she liked her single ‘Break the Rules’ in an interview, she replied ‘I like that it’s so . . stupid’), Charli revels in the stereotypes of boy crazy, partied out girls. The many ‘types’ of girls have been outlined throughout the pop cannon – there are crazy girls, there are fun girls, there are dirty girls. In one way or another, Charli XCX has inhabited all of these personas for the sake of great, EDM-laced pop. In the video for ‘Boys’, she takes her own routine objectification (which she usually handles with amusement more than anger), and casually tosses it back to pop culture’s finest dudes. Stormzy munches on some fruit loops, Joe Jonas licks his ice cream mustache, Diplo should presses some poodles. Saturated in bright colors, these visuals will come to mind every time you relisten to ‘Boys.’ It’s a wink to gender roles that is cuter than it is inflammatory, and like all of Charli’s best moves, it’s best described as ‘fun.’

Maxwell Cavaseno: Functional to a certain level of flatness that Charli’s wound herself around to the point that I’m never sure if it’s her strength or her weakness. Still for the sake of all this melancholy gazing, and the spry little chip-tune punctuations, that bleakness serves as a complimentary sense of boredom, an audible fluster of the lips and sigh at something that feels more frustrating than it ever needs to be. Odd to find something so disappointed in itself could be so satisfying.

Dorian Sinclair: Charli XCX sure is a chameleon, isn’t she? There’s a sort of dreamy wistfulness here we haven’t heard from her too often, and with a different performer I suspect it could quickly become saccharine. But the wryness she brings to most of her performances is here as well, and that combined with the humour in the lyrics (and that adorable chiptune sample) has ensured that, since I first heard it, I’ve been busy thinkin’ bout “Boys.”

Alfred Soto: Chirping wistfully like Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder, the synths and Charli XCX turn “Boys” into a tuneful flutter. Who wouldn’t get wistful at the thought of absent boys or the boys we can’t have?

Julian Axelrod: Once you get past the instant-classic video (and lord knows I haven’t) you realize “Boys” is a work of pop genius. The chorus is one of those brilliantly simple, universally relatable, deliriously catchy gems every songwriter wishes they’d thought of first. But the real magic is in the verses, as Charli reveals her thirst has left her friends out to dry. “I wish I had a better excuse like/I had to trash the hotel lobby” is such a perfect line, adding nuance and depth to both the song and Charli’s party monster persona. (Which makes it all the more fascinating that she doesn’t have a songwriting credit here.) The song becomes more resonant the more you listen: Who among us hasn’t abandoned (or been abandoned by) a friend for some fleeting affection? That’s what makes “Boys” so sublime: Like all great pop songs, it’s really about friendship.

Crystal Leww: Much fuss has been made about this music video, but the song itself is so dreamy, conjuring images of sunshine and grass fields. I am not sure if Charli XCX will ever get to be a huge pop star, but I don’t care; her music feels so atmospheric and familiar, like it sits in the bottom of your stomach and wriggles through your brain and body. “Boys” has stuck with me for days, whisking me away from sweaty subway cars in the morning back to the weekend afternoons in the sun.

Thomas Inskeep: I really hope that the viral popularity of this video leads to “Boys” going overground and Charli XCX becoming a real, big pop star in the US (I know that “Boom Clap” was a top 10 single three years ago, but that was three years ago), not only because she’s one of our best purveyors of pop right now, but because “Boys” is relentlessly, charmingly cute. It’s purposefully underproduced, and thus sounds very low-key and almost quiet, in a highly endearing manner. And besides, who of us isn’t guilty of missing ______ because we were “busy thinkin’ ’bout boys”?

Hannah Jocelyn: A song about the female gaze and a video for the male gaze. Well, to quote a show that this might fit well on, it’s a little more nuanced than that – there’s nothing here that suggests that she’s attracted to masculinity or manliness, unlike, say, “he’s so tall and handsome as hell”, and Charli’s narrator is more in love with the idea of BOYS! than actual boys. (Swap out boys for “girls” and it’s a Mary Lambert song, but that might be part of the point.) It’s an interesting step after the #1 Angel mixtape managed to blend the PC Music stuff she was doing with something more accessible – this is full-tilt accessible, but with just enough edge from Charli’s breathy performance to ensure that it stays true to her weirder side.

Anjy Ou: I was surprised that Kero Kero Bonito didn’t write or produce this – “Boys” hits that sweet spot between mainstream pop and Japanese bedroom pop that she’s so good at, especially at the beginning. Charli, ever the pop chameleon, gives this sound her own self-indulgent twist, with lyrics about ditching a hard-partying lifestyle to swoon over her many suitors. Its blips are cute and sweet, and she cruises languidly through the song, like she wrote this the morning after while still in her pink cloud of peak crush. It would be a bit too basic for me, but someone set this song to a video of my favourite k-pop boy band and suddenly everything made sense.

Katherine St Asaph: I mean, I too have had a crush on every boy, but this is just the languid parts of “Grins” severed from the exciting ones, or “What I Like” without the specificity and sex, or “I Don’t Like Anyone” with trap vocals, Super Mario Bros. coins and emotional anemia. It’s not that the older Charli XCX grows the less mature her music does — that’s too easy — but the more detached she grows from anticipation or euphoria or danger, all those things boys can do. I suppose it’s novel that the video’s full of cutesy-alluring boys rather than cutesy-alluring girls to distract from a lack of substance, but there too, I prefer men.

Stephen Eisermann: Anyone has ever felt “boy crazy” probably had the same mixture of nostalgia and anxiety while listening to this song for the first time. My first thought was immediately, “omg Stephen, don’t overplay this song or say you relate, just be cool, even if this is a blog straight from your now deleted Tumblr,” but it quickly became “damn Charli… you get me.” Charli makes efforts to disguise or explain herself for this all too common phase and instead simply admits that, yeah, she was thinking about dudes. This willingness to be vulnerable, because yes, admitting you think about the gender you are sexually attracted to often is showing vulnerability, plays well against the quiet composition, and the bell/high pitched sound that plays after every time Charli says Boys perfectly sums up the feeling of butterflies that often accompanies those thoughts. All in all, a terrific effort and only made better by a simple yet colorful video that shows all the different kinds of boys we are attracted to, even if I could’ve done with a bit more brown goodness in the video.

Will Rivitz: There’s so much to love about “Boys,” but I think the part most telling of Charli XCX’s genius is the utter perfection of its chorus. It’s quintessential Charli: though superficially inane, it captures in four perfect lines her bittersweetly self-reflective ethos. She doesn’t really have any excuse for blowing her friends off — she wishes she did, it’d make things a lot easier — but the swell of life and love and just everything worth caring about got in the way, so she let things happen. It’s a beautiful perspective, “stop and smell the roses” restated freshly and eloquently in the face of a neon facade Charli doesn’t really care to hold up at the moment, the one people usually think of when they think of her. Charli XCX juggles personas adroitly, but I don’t think that’s so much a function of her skill inhabiting multiple characters as much as it is her skill at expressing the complexities of human experience as, y’know, complexities, as opposed to hammered-down stubs which fit a general narrative arc too cleanly. Here, she discards the party-girl aesthetic of Number 1 Angel for a more passive outlook, but the beauty of “Boys” is that the two attitudes never feel contradictory. No matter who a person is or what they act like, sometimes it’s ok for their head to be in the clouds.

Will Adams: That Charli XCX has done the hyper-crush premise many times before shouldn’t be a deterrent — it’s where she excels. The problem with “Boys” is that it replaces the textured sonics of True Romance with tinny snares and overused GameBoy switch-ons and the ebullience of “Boom Clap” with the dead-eyed stare of “After the Afterparty.”

Edward Okulicz: Eh, I preferred it when Charli XCX was a whip-smart songwriter who made cool, indelible, effortless pop. Now her effort seems to end with the concept, because beyond its catchy monomania and shareable video, there’s not anything else here.

Jonathan Bradley: “Boys” wafts like a daydream: it’s an insular and domestic song, a pastel doodle in a diary’s margin or a decorated bedroom wall. Kitty Pryde knows how effectively these rough drafts can invoke the intensity of little infatuations. Charli’s rough draft is very rough though, and the chiptune chirrups of “Boys” are aggressive in their flimsiness. It gets old to be reiterating this with each new single Charli puts out, but PC Music’s conviction that it constitutes a clever deconstruction of pop to make a kind that sounds deliberately shoddy is not an interesting one, and Charli’s embrace of their approach has squandered her talents. Here, she dials up her natural insouciance — a playfulness fitting for the subject matter — to the point it seems she can barely be bothered delivering the lyric. The performativity undermines the persona; this isn’t a song about crushes on boys, but a song about Charli knowing how much we all want to enjoy a song about crushes on boys.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: It took a dozen listens before I realized the song’s ephemeral, almost nondescript nature works strongly in its favor. This is the sound of an instinctual sigh that appears while daydreaming, and Charli XCX captures that perfectly when she intonates “boys.” The subtle details here — the water samples, the ticking, the ringing phone — never feel intrusive, thankfully. Which means that for these short three minutes, the fantasy never dies.

Reader average: [7.38] (13 votes)

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32 Responses to “Charli XCX – Boys”

  1. Some incredible writing here, but I am disappointed by the score…

  2. I was wondering what took so long, and it turns it maybe it was because *everyone* was weighing in on this, I mean this is basically a Taylor Swift amount of blurbs.

    For the longest time, I couldn’t get into “30 Rock”. It seemed weird, over the top and trying way too hard even though I have always loved Tina Fey. I had to read her book (“Bossypants”) in which she describes the making of the show to really appreciate what they were doing, and to be able to revisit the show. I basically needed an explanation of what they were going for, and now it’s one of my favorite shows of all times. I think the video here does to the song what the book did for the show: it provides context and an explanation. Having seen the video, I can appreciate the cotton-candy nothing of the song for what it is.

  3. also, i hear nothing but euphoria here

  4. Ok but is Eleanor gonna tell us which boy it was

  5. I don’t even like the video — even without the usual music-industry “let’s funnel as many clicks from as many different hypeboys as possible because we’re not making money any other way” cynicism, the problem with getting this many dudes in one place is that some of them, like Diplo, are actual assholes, which takes the shine off watching them cuddle a puppy or whatever.

  6. eleanor was it charlie puth because i don’t even know if he has actually even done anything bad ala diplo but i resent him anyway

  7. what exactly makes synths superior to “video game noises”? this just feels like those people that think that the guitar or the piano or whatever are the ultimate instrument and anything else is crap

  8. I cut the part from my blurb about why I didn’t like the video but basically what Katherine said — most of it does absolutely nothing for me, but the inclusion of some less than savory characters is a big detriment, as if their ~cuteness~ absolves them of being awful

  9. To be fair Luca, I think there’s a specific context to videogame sound effects the same way that maybe the Shakuhachi has/had (though infinitely different and I don’t wanna be reductive) and some people have trouble getting past that.

  10. by shakuhachi I assume you mean “lol you’re making an enigma song in 2017”?

    (my issue with “videogame sounds” is that they’re often used as gimmicks for a cheap hit of hey-I-recognize that, aka the Ready Player One effect. even when they’re not it’s still distracting to try to remember which specific mario game or whatever it sounds like)

  11. Normally I’m in agreement with Katherine (video game sfx took me out of Zara Larsson’s “Lush Life”, among others) but I like how they’re incorporated here. just the fact that it’s a melodic hook instead of a random background noise is enough for me.

  12. Also the Homestar Runner reference wins everything

  13. @ Katherine; I mean as well fake Orientalism to convey mystery or whatever which Enigma’s guilty of as well as others but yeah basically. I’ve heard it in other places but I def feel closer to Copperman that it was used instrumentally and not Symbolically, while def acknowledging its been so saturated as a symbol it can be easy to find charmless now.

    I mean if a DS had popped up in the video (maybe it did), I imagine I’d be a lot less forgiving.

  14. I came here to comment in Teen Girl Squad solidarity but then I was gonna weigh in on the debate with “video game sounds are gr00d but references in place of substance are n0t” but then, uh… I came here specifically to comment in Teen Girl Squad solidarity so it’s not like I’m consistent or anything.

  15. not that the Teen Girl Squad reference was bad but it specifically drew me in because “hey, I remember that!” so

  16. I don’t know about you but I’m gonna miss video games

  17. I miss my mom.

  18. FYI neither PC Music nor Charli herself wrote/produced this song:

  19. ^ that’s why I made sure to mention her performance, because I do think she brings something unique to it.

  20. Sometimes I wonder if, between the various H*R songs and “The Night Begins to Shine,” my kids have spent more time listening to music presented as comedic commentary than music presented as music.

  21. huh, wasn’t expecting to see Emily Warren pop up… between this and “New Rules” she must be having quite a week

  22. between this and New Rules I’m having quite a week so I would hope she is as well

  23. @ Jessica omg The Night Begins to Shine is something else. I didn’t want to like it but then BAM I’m singing along and dancing every time that episode comes on

  24. @ Copperman ditto

  25. it was *****

  26. @Anjy Carl Burnett has a blog post about the whole making of the song! He sounds like he has a lot of interesting stories accumulated over the course of his career.

  27. Also: Eleanor and Jay Park sitting in a tree, K I S S I N G

  28. ok, about video games, I understand what you’re saying, but… isn’t that just the nature of sampling? I mean, here it reminds me of getting a coin, or ‘scoring’ (with every meaning this might bring), but also of ringing a bell, like charli is asking for boys at a hotel reception. that doesn’t paint a very clear story for the song, but I do think it is evocative, and in a way a synth or a “hey” couldn’t be. it doesn’t really carry a hook, but it’s a subdued song, so maybe the chorus doesn’t need to take over the verses and the bridge.
    there is also some equating of “video game” and “chiptune” that is just not true

  29. yeah it reminds me of “scoring” too! i do enjoy it but the hook leans on it too much, it’s repeated to the point where it loses that meaning and it’s just a noise. a hook that’s a similar level of energy to the verses always feels like a cop out to me, but that’s pretty much based on my personal Good Pop philosophy. i think game samples sound great in pop when used sparingly eg. “love in stereo” by sky ferreira, or even in “hard feelings” by lorde just before the “guess this is the winter” line.

  30. …actually I kind of love it now, you convinced me

  31. (the coins, that is)

  32. I just realized that my “male gays” pun was edited out :(