Charli XCX and Lorde’s conflict resolution is the year’s most powerful pop moment | Alim Kheraj

Estimated read time 5 min read

In an era of pop full of openly hostile beefs or barely-subliminal sniping that can go on for years between warring parties, this week has brought something rare and significant: an armistice.

On her club-facing, radically vulnerable new album Brat, Charli XCX shares her insecurities, nihilistic feelings, arrogance and humanity. In particular, the song Girl, So Confusing addressed her differences with a fellow pop star: “People say we’re alike / They say we’ve got the same hair,” Charli sings over a scuzzy bone-shaking bass. “Can’t tell if you wanna see me / Falling over and failing.”

On one level it felt similar to the feuds that have recently dominated popular music, such as those between Olivia Rodrigo and Sabrina Carpenter, or Kendrick Lamar and Drake – it was gossipy, with Charli refusing to confirm who it was about in a podcast interview, fuelling speculation all the more. But it also felt different: instead of lashing out and painting her subject as a villain, Charli was being transparent about her feelings of competition and rivalry.

Now there’s an unexpected twist that deepens the drama into something genuinely artful. The “hair” line and others had internet sleuths assuming it was about Lorde, and now Charli has released a remix confirming that as fact, featuring the very object of Charli’s anxieties.

On what is titled The Girl, So Confusing Version With Lorde, the two singers trade verses with heart-wrenching candour, Lorde delivering a lengthy verse in which she shares her surprise at Charli’s feelings and provides her own fragile admissions. “I’ve been at war with my body / I tried to starve myself thinner,” she sings, before adding: “I was trapped in the hatred / And your life seemed so awesome.”

This open dialogue feels so different to previous battles, such as the notorious one between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Comparisons were inevitable between the two former Disney stars, both beautiful, blond and with bared midriffs – writing in this paper in 1999, Ed Vulliamy noted that “Christina has a ‘naughtier’ image than Britney’s corn-fed, midwest, wholesome look”. The tabloids crafted elaborate stories about an alleged feud, with Spears and Aguilera fanning the flames: after their infamous kisses with Madonna at the 2003 VMAs, Spears complained that Aguilera was rude and fake, while Aguilera told Us Weekly in 2004 that Spears acts like trailer trash.

Pop fans were either Team Spears or Team Aguilera and, like a spectator sport, fans compared their chart stats, performances, vocal ability, dance routines, fashion choices and career moves. This game of pop music Top Trumps became part of the fun.

Of course, Aguilera and Spears weren’t the first or last – think of Janet Jackson v Madonna (“We both make dance music,” Jackson once said, “but what I do has class”), Mariah Carey v Jennifer Lopez (Carey’s dismissive “I don’t know her” is now the stuff of legend), Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj (“Miley, what’s good?”) and Taylor Swift’s feud with Katy Perry.

Such celebrity gossip still fuels much of popular culture, and artists know it, too. Carey’s off-the-cuff comment about Lopez has now become something she leans into with camp abandon; Swift weaves in her sometimes-fractious relationships with her contemporaries into her songs and videos (like the recent thanK you aIMee, aimed at old foe Kim Kardashian).

Fans then chew over these titbits and spit them out over social media, turning them into memes or fodder for disputes. The same goes for resolutions: when Swift invited Perry to appear in the music video for You Need to Calm Down, squashing their years-long dispute, it felt like just another performance in a story shaped by two of the world’s biggest pop stars.

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But for all the fun of the gladiatorial sparring between stars for supremacy, there’s also something diminishing about it, even ugly at times. And in a pop landscape where the industry has historically not allowed much room for a broad range of female stars, the sniping has felt like the result of that narrowing, as stars jostle for position. Couple that with the other pressures put on these women – such as the weight loss Lorde describes – and these feuds feel like an inevitable part of a world that women have to put on armour to face. “It’s you and me on the coin / The industry loves to spend”, runs a trenchant line on the Charli-Lorde remix.

The reason why their reconciliation feels so powerful is that rarely do these rivalries transcend the tabloids and become folded into the art like this. Listening to their unfiltered confessions, delivered without pop’s numbing penchant for therapy-speak or performative brand management, is like trespassing on something very real and private, as if you’ve stumbled upon two friends brutally but beautifully hashing out their differences. And crucially, by making it into a song they have written and sung, they wield so much agency – it can’t be as easily weaponised and deliberately misinterpreted by the media as older feuds have been.

They still know it’s great gossip – “And when we put this to bed / the internet will go crazy” runs one line – but it also contains so much emotional truth. With horribly real conflict dominating the news, this conflict resolution, however small, is gracious and moving. For years Charli XCX has been, musically speaking, the vanguard for pop. Now, it feels as if she’s creating a new model of how to be a pop star, too.


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