Charli XCX Brings Us Gritty, Quarantine Brilliance On “how i’m feeling now”
Written by Vocalo Radio on May 19, 2020
After two dizzying months of Twitter polls, Instagram Live writing sessions, and Zoom calls with fans, one of pop’s most futuristic figures has trail-blazed the ‘quarantine album’ in a way few others could.
Charli XCX, nightlife-rave-babie-cult-figure-extraordinaire, is back with a brand new album. The twist is that how i’m feeling now was written, recorded, engineered and promoted almost entirely in quarantine. And the twist to that is how Charli was able to craft this album with the intimate and frenzied help from her fans.
It is not lost on any of us how much our lives have changed since this time last year. In many ways, 2020 has blurred together in a confusing cacophony of sounds and emotions that range from wildly specific to indescribably all-encompassing. And this is exactly what listening to Charli’s new album feels like.
Her 2019 album Charli was bursting with more mainstream, sugary beats and high-profile pop collaborations. While it still held the characteristic autotune, high-pitched synthetics, and buzzing production that’s emblematic of the British pop star, it was criticized for leaning away from the gritty, underground sound that catapulted Charli into mainstream fame.
But if she was leaning away from it last year, the singer dove headfirst back in with how i’m feeling now. Her vocals are pitched, filtered and vibed around high speed synths and android instrumentals. It’s gleefully repetitive and ear-bleeding. It’s the songs playing at the last club you end up at on a night out. It’s the sounds of a world pre-COVID told through a post-virus lens.
Listening to the beats on HIFN is an emotional trip in that it forces the listener to feel something. Whether the music is one’s personal taste or not, the distorted drums hammering underneath relentless electronics stirs up everything from anxiety to nostalgia to longing. Stuck in quarantine, it seems, is making Charli just as restless as the rest of us who are desperate to outrun boredom and numbness.
While the lyrics are neither cryptic nor incredibly profound, they’re honest and relatable. On the opening track “pink diamond,” where she longs to go out and go hard again, she sings about our sudden shift to Skype and Zoom calls. “Got a tiny bag, but I got a big heart/ On the video chat, cute skirt and a bra.”
Tracks like “c2.0” find her missing her friends, while on “anthems” she describes being bored and rolling through the monotonous motions of staying indoors for weeks. “I’m so bored/ Wake up late, eat some cereal/ Try my best to be physical/ Lose myself in a TV show/ Staring out to oblivion.”
But above anything else, this album is a love letter to her boyfriend, Huck Kwong. It’s another departure from her previous work, which tended to draw from late-night clubbing scenes, fast cars, and a faster lifestyle. This time, however, she’s exploring how living together in quarantine (along with her two best friends and managers) has brought them closer together.
Along those same lines, this album is a testament of love to her fans, who quite literally helped her build this album. When she announced she was going to write another record, nearly two months ago, she embarked on an unusually transparent creative process. From posting lyrics online to sharing screenshots of texts with collaborators, she not only brought her fans through every step, but actively sought their input on them all. On Zoom calls and Instagram Live sessions she would sing a lyric and then work through improvements with those gathered to watch. At a time when we all are so physically separated, Charli managed to be more connected to her fanbase than ever before.
It might be overwhelming to have watch this self-proclaimed workaholic create so much, in such a public capacity, but for the singer, it wasn’t an option to stop moving. In an interview with Vulture she said “I’ve been constantly beating myself up whenever I take a break. It’s been quite heavy.”
And therein lies one of the great contradictions quarantine has brought us all. When we’re forced inside and forced online, it can be too easy to feel the need to be hyper-productive, in order to feel “normal” or to try and outrun the state of the world.
With Charli, some of her best work has come out of these past few weeks. But what makes it good is how gritty and hopeful and exhausted and IDGAF it became. It’s no less professional than any other record she’s put out, and just because it only took a few months to come together doesn’t mean it didn’t go through plenty of workshopping and chopping. But it does have a desperate undercurrent. We can’t go out to a packed music hall and dance with friends to these songs. But she’s not asking us to do that (yet). It shows a duality that’s as confusing and complex as what we’re all feeling right now, told through raw, electro-pop.
Stream how i’m feeling now here:
Written By Shelby Kluver