how i’m feeling now
2020 – Pop / Electronic
Charli XCX’s quarantine album is an intimate and detailed project that breaks down the barriers of its own cage and becomes a representation for all its fans
Since she was 14, Charli XCX already had promising and visionary ideas about the future of music. On her first studio album, 14, which had banal and simple lyrics and instruments, she sang: “Who writes the songs? / The machines do”. From then on, she started to straighten more and more to what she believed. Her first albums, the gothic True Romance and the agitated Sucker, still had experimental moments, but they were, for the most part, generic and typical of the time. However, during 2014 and 2017, Charli got together with a large group of collaborators to create the three mixtapes that would be the starting point for Charli to design her own sound. Vroom Vroom, Number 1 Angel, Pop 2 had brilliant, frantic and eccentric synthesizers, something that was important both to Charli, who now felt freer, than to a new industry that was being forged at the time. In 2019, she finally released her third studio album, Charli, which in addition to carrying Charli’s name in its title, carried XCX’s experiences in its sound and lyrics with fidelity. Now, less than a year after the release of her third album, Charli releases her fourth album, how i’m feeling now.
how i’m feeling now was recorded entirely during the quarantine of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). In April 2020, Charli posted a video on Twitter saying that she was going to release her next studio album in May of the same year and that she still had to finish writing, producing and mixing the tracks. Fortunately, Charli managed to achieve her goal of building an intimate project. how i’m feeling now not only shows Charli facing predictable problems from a quarantine situation, but also sounds timeless, romantic, emotional and extremely personal. In addition, the album isn’t just about how XCX is feeling, but also, how we are all feeling now. In a simple and complex way at the same time, the album surpasses the barriers of Charli’s house and reaches the ears, making her personal experiment become something representative and inspiring for many.
According to Charli herself, she is facing quarantine alongside her boyfriend, Huck Kwong. Therefore, it is undeniable that much of the music is actually romantic letters from different moments and perspectives. “forever”, the album’s first single, shows Charli declaring herself to her boyfriend saying that she will love him forever. Alongside turbulent synthesizers that seem to mimic the noise the wind makes in a camera that contrasts with brilliant beats, Charli paints romantic scenes typical on roads, seas and at home. Becoming sillier and more passionate, “claws” shows Charli more angelic and childlike without many vocal effects singing sweet phrases: “I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you”. In fact, the track has grown in me since its release becoming one of the best on the entire album. In “7 years”, she sings about a new era in her relationship where she and her boyfriend got closer and can understand each other just by looking. Despite the band presenting Charli with a kind of robotic track and electronic layers that follow her throughout the track, the song features several sweet lines that make anyone want to fall in love with someone. Even the confused moments where XCX is undecided and afraid of their relationship can be beautiful, intimate and captivating, like what happens with “detonate” where she sings: “I don’t trust myself at all / Why should you trust me?”.
However, even with the fiery romance that is still new to Charli, the most potent moments of the album end up being those that demonstrate how she is feeling during the quarantine and how she is dealing with the difficult moments trapped in a chain built in her own home. In “enemy” she begins to evaluate her relationship with her boyfriend (who now lives with her but before it was part of a distance relationship with XCX) and how she feels insecure with her relationship and begins to wonder if he is her enemy for always being close to her following the theory of a saying popular. Despite the calm instrumental that doesn’t stand out so much, the strongest moment ends up being when XCX places a recorded voice note after a therapy session: “I feel like I’m learning that about myself and I don’t really, really understand it yet”. “c2.0” is a continuation of “Click” (from Charli) where she remixed the instrumentals that were already intense, cacophonic and disturbed and made them even more intense, impressive and contagious. In this track, that features frenetic synthesizers and high-pitched alien voices, Charli talks about missing the people she loves due to the social distance required by quarantine (“I miss them every night / I miss them by my side”). Finally, “i finally understand” is a self-assessment where Charli shows that she finally understood her feelings, how they have power over her and how to deal with them. Although the banding is milder, it manages to be captivating and reflective at the same time in a whole new way.
But, in the middle of the immense positive points, there are weak moments in the album that become more acute when we put them close to the other tracks. “pink diamond”, despite its frantic and contagious sound that makes you really feel the music, the lyrics seem like a simple, unintended re-reading of “Next Level Charli” making the track look a little limited. Suffering from the same disease, “visions” become weak to close the album, not because of its lyric that are not ambitious, but because of its finishing instrument that seems to be something of preparation rather than finishing, which, even with a descending, ends up fighting for sound like a good ending track. Although “party 4 u” has a nice chorus with high-pitched synthesizers, flawed keyboards and a clever lyrics where Charli says she’ll throw a party just for her boyfriend to go over to her house to stay with her, the track sounds a little out of place in the whole context and history of the album.
At the end of her incredible and intimate fourth studio album, Charli XCX appears with “anthems”, where she demonstrates her post-quarantine desires: “I want anthems / Late nights, my friends, New York / Finally, when it’s over / We might be even closer, uh, uh”. In the track that demonstrates an instrumental worthy of a futuristic electronic nightclub that makes its dancers electric enough to get lost on the bright dance floor, Charli plays with synthesizers, digital tables and mixers while painting domestic scenes as her quarantine is being boring (“I’m so bored” (Woo) / Wake up late, eat some cereal / Try my best to be physical / Lose myself in a TV show “). So, just like the whole album, Charli’s last wish for a better future where we can all dance like robots is not just hers, but all of us.