Charli XCX’s ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ is testament to creative perseverance during COVID-19

charli xcx album review 'how i'm feeling now'
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Grade: 4.0/5.0

For the past month and a half, pop pioneer Charli XCX has used a Twitter campaign to implore her fans to help shape her fourth full-length album, dubbed How I’m Feeling Now. The record was made almost entirely at home, and as its name suggests, is an echo of the current state of the world. This includes, of course, immense use of the internet. From singles to the album artwork itself, Charli has asked fans on Twitter to help her decide what she should release and how she should release them. Through countless Zoom calls and Twitter polls, How I’m Feeling Now has been shaped into what it is now: a hypermodern techno-pop record that embodies Charli’s signature experimental style.

The record has been teased an innumerable amount of times on social media, such as in YouTube videos where Charli reveals the writing and recording process that goes into crafting a full-length LP. Rarely is this kind of transparency available to fans, where they may not only witness but also influence the development of a record. It’s a “wizard behind the curtain” sort of moment, where the mystery of pop music is laid bare, and clarity makes the record even more personal. Throughout the record, this sentiment stands firm, and How I’m Feeling Now comes to embody a universal state of mind.

In the record’s lead single, “Forever,” a vulnerable side of the pop diva is at the forefront of every note. The track opens with distorted, almost unrecognizable synths, which build into a collapse when Charli begins. Her stylistically auto-tuned vocals are washed by a production that feels like waves crashing with every line. The lyric “I’ll love you forever/ Even when we’re not together” feels evident of the loneliness of isolation. While its conception, according to Charli, was pre-quarantine, the record blends with the album seamlessly and observes acutely the separateness we’ve endured in the past few months. 

“Anthems” sees isolation through a similar lens, yet expresses it in a much more typical Charli XCX fashion. Its opening lines — “Hello/ I’m so bored (Woo)/ Wake up late, eat some cereal/ Try my best to be physical” — find comedy in shared, mundane daily experiences during the coronavirus outbreak. She dreams of “Late nights, my friends, New York,” as most likely do, traversing the track’s dance-heavy synths with ease. The appeal of the track is not only in its catchy chorus, but also in its raw expression of feeling, a quality that is notably sparse in music from other divas of pop music. It becomes clear that, despite Charli’s status, she no longer cares about how others perceive her. 

The authenticity of How I’m Feeling Now is unmistakably one of its most alluring qualities. In tracks such as “7 years” and “Detonate,” unpolished vocals emphasize the fact that the record is homemade in every sense. It’s a style that lends itself to the vulnerability of the album’s content, expressing multiple different truths and insecurities, which feel even more vivid in the context of the entire album. In “Detonate,” Charli admits: “I don’t trust myself at all/ Why should you trust me?” 

The album is intelligent in this way, being topical without making listeners cringe. “Claws,” for example, maintains the fun electro-pop shtick, but with an emotional dimension that defends it from being dull or repetitive. Here, Charli emotes to fit her style in a way that feels authentic to the record, allowing vulnerability to overtake the semi-mindlessness of tracks like “Pink Diamond.” 

In its entirety, however, How I’m Feeling Now is wholeheartedly true to its name. It sees transparently into the mind of an artist in the current state of the world, and allows its vulnerability to carry it through its duration. Charli sings on “Anthems”: “I’m so uninspired, I just wanna breathe.” This, like many other lyrics on the album, echoes a common struggle. The birth of the record, however, is Charli overcoming this struggle. It is a testament to an artist finding their creativity in spite of the chaotic global climate.

Contact Ryan Garay at r[email protected].