Review: Charli xcx brought 'Brat' girl summer to Glastonbury... but you didn't have to be there - Features - Mixmag

Review: Charli xcx brought 'Brat' girl summer to Glastonbury... but you didn't have to be there

The club-meets-pop hedonism of Charli xcx's Partygirl sent fans at The Levels into a frenzy... but there was plenty of 'Brat' to be had beyond Silver Hayes

  • Words: Megan Townsend | Photos: Giulia Spadafora
  • 5 July 2024

I, like many Glastonbury attendees this year, arrived suffering with an affliction. No, I didn't have COVID-19, or a cold, or even bad tummy from drinking too many nervous coffees at Paddington. I had a far more infectious, overwhelming ailment... 'Brat' fever. Yes while the run-up to Glastonbury is usually spent trawling your well-worn and testing out the vibes of artists you're about to catch for the first time, mere weeks from the release of Charli xcx's most recent album, I was instead caught in the tight, sans-serif grip of 'Brat'.

Thankfully, I wasn't alone. You see, while Glastonbury often has its unofficial, zeitgeist-referencing themes — whether it's ongoing football tournaments that we are being kept from watching, political upheaval trickling in from beyond the gates, or even the headliners themselves, such as in 2023, where everything went a bit 'Rocket Man' for Elton John — 2024's crowd was overwhelmingly painted in the snot green 'Brat' Pantone. The iconography was visible everywhere across the festival's 1,500-acre expanse — from the "flag" to hats, to groups of mates having designed their own 'Brat' slogans on matching t-shirts. There was barely a moment that the party-charged lyrics to '365' were not being bellowed. and who didn't wake up to their neighbour's tent humming the melody to 'Girl, so confusing' with abandon? Mine sure did.

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So of course, Charli's performance at Silver Hayes' The Levels is at the top of my Glastonbury 2024 hit list. Entitled "Charli xcx presents: Partygirl" the set will see her emulate her website-breaking Boiler Room show in New York from earlier this year that saw the platform recieve the most sign-ups ever for a single stream — but complete with the newly-released album tracks that now loop around my skull with the same hypnotic vacillation as Tony Hawk on a halfpipe. What's not to love?

Firstly, it's important to address the elephant in the room: The limited capacity of 7,000 max at The Levels. It's already a conversation topic before we've even set foot on the farm, with rumours that her set will be a "lock-off" as crowds exit Dua Lipa's nearby main stage performance and head towards the rest of the festival already ripe before I unpack my belongings on Thursday; many won't bother trying, others are making contingency plans if access proves impossible. Combined with the unmoving queue encountered before Joy Orbison on Thursday, it's impossible to imagine the demand to catch Charli's set will come close to the number of people who actually mange to. While I danced in The Levels, oblivious — signs had been put up around the Pyramid Stage following Lipa's set announcing the closure of not just the stage, but the entirety of Silver Hayes. In 'Brat' green of course.

We get in as North Wales' Kelly Lee Owens in the midst of a a big-on-energy-big-on-silly selection of club classics (whey!) and buoyant synth-laden heaters. It's the perfect soundtrack to the similarly audible squeals of excitement from the thousands-strong crowd, all decked out in various Charli references — some are donning elements of the 'Brat' uniform, which consists of bug shades and a chain choker. In contrast, another crowd member has gone full "Brat" — carrying a polystyrene slab that reads "Jesus Christ on a Plastic Sign" in reference to 'Everything is romantic'. Everyone here on tenterhooks, screaming at any symbol of Charli's impending presence — at one point, the lights turn slightly green as Owens drives through a tongue-in-cheek play of 'Insomnia' and everyone begins yelling so much the drop is inaudible.

When Charli arrives, it's close to pandemonium; while the arena itself isn't too busy, the crowd is jumping and screaming as they spot her figure approaching the decks to the point where it's difficult to figure out what is going on. She grabs the mic, and shouts in her addictively petulant tone: "Are we having a 'Brat' girl summer? I said... Are we having a 'Brat' girl summer?!" and I catch myself pushing my vocal chord to the limit as I shout "Yes!". Album (and extended version) tracks such as '365', 'Guess', 'Mean Girls' and more are met with a frenzied response — as fans chant the lyrics back at her with near-perfect recollection. Though quickly she invites her all-star run of guests to join her at the booth, firstly Robyn — who despite having joined Jamie xx on-stage at Woodsies earlier in the evening doesn't take on the mic herself, but instead awkwardly bobs and waves as her track 'With Every Heartbeat' pushes from the soundsystem. Much like Charli herself it seems, she's not here to sing... but to vibe.

Romy, on the other hand, emulates the same trance-meets-Ibiza euphoria of her set on this same stage earlier in the day, blending an edit of Ariana Grande's 'One Last Time' into 'Show Me Love' from Robin S. It's a good respite, and the audience is clearly enjoying the "Partygirl" experience — but there's still a sense of eagerness to get 'Brat' summer back on track. From there PC Music's EASYFUN steps up to the bat, with the second '365' play of the set by way of his own remix that sends Charli herself off onto a platform to dance in front of the audience — shaking her long black curly hair towards them before grabbing the mic once more and shouting: "Are you having a good time?!" For the last 10 minutes, it is time for Charli's fiancée - The 1975 drummer and DJ George Daniel - to blow through a hard-as-nails edit of 'Everything is romantic', before descending into not one, but two, plays of 'Club classics' that ricochet around the arena in such a way that by the end it's difficult to remember any words but "club" and "me" exist.

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As I tentatively, with shaky legs, exit The Levels — a few thoughts come to mind. Had I really just had my mind blown by what was essentially, an album playback with a few extras and some added vibes? Well yeah, I had. Was it worth queuing up for hours? Probably not. Did I feel guilty that I had gotten to experience the set when so many hadn't? Yes, but similarly Charli xcx's Partygirl demonstrated the scale of The Levels' decadent lasers and neon-lit exterior, making it an impactful. albeit tiny, stage to showcase the popstar's unique brand of pop-meets-club hedonism. On the one hand, organisers perhaps hadn't anticipated the runaway train that would be 'Brat' this summer, but on the other, it felt like a perfectly crafted attempt to ramp up the excitement around the record.

When we finally get signal, friends who didn't make it blow up our phones asking for a play-by-play: Did she really not sing? Did we see Paul Mescal? Was Robyn there? I realise then that the enjoyment of Partygirl had never been a headline slot or a chance to take in all that 'Brat' is at all. While the queues, the lock-off, your friends at home or the festival asking for more details all follow along the hype-heavy rollout of the album — which similarly saw desperate queues at the tiny Dalston Superstore on release day or even the 25,000 RSVPs for her NYC Boiler Room — looking on from the outside is still fun, that's why you're reading this review right now. I felt excited taking in clips from Charli's Primavera set as I did standing in the depths of The Levels screaming my throat raw. So maybe 'Brat' and Partgirl at their essence are about feeling like "you had to be there" — even though enjoying it, revelling in it even, doesn't necessarily require you to be there. Though admittedly, yes did see Paul Mescal dancing to '365'.

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter

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