Social media is full of tips, tricks and suggestions for how to expand your horizons during quarantine and be productive creatively. Sourdough starters, daily writing prompts, guided meditations and so on. But few have gone as far as Charli XCX to set an example of what can be produced in this time of self-isolation.
In just under 40 days, XCX managed to pull together a stunning 11-track album. The album, titled “How I’m Feeling Now,” explores her relationship through these circumstances we are experiencing as a society and her personal struggles with isolation. For a star well-known for her emotional bangers, it is probably her most personal work so far.
Not only did she manage to write these deeply personal songs, she also took a further step of vulnerability and opened up her creative process. She created an email to be sent beats by producers around the world. She wrote lyrics on Instagram Live. She talked about her process with celebrities on various Zoom hangouts. She played in progress demos on her Beats1 radio show. It was a true experience for fans that is basically unprecedented for a major label artist, but could set a new promotional path for artists like Beyonce’s self-titled album did.
“How I’m Feeling Now” is an album that plants itself right in front of your face and then lets loose. The album opens with the dark club track “Pink Diamond.” Built on a track produced by R&B artist and producer Dijon, the song is about craving the energy of clubbing but being restricted to the experience via video chat. And while Club Quarantine is super fun, it is nowhere near the same. It is a song about that simple feeling of being.
This theme is a recurring subject on the album. It is part of “c2.0” which is a rework of “Click” from her last album. It is also the central message of the penultimate track, “Anthems.” It’s a stuttering electronic track that comes near the end of the album and rockets the final act energy through the roof. “Anthems” is probably the best expression of the theme with verses that capture the mundanity of isolation and the escapism that normal life provides that we have not fully appreciated until now. The lyrics are relatable and a time capsule of what this experience has been like.
The other part of the album is Charli XCX exploring her relationship in this new context. She has been with her partner for many years, but due to the nature of their work a lot of that time has been long distance. However, in this time they have been brought together more than they’ve had before.
The songs explore what this new physical proximity has brought forth emotionally, and for XCX’s part it seems like mostly an affirmation. The album’s lead single (yes, she somehow found time to release singles while scrambling to get the album finished in her short deadline) “Forever” is a ballad about this commitment. In the song, she assures him that even if this relationship doesn’t make it all the way, she will still carry this love for him.
She revisits this in “7 Years,” one of the first songs made for the album. In the chorus she sings “I know that look inside my eyes means always / Even if we fall apart, split two ways / Used to be afraid to say it, that’s so strange / Seven years and it’s been you and I, always.” These emotional revelations are all the product of this time in isolation, and you can feel XCX learning and growing through the albums.
On the flipside of this is “Claws,” a sweetly carefree track full of unabashed adoration. It is a catchy track about being so over the moon for someone. Tracks like this one help keep the album lighthearted.
“How I’m Feeling Now” is a truly impressive feat for XCX. It easily could have been a disaster to set that time limit on her creativity. It could have easily been a sad, emotional body of work to fit the desperation of these times. But, this album hits all the right marks and gives us an optimistic energy that we need right now. It is a fun album that will have a life outside of these weird times.