Twenty-two-year-old Charlotte Aitchison helped write one of the world's biggest hits this year, Icona Pop's effervescent "I Love It," while her own debut album, True Romance, earned Best New Music from mostly-indie tastemakers Pitchfork. These two distinctions aren't at odds, especially in a world where indie is now pop and pop is now indie, but they are incredibly unlikely for an artist who isn't Justin Timberlake, much less a new one who's a young woman.
Breaking that barrier makes Charli XCX special on paper, and hearing her music provides the details. True Romance's spectacular "Take My Hand" is as indebted to sparkling early Madonna as the glitchy, Gold Panda-sampling "You (Ha Ha Ha)" is to dubstep-pop queen Katy B. "Set Me Free" finds a middle ground between one of Shirley Manson's inside-out choruses and Lily Allen's hop-skip sass. And her first notable single, "Stay Away", combines the darkest and brightest elements of the '80s synth-pop revival. But that silly divide between perceived high art and low pop makes her a relatable enigma, and her spectacular year has already proved she can reach any audience. She's just getting warmed up.