“I said, my name is Charli fucking XCX!” the pop star born – but few recognise – as Charlotte Aitchison yelled into the microphone. It was one of the final sets at Laneway Festival 2020 and Sydney punters were pumped from a full day of entertainment, but we still weren’t giving Charli the energy she demanded.
For most of her 40-minute closing set at the Park Stage, Charli stood alone, a giant cube behind her, flashing different colours in sync with the beat. The English artist’s solo live show stands in contrast to the deep-seated love of collaboration that has defined her studio output, from her multi-project partnership with PC Music producer A.G. Cook to her star-studded tracklists featuring pop’s glitterati (Lizzo, Carly Rae Jepsen, Troye Sivan) and provocateurs (Tommy Cash, Brooke Candy) alike.
But ultimately it’s up to Charli to sell her own songs – and sell them she does. Occasionally raising the shades from her eyes to survey the crowd, she took The Domain through a selection of material culled from her glittering 2017 to 2019 output, the notable exception being the second track, Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’, a 2012 Charli composition on which she also appeared as a featured artist. Some might have thought it weird to come in so early with a song that’s not quite hers – but it also instantly got the crowd going, and as anyone familiar with the pop star knows, starting the party is Charli’s top priority.
Of course, it was Charli’s own songs that were the highlights of the night. Watching her dance in the rain to the Christine And The Queens-assisted standout ‘Gone’ from her 2019 self-titled album – in the process evoking the duo’s sensual music video – only heightened the experience.
Other peaks included Charli inviting a troupe of dancers onstage for the frenzied ‘Vroom Vroom’ and the emotional ‘Track 10’ (into which she incorporated Lizzo’s verse from the 2019 rework, ‘Blame It On Your Love’). The thunderous singalong to ‘Boys’ eclipsed the companion track ‘Girls Night Out’ (which Charli introduced as a song for the women in the crowd, having catered to the men already with ‘Boys’) – but that was one of the rare parts of the set that didn’t quite spark.
Charli closed her set with the nostalgic pop gem ‘1999’ – sadly, without Australia’s very own Troye Sivan – and its clubby EASYFUN remix, putting the bow on a performance that was very much geared towards maximum impact. Charli’s fanbase is notoriously devoted, and to diehards, her set might have seemed a little too remote, too brisk. But as far as festival headline sets go, Charli’s Laneway showing was top-notch.