Charli XCX’s 'how i’m feeling now' is a pandemic-pop powerhouse
COVID-19 has given the phrase “bedroom pop” a whole new meaning. High profile musicians across the world have flocked to video conferencing and streaming platforms like Zoom and Instagram Live to perform and chat with fans more than ever before, often from the comfort of their bedrooms. British singer and experimental-pop superstar Charli XCX took this ascending intimacy between artist and listener and cranked it up to the max. Her new record how i’m feeling now was recorded and produced at lightspeed — all from scratch over the course of a month — and Charli documented the process live all along the way. Fans were able to tune in as she wrote lyrics, filmed music videos and collaborated with pop music’s most cutting-edge producers, providing an intimate look into the synthesis of an electropop gem.
The project began on April 6 when Charli announced it on a Zoom call. She simply said she was starting a new album from scratch, promised to open up the creative process to her fans and set a release date just over a month away. And thus Charli and her fans embarked on a grand pop music experiment, every day between announcement and release being a part of the journey to how i’m feeling now. Charli modeled in “photoshoots” (pictures her boyfriend took on his phone in their bedroom) that were shared with and edited by countless artists to make alternate covers for each new single, ranging from professionally designed album covers to humble fanart. She live streamed with an eclectic bunch of musicians, celebrities and public figures including Paris Hilton and 100 gecs. And maybe most impressively, Charli stuck to the arbitrarily imminent finish line she set for herself: The polished, full-length LP released without delay on May 15.
Making how i’m feeling now was not just a cute idea or an experiment — it was an unbelievable success. The final album is a weirdly 21st-century product of a pandemic, an unbelievably relevant concoction and nothing short of brilliant.
Lyrically, how i’m feeling now lives up to its title, reflecting the torrent of emotions Charli has felt over the months cooped up in her home in LA. The album kicks off in an aggressively sinister fashion with “pink diamond,” where Charli sings maniacally about her desire to go out. The hook repeats “I just wanna go real hard” almost like a broken robot, a party animal’s internal breakdown. She describes her attempts to manifest party energy while confined to video chats, singing “Watch me shine for the boys and the cameras / In real life, could the club even handle us?” She doubles down on this sentiment near the end of the album on “anthems,” featuring a verse she wrote on Instagram Live that actually evolved based on fan input. One of the most gutting lines in the verse that gets to the heart of Charli’s primal party urges — “Wanna feel the heat from all the bodies” — was actually suggested by a fan on the livestream.
For the most part, this is a love album. Charli oscillates between a sense of impending doom for her relationship and a romantic renaissance, a spectrum of emotional discord that captures the highs and lows of love in quarantine. Where the heartfelt balladry of “forever” is a musical sendoff for a relationship on its last leg, the romantic nostalgia of “7 years” acknowledges a shift from distance to inseparability. At times these emotions are captured in musical delirium, with intense infatuation on “claws” and conflicted paranoia on “detonate.” Both tracks feature glitchy instrumentals and high-pitched, warped vocals suiting the lovesick lunacy within the lyrics.
Charli continues to break new ground within the experimental-pop sound she’s adopted over the last few years. Juicy hooks are at the forefront of most songs, and she embraces over processed vocals atop layered, dense, often oppressive electronic instrumentation. Sonically, Charli is more focused than she was on her 2019 record Charli — the shorter runtime and smaller suite of producers work in her favor. The delirious lyrics are paired with a feverish fantasy aesthetic that brings the album to life. The pitched-up vocal samples on “c2.0,” the shrill synths on “claws,” the summery keys on “detonate” — all work in tandem to evoke the feeling of a daydream. The unhinged intro on “pink diamond” and cacophonous outro on “visions” bookend the album with ferocity, making how i’m feeling now the soundtrack to a grand delusion.
Charli XCX’s latest is just one wave in what many predict to be a tsunami of new music fueled by the isolation and disconnect of coronavirus. Yet, for being made in isolation, it’s the most collaborative record ever from one of pop’s most collaborative artists. On how i’m feeling now, Charli made the journey of creation just as important to the album experience as listening to the final product. And that final product is all the more exciting for it. Maybe artists making music behind closed doors have it all wrong.