BY Chloe Stead in Opinion | 08 JUL 24

Editor’s Picks: It’s a Brat Girl Summer

Other highlights include an epistolary novel by Hannah Regel and the indie horror film 'I Saw the TV Glow'

BY Chloe Stead in Opinion | 08 JUL 24

Charlie XCX ‘Brat’ (2024)


Until last week, I couldn’t have named a single Charli XCX song, but even I failed to avoid BRAT (2024), which, with its striking neon green cover and lyrics about famous frenemies, felt like it was Taylor-made to go viral. After a summer of pop releases that have failed to catch fire, the British musician’s sixth studio album sees her finally take up the mantle of ‘Main Pop Girl’ after skirting around the edges of stardom since the release of ‘True Romance’ in 2013. What makes BRAT so successful is that it eschews the easy narratives and smooth disco beats we have come to expect from chart-topping pop music in 2024, in favour of songs that are morally messy and frequently abrasive. There’s plenty of bravado on the album – ‘I'm tectonic, moves, I make 'em / Shock you like defibrillators / No style, I can't relate,’ she boasts on ‘360’ – but there are also moments in which she reveals how much her friendships have been affected by her own envy and insecurity. On the beautiful ‘So I’, for instance, Charli remembers her friend and former collaborator SOPHIE. ‘Your star shines so bright,’ she recalls, before asking (berating?) herself, ‘Why did I push you away? / I was scared sometimes / You had a power like a lightning strike’.

Hannah Regel, The Last Sane Woman (2024)

Hannah Regel, The Last Sane Woman, 2024. Courtesy: Verso Books

I’m now at the age where everyone I know is either having a baby or writing a book. I’m not fussed about the former, but immensely envious when I get wind of the latter, especially when the book in question turns out to be as good as Hannah Regel’s The Last Sane Woman (2024). Her debut novel, it follows Nicola Long, a recent graduate struggling to keep making art while working a series of unfulfilling jobs. After discovering the letters of fellow ceramicist Donna Dreeman in an obscure feminist archive, Nicola starts to imagine a different kind of future for herself as the guardian of this deceased artist’s legacy and the posthumous patron of her long-forgotten pottery. The original recipient of Donna’s letters, however, has her own reasons for not wanting their correspondence to come to light.

Like me, Regel studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths and her knowledge of the art world jumps off the page. A scene in which Nicola is a plus one at a ‘Women in Clay’ dinner, full of people desperate to be seen as insiders, felt cringingly familiar. Regel is also a poet and this, too, is clear from the outset, her language becoming more elaborate as her characters lose grip on reality. ‘She is running as fast as the train,’ Regel writes in one of the novel’s last chapters. ‘As she keeps pace, she whips herself with a sunflower. Water and yellow petals trail behind her.’ Here, she shows that, for women, the descent into madness can be a step towards freedom.

Jane Schoenbrun, I Saw the TV Glow (2024)

Jane Schoenbrun, I Saw the TV Glow, 2024, film still, (L-R) Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine. Courtesy: A24

The cinematography in I Saw the TV Glow is so good that it will make you want to cancel your Netflix subscription. Every shot in the indie horror film is suffused in a purply pink glow that its director, Jane Schoenbrun, likened in a recent interview with The Guardian to the ‘liminal, dreamlike space’ of gender disphoria. This isn’t a coming out story in the traditional sense, however. Instead, the film’s teenage protaganists, Owen and Maddy, just know they don’t quite fit in, a feeling that they can only escape while watching their favourite TV programme, The Pink Opaque. Reminisent of cult classics Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and The X-Files (1993–2003), the low budget show brings the two friends together, until it’s abruptly cancelled and Maddy struggles to move on, driving a wedge between them. I won’t ruin what happens next, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention I Saw the TV Glow’s excellent soundtrack, which features original songs by Phoebe Bridgers and Caroline Polachek and an inspired Hyperpop version of Broken Social Scene’s ‘Anthems For a Seventeen Year-Old-Girl’ (2002).

Main image: Jane Schoenbrun, I Saw the TV Glow (detail), 2024, film still. Courtesy: A24

Chloe Stead is assistant editor of frieze. She lives in Berlin, Germany.