The pop dancefloor looks lonely these days. Hedonistic impulses are checked by pandemic nerves, and artists like Lorde and Billie Eilish have traded bombastic bangers for softer ballads, expressing a clear exhaustion with the demands of celebrity. The vibes are off. Leave it to Charli XCX—whose finger has always been on the pulse of something weirder than the radio—to usher in some fun. “Good Ones,” her latest single, embraces, as she put it in a recent interview, the “Charli ultra popstar” version of herself, but uses this persona to examine her very human tics.
Charli the superstar can still write a song that will make you wonder if the wetness in your eyes is sweat or tears. Like her beloved cuts “Track 10” or “Gone,” “Good Ones” pairs emotional transparency—this time it’s her tendency to self-sabotage—with hypnotic, throbbing synths. As the song begins, Charli snarls over punchy production. But when this energetic opening dies down, she pairs her falsetto with lonesome synth to make a fragile admission: “You couldn’t have loved me any better.” But like a clubber who Purells between poppers, “Good Ones” is a little cautious and never fully lets loose—the exact opposite of Charli’s impulse to dive deep into fraught relationships. So many pop songs drag on for too long, but this one could stand to stretch its legs. Perhaps that’s the point: the good things always slip away too quickly.