There is no other musician alive who sings about driving or cars more than British indie/hyper-pop star Charli XCX. Seriously. The Cars, an entire (and wonderful) band named after cars, didn’t even sing about cars as much as Charli XCX. So when the video came out for her single “Speed Drive” and it featured my favorite Corvette burning it down I knew I had to share it, and Charli XCX, with all of you.
One of my favorite internet neologisms is ELI5 (Explain It Like I’m 5), and around here our version of that is ELIDT (Explain It Like I’m David Tracy). This is a man who, for all his knowledge of Jeep transmissions, has the pop culture awareness of a potted ficus. A man who refuses to listen to music on cross-country road trips because it “distracts his brain.” [Ed Note: I have no idea who this XCX person is, so maybe we should change that headline to “my driving queen” and not “ours.” Speak for yourself! -DT].
Charli XCX rules, though, so this will be enjoyable to explain and all of you who don’t know what any of this means, like David, will be richer for reading it. I promise.
Charli XCX, born Charlotte Emma Aitchison, is a British singer/writer/producer. Much like we’ve become pluralistic about car culture, kids are definitely more latitudinarian about their music. To crib an argument from Rob Harvilla, when you don’t have to pay $20 at a Blockbuster Music for a CD you can afford to be broader and more experimental in your tastes. Still, to be reductive for just a minute, Charli XCX always struck me as an indie artist who happens to make perfect pop music. She’s the inverse of Robyn, a performer who came out of the Swedish pop star machine and somehow creates–if not indie music–earnest and fun dance songs that indie music fans love and even try to dance to (I’ve seen Robyn twice and awkwardly and proudly danced my heart out both times). I bring Robyn up for a reason, just wait.
You may not know who Charli XCX is, but if you’ve been to a wedding/rave/bar mitzvah/mall you’ve heard her roughly a million times because she’s the ultimate collaborator. She’s the best part of Iggy Azalea’s breakout single “Fancy” and the driving voice behind Icona Pop’s “I love it.” If you enjoy the super weird avantgarde 100 gecs, that’s her on “ringtone.” And yet, her first album, the darkly beautiful “True Romance” wasn’t pop-y or dance-y at all. It was an introspective dark-wave joint celebrating the point where the enthusiastic consent of early adulthood collides with the enthusiastic discontent of late teenagedom.
Since then, Charli XCX has trended more dance/hyper-pop. She’s also talked about what the British call motoring. A lot. So much. I refer you to “A Definitive Guide to Charli XCX’s Career-Long Love Of Cars” from Cool Accidents and Vice’s “Why Is Charli XCX So Obsessed With Cars?” She does love cars, certainly, and driving as well.
I found this great interview from NPR where the artist acknowledges how central a theme driving is:
I’ve had so much constant narrative around cars in my lyrics and videos. I think, without sounding too much like a narcissist, I was touching on a lot of my own reference points for this album and playing into the idea of what a stereotypical pop star is often deemed to be, and looking at the boxes women are often put in — the virgin, the whore or the vixen — and kind of exploring what those themes are within pop music, and the way that the music industry can sometimes perceive women and characterize them.
Here’s “Vroom-Vroom” for example:
There’s a lot going on here and this is going to be 9,000 words if I have to explain who the late and wonderful hyperpop producer SOPHIE is to David, but the harsh electronic hook cooked up by SOPHIE is clearly meant to evoke an exotic V12 revving to the moon.
As an artist, Charli XCX is somewhat brand agnostic, though Mercedes-Benz comes up often, as in her song “White Mercedes,” with a video featuring a bro-dozer 2nd gen Ram and, curiously, no white Mercedes:
Central to her music is the concept of speed drive. In any other artist’s body of work, you’d assume this was merely a misnomer since cars do not have, so far as I can tell, a specific drive mode called “speed drive.” Rather, in her universe, speed drive is the heart-pounding disassociation with the world and near loss of control that comes when you’re piloting a car at full tilt. To put it more bluntly: it’s when you’re fucking on it.
Here’s a good description in the eponymous single for her album “Crash:”
I don’t know if I’ll be coming back to life again (uh)All or nothing, burn in Hell or go up Heaven sent, yeah (uh) Wheels up on the curb side, put it in speed drive I’m about to crash, I’m about to crash I’m about to crash, I’m about to crash I’m about to crash
So it wasn’t a big shock when I was watching the Greta Gerwig-directed “Barbie” film this summer that the main chase scene was underscored by a Charli XCX song called “Speed Drive.” I was a little surprised, however, when I saw the video:
Is that a pink C5 Corvette? I freakin’ love C5 Corvettes. Probably because of nostalgia, a C5 Z06 is my absolute favorite Corvette (this is not a Z06, but it has a bedazzled manual!). So watching Charli XCX dance in front of a C5 ‘Vette that’s laying down 11s and doing righteous donuts is combining many things I enjoy.
Also, the burning C5 wheel is also fine because, frankly, the chrome five-spokes are the least good C5 wheels. So, yeah, there you go. A bunch of words about a video and a song so you can enjoy it while knowing that the artist behind it is, in fact, authentically our queen of driving music.