It’s the Summer of Pop Girl Reconciliation

“Girl, it’s so confusing sometimes to be a girl,” sings Charli XCX in the auto-tune-infused vocals that have become synonymous with Brat, the British artist’s critically acclaimed sixth album, released earlier this month. It’s an opening line that neatly condenses decades of lived experience and gender theory into a single sentence.

“Girl, So Confusing” is a song about the relationship between Charli and another musician in the industry. The lyrics describe a nameless friend whom Charli thinks is distant and, for reasons unknown, tantalizingly out of her reach. Charli can never quite work out her true feelings toward this woman, whether either of them actually likes the other, and, crucially, who is to blame for their lack of chemistry.

Fans suspected the song was about fellow singer-songwriter Lorde, and this was confirmed when the two artists dropped a surprise remix of the track. With unexpectedly vulnerable lyrics, the collaboration sets a new standard for self-exposure and self-awareness in pop, while also showing the radical power of trusting someone with your insecurities. And it’s part of a growing shift toward female pop stars resolving conflicts on their own terms, in their own way.

lorde and charli xcx at the 2014 mtv video music awards

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Lorde and Charli XCX in 2014

Brat initially comes off as a fun album packed with bops about raving in the club—and it is. But it’s also more than that: The album’s lyrics explore the loneliness of fame, the complications of friendship between women, and the challenges of managing conflicting expectations. As a result, it has garnered near-universal critical praise.

The remix of “Girl, So Confusing” is emblematic of Brat’s more vulnerable take on club pop. In Lorde’s verse, the New Zealander describes her surprise at receiving a voice note from Charli disclosing her complex feelings about their relationship. But rather than continue the feud, the pair decided to “work it out on the remix.” Lorde’s lyrics are particularly confessional in a way that is surprising for a song with this sound: “For the last couple years / I’ve been at war in my body / I tried to starve myself thinner / And then I gained all the weight back,” she sings, explaining that she often canceled their plans at the last minute over her insecurities about how she looked. “I was trapped in the hatred / And your life seemed so awesome.”

Having a nemesis has long been a standard part of being a Main Pop Girl.

There is nothing new about the music industry, and indeed society at large, pitting women against each other. From Madonna and Lady Gaga to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera to Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez—the origin story of the eternal “I don’t know her” clapback—having a nemesis has long been a standard part of being a Main Pop Girl. One of the most notorious feuds of the last decade was Taylor Swift versus Katy Perry. The two women fell out years ago in a disagreement that was reportedly about backing dancers they both employed, culminating in the 2014 release of the Swift song “Bad Blood”—which was heavily rumored to be about Perry. In 2019, the singers squashed their beef (dressed, respectively, as fries and a burger) in the video for “You Need to Calm Down,” Swift’s second single from Lover.

monica and brandy at the 1998 grammys

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Monica and Brandy at the 1998 Grammys

More recently, Brandy and Monica—singers who have been feuding for decades—also worked it out on the remix. The beef between them, pegged to their 1998 hit duet “The Boy Is Mine,” dates back over 20 years and includes rumors of a physical altercation backstage at that year’s VMAs. In 2020, they came together for a Verzuz battle on Instagram Live, but it wasn’t until last week that they officially reconciled by joining forces with Ariana Grande for the remix of her latest single (also titled “The Boy Is Mine”). Now, Monica credits Grande with ending years of animosity. “It’s changed the trajectory of [our relationship] in its totality,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “My son was in the hospital the other day, and [Brandy] was who I was speaking to while he was there, so I think that is what Ariana has done that she may not even realize.”

The rise of female-driven pop reconciliation songs feels even more notable when contrasted with another major musical moment that began this spring and has continued into summer: the ongoing battle between rappers Drake and Kendrick Lamar. (Last week, Lamar performed “Not Like Us,” his searing takedown of Drake, five times in a single night.) Hip-hop, of course, has its own relationship with diss tracks, but I have to wonder whether there is something here about narrative control. When women in the industry are feuding, it tends to overshadow their artistry. Publications and stans on social media salivate over the possibility of a “catfight,” rather than the level of talent at play. For men, particularly in more male-dominated genres, this doesn’t happen in the same way—if anything, the opposite is true.

The genius of the “Girl, So Confusing” remix lies not only in its awareness of these dynamics, but also in the song’s acknowledgment of its place within them. It’s a far cry from the sickly sweet scene of Swift and Perry hugging in “You Need to Calm Down,” but it’s also much more interesting. “It’s you and me on the coin / The industry loves to spend,” Lorde sings. “And when we put this to bed / The internet will go crazy.” She was right: The internet did go crazy—and there is a certain bleakness, I think, in the awareness that even a reconciliation is a part of the #content stream, where so much of what these women do and say is consumed as a product. Still, at least this way they have been able to control the story and profit from it themselves.

katy perry and taylor swift at the 2011 grammys

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Katy Perry and Taylor Swift in 2011

Swift might have recently reignited her long-running feud with Kim Kardashian on the unsubtly titled Tortured Poets Department bonus track “thanK you aIMee,” but it is Charli and Lorde’s reconciliation banger that has captivated the zeitgeist. Perhaps this is because, although their song is about two very famous women, their relationship fluctuations feel more relatable. Who among us hasn’t felt tension with a friend because of the low-level hum of jealousy, or something as simple as dinner plans canceled at the last minute? “It’s just self-defense until you’re building a weapon,” sings Lorde. “She believed my projection / And now I totally get it.” Haven’t we all put on a front for someone out of insecurity, and then regretted it?

Maybe we’re entering an era in which today’s female pop stars are no longer pitted against each other—or at least are better able to publicly resist the pressure to feud. Fans of Sabrina Carpenter and Chappell Roan might be warring over which singer owns the sound of summer 2024, but Carpenter purposefully covered Roan’s “Good Luck, Babe!” at the BBC Live Lounge—a small gesture that might help set the tone. And just this week, Charli called out some of her fans for chanting “Taylor Swift is dead!” at one of the Brat tour shows in Brazil.

I’m reluctant to unironically describe anything as “empowering.” (Seriously, it sticks in my throat.) But Charli and Lorde’s remix clearly has a deeper message—not just about the importance of reconciliation, but also how to reconcile well. It’s a rejection of the winner-take-all approach to conflict. If the original “Girl, So Confusing” is about the contradictions of female friendship, then the remix is about finding a way through, together—and hopefully, creating an era of pop music that’s a little less brutal.

Headshot of Louis Staples

Louis Staples is a freelance culture writer and critic based in London, UK. He writes “Cultural Staples” — a fortnightly culture essay at Bazaar.com. His work is featured in The Cut, The Guardian, Vogue, Rolling Stone, and Variety.