Barbie pink is out, lime green is in: Charli XCX’s album spawns ‘brat summer’ trend

Estimated read time 5 min read

At some point in your childhood you were probably called one. You may even whisper it under your breath at the pub when the kid on the table next to yours starts whining. But more recently, the word “brat” has gone from a slur to a badge of honour, so much so that the internet has declared it “brat summer”.

The British pop star Charli XCX is the main instigator of this semantic shift. Two weeks ago the 31-year-old announced the release of her sixth studio album via Instagram. Posting a photo of herself sitting on a dirty pavement, she held a kryptonite green vinyl cover in her hands with the word “brat” emblazoned on the front.

Within minutes her fans started to self-identify as “brats”, turning the album’s artwork into memes with such virality that now social media feels like one giant Brat joke. The resulting brat summer hashtag has nearly 1m posts on TikTok. An online “brat generator” lets users replicate the cover with their own choice of words. The cover’s lurid green colour has even been baptised “brat”.

Brat summer has now hit the mainstream. The Green party has used the cover as a template, urging Instagram users to vote for the party. The Twin Peaks actor Kyle Maclachlan is a self described brat, paying homage to the pop star on Instagram. The citrus fruit lime is a brat (it seems anything lime-coloured is a brat). Gareth Southgate is definitely not a brat, but Jack Grealish partying in Ibiza is.

The cast of the The Outsiders filmView image in fullscreen

Brat summer coincides with the release of the Londoner Gabriel Smith’s debut novel, which is also called Brat, and hailed by some as “the book of the summer”. This week Hulu released Brats, a documentary about the original Hollywood brat pack – the actors who defined a decade – including Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe. Coined by the writer David Blum in 1985, the term enraged the Hollywood stars it encompassed. Blum’s observations of “bratty behaviour” at the time included Estevez blagging his way into a cinema for nothing and McCarthy recklessly speeding around Malibu.

Charli has yet to explicitly define what a brat is but look for clues to the album, which is No 2 in the UK charts, and is full of in-jokes and internet references. It’s chaotic, naughty and fun, with her singing “666 with a princess streak” in the album’s opening track.

While brats are not the first to try to claim the summer zeitgeist, unlike the “hot girl summer” of a few years ago or the recent mob wives aesthetic, being a brat doesn’t require a new workout routine or wardrobe. It’s also not gender specific. Anyone can be a brat. It’s less about the word’s meaning and more about a feeling it encompasses. In an interview with the BBC, when asked about the brat summer essentials, Charli said they could be “luxury” but also “trashy”. “A pack of cigs, a Bic lighter, and a strappy white top with no bra. That’s kind of all you need.”

The outfit worn by Tom Holland in the West End during his Romeo show – a white vest, smeared with blood – is a very brat look.

The author and music journalist Michael Cragg said Charli “bridges the worlds of pop and fashion and style and ‘cool’ and all that stuff” the word brat feeds into. He added: “It’s partying, it’s hanging out with your hot mates, it’s not being afraid to voice your opinions”.

The language expert Vyvyan Evans said it wasn’t clear how the word brat had come into modern usage. “It exists in Middle English with the meaning of an old or ragged cloak. This meaning may have evolved to refer to garments worn by a beggar’s child, and later [to] more generally refer to a child.”

Tables set with plates and cutlery with chefs preparing food in the backgroundView image in fullscreen

While Charli’s brats are all about partying, Tomos Parry, the Welsh chef behind the hugely successful Brat restaurant in east London, said he came up with its name while researching English literature. Specialising in basque cooking, one of Brat’s signature dishes is a whole Turbot, a fish that Parry discovered was commonly referred to as “brat” in Northumberland in about the 19th century. He also liked that an apron is known as a “brat” in Wales.

Parry said the brat summer hype had brought attention to his Shoreditch restaurant. Charli regularly dines there, while the album has become the soundtrack of the kitchen.

Günseli Yalcinkaya, a features editor at Dazed, described the Brat album as “primed for virality”. “It’s ‘clout-bombing’ at its finest – a full 360-degree pop star campaign for the internet era.”

Cragg said there’s an “if you know, you know” concept to it. “You want to enter that world, the world of Brat. It’s a lurid green calling card.”

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As for brat’s semantic change, Evans described it as millennials and gen Z taking ownership of a negative term. “Using and co-opting former insults as a badge of honour is a common linguistic artifice throughout history. Not only does the use of ‘brat’ by younger people signal a co-opting of an external negative term to signal in-group belonging and values, it serves to weaponise the very insult against its users.”

Brat hot list

OUT Barbie Pink; IN Brat green

OUT Sleep trackers; IN Late night raves

OUT Trad wives; IN Divorce parties

OUT Double cleansing; IN Last night’s eyeliner

OUT Facetune; IN Disposable cameras

OUT Iced Americanos; IN Energy drinks

OUT Clean-girl manicures; IN Chipped acrylics


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