"I like cars," Charli XCX told PAPER back in 2019. If you've listened to any of her projects you probably would've already guessed it for herself. Throughout her career, she's been a driver, a passenger, an admirer. She's pulled up, zoomed, vroom-ed, and crashed. She doesn't discriminate when it comes to cars too. She's been a fan of cars from the future, Benzs, beat-up trucks, and everything in between.
"The only time I put it on is in the car," she told Popjustice when she released how I'm feeling now back in 2020. For that reason, it makes sense that cars are so heavily tied to her music but it goes deeper than that. Charli's music is fast and propulsive. It often feels like motion so easily attaching itself to car metaphors.
What's interesting though, is her fascination with cars through her music has changed over time. In a way, she's come full circle though. From singing about destroying cars at the start of her career, she's arrived back at Crash - a record that literally declares on its title track, "I'm about to crash." We're going to investigate how she arrived back here with an exploration into the timeline of her car references.
I Love It (with Icona Pop) (2012)
"I crashed my car into the bridge, I watched, I let it burn," Icona Pop sing on the Charli-penned mega-hit I Love It. It's a moment of recklessness and chaos, taking a big, expensive machine and hoisting it off a bridge for the fun of it. Destroying a car is the ultimate act of rebellion and it's a motif that comes up time and time again in Charli's music.
Nuclear Season (2013)
On Charli's debut album True Romance she hadn't quite turned into a car aficionado but there were a few references on there. On the opener Nuclear Season she declared, 'summer lovin' in the backseat gone," before revisiting it again on Grins where she sings, "let my car run out." The car references here are not so much used for speed as they are for lost love - a figure of nostalgia.
If you're a big car fan then Sucker probably isn't the album for you. There are a few references though. In London Queen she laments about driving on the opposite side of the road in America. By the time the Doing It clip with Rita Ora rolled around she looked very confident driving on the other side of the road. On Famous, she wants "your boyfriend's car," but on Gold Coins she's got her eye on a Bentley.
Vroom Vroom (2016)
Vroom Vroom is where the vehicle obsession got really serious. The EP cover features a car and nearly all the lyrics are centered around a car - a "Lavender Lamborghini," specifically. The SOPHIE-produced song has become a high-octane anthem for Charli's fans with their energy at live shows matching that of a Lamborghini going full throttle.
Number 1 Angel (2017)
With the car obsession well-and-truly declared on Vroom Vroom, Charli went wild with the references on Number 1 Angel. On the opener Dreamer, she pulls up in her Beemer before flirting with the idea of a stretch limousine. On Emotional, the car is "in the driveway" while on Drugs it's all about "champagne, cigarettes, convertibles."
Pop 2 (2017)
Released in the same year as Number 1 Angel, Pop 2 doubles down on the car references placing her back in the backseat for the first time since True Romance on opener Backseat. She's back into the driver's seat on I Got It though crashing your "Daddy's Lamborghini." It's not long, however, before she's forgotten about the Lamborghini and she's "fantasising about a Porsche," on the track named after the car or thinking about "Tinted windows in the Range Rover," on Delicious.
It's a tough call but Charli may have the most car references of all over her albums. Both lyrically and visually she makes constant references to the transport kings starting with title track Next Level Charli where she's speeding along the highway in a Prius, of all cars. She's doing a lot of driving on this album whether she's cruising through Hollywood on the emotional Thoughts or riding through her old neighbourhood on the nostalgia 1999. By the closing track 2099 she's thinking faster than she ever has before referencing Nascar.
White cars are also a big theme throughout Charli. The White Mercedes gets a shoutout on the song of the same name but interestingly is not featured in the video for the song which features two other white cars. In the Gone clip, Charli and Christine And The Queens struggle to escape from a white car they have been tied to before flames erupt around them.
how I'm feeling now (2020)
how I'm feeling now was recorded in quarantine during the early parts of the pandemic. With nowhere to go, few people had their mind on cars but Charli still managed a few references. On Pink Diamond, she wanted to be picked up in your car and on forever she drives for miles with her love interest. She's on another "long drive" on c2.0 and in the video, for Enemy, she's also on a long drive with the top down. Interestingly, the car on how I'm feeling now is used as a symbol of escapism rather than wealth or recklessness as she's done in the past.
Crash is the second cover art to feature a car and also the second to really incorporate the energy of a car in its title. "I'm about to crash," Charli sings on the title track, recalling her previous usage of cars as being a mode of destruction. On Move Me, she sings, "drive us off the road," continuing to play with that theme of destruction, something she sung off early in her career. What's interesting is there are perhaps the least car references on Crash off all her albums and that also translates the videos where they are largely missing apart from a brief red Beemer appearance at the start of Good Ones. Could she finally have destroyed the car?