“I ride for you Charli”: How Lorde and Charli XCX just proved being a Main Pop Girl can be a team sport

Lorde's game-changing verse on 'The girl so confusing version with Lorde' proves that female pop rivalry can be a thing of the past.


Amongst a landscape of diss tracks and beefs, petty feuds and vicious undercutting, this week Charli XCX and Lorde checkmated their peers with the ultimate in classy moves: a response remix that chose vulnerability over venom, startling honesty over sly digs. If you’ve not listened to ‘The girl, so confusing version with lorde’, take four minutes out and now come back to us. Feeling a little winded? Of course you are. The track arrives as not only a landmark moment in online pop lore (as the pair knowingly sing themselves, “The internet will go crazy…”) but a genuine reset in the way music’s top tier address how crippling the outside noise and the internal insecurity can be; heck, even us normies could learn a thing or two.

The comparisons began years ago in relatively amusing fashion. Charli mentioned in the press that she’d often get mistaken for Lorde at festivals; in one particularly legendary interview, she played along to a clueless question about writing ‘Royals’, declaring in thick British tones that it was inspired by “how I’m from New Zealand”. The internet being the internet, however, wouldn’t let it lie and any mention of the other would be seen as further proof of a so-called feud between the so-called rivals: a classic case of pitting female pop stars against each other that stretches back decades.

Within the wonderful, messy, human world of ‘Brat’, where unadorned admissions of her innermost turmoils sit next to some of the decade’s best party bangers, part of the intimacy comes from the frequent name-checking of her inner circle: AG Cook, fiancé George Daniel, the late producer SOPHIE. But it was a pair of songs in which the object of Charli’s insecurities remained unnamed that, unsurprisingly, set the gossip mills in motion. ‘Girl, so confusing’, with its telling “People say we’re alike / They say we’ve got the same hair” immediately sent all eyes in Lorde’s direction. ‘Sympathy is a knife’ contained multiple allusions to Taylor Swift


Yet where Swift’s response seemed to be an 11th hour drop of six UK-geolocked album variants that succeeded in keeping ‘The Tortured Poet’s Department’ at the top of the charts, relegating ‘Brat’ to Number Two in a pattern that the Guardian, among others, reports as indicative of the megastar’s current peer-crushing tactics (several new ‘TTPD’ variants also kept Billie Eilish’s latest from the top), Lorde’s olive branch feels like something of a pop Ground Zero. There’s no Kendrick v Drake style descent into insult-flinging, no defensive barely-coded social media post or quickly pulled-together single campaign to capitalise on the attention, the pair’s collaboration is exactly that: two people working together and working it out in front of us, breaking down the idea that there’s only space at the top for one victor.

Lorde’s verse is game-changing in its honesty, taking every line of Charli’s insecurity and flipping it to reveal her own that’s equal-but-opposite. Charli worries that Lorde just wants to see her “falling over and failing”. In truth, “I was trapped in the [self] hatred and your life seemed so awesome / I never thought for a second my voice was in your head,” Lorde replies. It’s painfully familiar; a dynamic that, in their case, is being played out on the world’s stage, but is also being played out in workplaces and friend groups and, particularly, on social media daily. Everyone projects their neuroses onto other people when, most of the time, we’re all just floundering in our own mental prisons. 

Though lots of artists deal in the language of vulnerability, it’s through the sheen of pop perfection. ‘Girl, so confusing’ removes any of that, as Lorde reveals the body image struggles that sent her spiralling, looking at the outside presentation of her peers and forgetting that, underneath, was an internal world that was just as complex as her own. It’s executed in a way that knows and winks at the internet-breaking power of their long-sought after collab, but that genuinely feels like something bigger – like two of the world’s greatest pop stars shunning the pervasive, competitive culture and using their powers for good, proving that actually, being a main pop girl can be a team sport.