Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Charli XCX – What I Like

In this instance it would be quite rude to mention that we may have developed a bit of a canon…


Iain Mew: Much of “What I Like” is a song about relationship becoming routine, about the repetition of undressing and undressing and undressing, about getting “on some husband and wife shit” to the point where there’s no need to spell out what she likes anymore. Charli makes it clear just how much she’s getting out of that, and she’s aided enormously by the rhythm, the quick splashes that wriggle and defy expectation and still make it sound like the rush of first love. So when she sings, “This shit is super cool”, her performance of that line makes it ring true, but it also feels like a reaffirmation of what’s been unspoken all along.

Katherine St Asaph: I relate a lot to Charli XCX, being another semi-scorned semi-youth who’s one-third hair. I’m invested in her career and also, apparently, her on-record love life. “What I Like” is the grounded, content counterpart to the abstract, half-terrified “You’re the One”; no silver lovers stealing stars, just two kids getting high, fucking around, feeling super-weird about feeling super-cool. I’m biased at least three times toward the former, but even so, “What I Like” is objectively less of a standalone single. It isn’t worse, though. We get to hear more of what Charli liked growing up: the trance intro, the way she’s autotuned to sound like Gwen Stefani circa Rock Steady. “This shit is kind of gangsta” and “ha! we on some husband-and-wife shit” are what they are, but hey, she’s 20. “Playing board games, horror films with the super gore” is perfect in the same way as “rock-paper-scissors — wait! best out of three!” The way she dwells on the T-shirt is perfect; that’s a point in a relationship you dwell on, when it’s morning for the first or whatever time, the guy’s still got his shirt off and he looks one of two ways: decayed, sunken face, chest like a roach, everything at its grotesque worst; or so stunning you can’t quite believe you’re the one looking. (This doesn’t necessarily correlate to anything; it’s just usually one or the other.) But you’ve got to be casual about noticing, and Charli is: very chill, very calm. So even if I prefer her old career direction — she’s been around long enough that this is career shift #2 — songs like these are probably happier to live with.

Alfred Soto: Her voice, her voice: smoky, declassé, comfortable in post-M.I.A./Santigold distorted mode and sassing her way through spoken word portions. She can sound wistful about memories of T-shirts on the floor and houses by the ocean while still not quite persuading us she’s reached the limit of what she likes. 

Rebecca A. Gowns: Love the song, hackles raised by the video — and I guess by the whole Charli XCX “brand.” But this song is tight. The spoken parts, and the hi-hat riff that pops up in-between the synthy strings (or rather, stringy synths), and the note sequence that surfaces as the luscious little cherry on top of all of it: “♪ you-know just-what i like! ♪♪”

Anthony Easton: The detail of the “T-shirt on the floor” is so tossed-off it might be deliberately accidental, but the artifice works. It’s so symbolic of something au courant and slightly obsessed with being liked. Deliberateness is made to sound louche and meaningless. This gap between effort and ennui is sort of the mark of recent pop — but instead of making a point about the ennui being essentially anhedonic, that it’s so loose it falls apart, it uses that falling apart to mean nothing more than intimacy and care with another person. I am on record as preferring fuck anthems to making-love anthems, but we need a balance, and of late it’s been measured towards the “fucking as feeling” method. This is feeling, and as a result fucking — that’s powerful!

Jonathan Bogart: Nothing she’s done since can touch the majesty and mystery of “Nuclear Seasons.” Probably that’s because she wants to move in another direction, and it’s my sad 80s fetish that keeps me from getting excited about the weird robo-trap-ballad thing she’s doing here.

Patrick St. Michel: That intro is more than a stab at Hyperdub credibility — it’s jittery excitement before a big realization, the first tingles after meeting someone you are really into. Charli XCX spends most of the first half of this song throwing out bold declarations about love lasting longer than the end of the world and reiterating how into one another these two are. But when she gets to the little rap interlude past the midway point, she shows her cards. She’s hoping he’s “gonna be my man,” with all this “husband and wife shit” as her hope. She’s giddy at the prospect, to the point she gets basic in describing how “this shit is super wild/this shit is super cool.” This is a song about being caught in the whirlwind of a new relationship, one that seems especially amazing and actually makes you a little anxious because you really want this one to work. So Charli XCX is putting on a fair amount of bluster… but it’s the little touches of nervousness (“I think I’m into you”) that make this great.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: On “What I Like”, Ms XCX switches between different takes of settling down with someone you admire, every new performance communicating the different ways she feels about her beau. She’s sexually attracted and content during the narration of the chorus, goofily rapping when explaining the security and happiness found with him, and — best of all — an Auto-Tune interlude showing the wobbly low-stakes teen heart at the core of meaningful relationships: “When the last heart been broken/we’ll be sitting on your bedroom floor just smoking”.

Brad Shoup: Charli’s mumbleflow becomes a song-length feature, finally, and with it comes all the feared tendencies: schwag-grade lines about weed and judgment and monogamy, all filtered through a Korine-thian conception of hip-hop. (Danny Brown is no one’s concept of gangsta, but he’ll do, evidently.) The production choices are more value-neutral, and the speed-addled cymbal work and distant G-funk synth tweak are the kind of playful you can take outside the house. Those noob exhales aren’t. The difference between this and Lana is propulsion. And marketing. But mostly propulsion.

Scott Mildenhall: What’s being described here is monotony, supposedly of a blissful nature, but it feels like there’s a heavy implication of the contrary — maybe it isn’t really what Charli likes. Does she know what she likes? Is she kidding herself that it’s this? Has she forgotten? On the other hand, she says things like “I think I’m into you” and they seem genuine. Maybe they are, and any gloomy overtones are just emblematic of the XCX schtick (“horror films with the super gore”!); maybe it’s for the listener to decide. Also, “gangsta”?

Will Adams: The frenetic opening is great because it doesn’t quite leave the song. As Charli XCX tries to play it “super cool” over the grinding groove, sharp percussion darts in and out like pinpricks. It’s as if the real emotion – stumbling-over-self love – is just beneath the surface, ready to burst out at any moment. 2013, consider your summer jam delivered.

Reader average: [6.7] (30 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

3 Responses to “Charli XCX – What I Like”

  1. this has the lowest reader score compared to TSJ score out of the current ‘best of 2013’. by a lot.

    did a roving pack of Charli-haters wander by at some point?

    does it hold up 5 months on?

  2. Still holds up. Played it at a party last week and it sounded great.

  3. @Conor: Nah, obviously I can’t speak for everyone else voting this down, but for me this was easily the least interesting track on True Romance. A [5] sounds about right.