Arts and Entertainment

Charli XCX Captures the Soul of Quarantine in “how i’m feeling now”

A review of Charli XCX’s new album “how i’m feeling now.”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In our era of social distancing, Charli XCX’s newest album “how i’m feeling now” is unique in that it not only was made during quarantine, but also could only be made during quarantine. Perfectly capturing the longing, loneliness, and boredom of self-isolation, “how i’m feeling now” delivers these feelings in some of the most groundbreaking and emotionally potent pop songs in the landscape of modern music.

Charli jumped headfirst into her quarantine album, announcing it on April 6 and setting a deadline of May 15 for its release. With only a month to create an entire album, the road to release was short but intense. In an effort to connect with others in a time of separation, Charli allowed her fans to be heavily involved in the album’s development. Throughout the production of the album, she would invite them to Zoom calls where she would play demos and ask for opinions on songs and artwork. As Charli’s deadline grew closer, the pandemic only worsened as more of the world went into lockdown. “how i’m feeling now” was released on May 15 in a world much lonelier than when the album was conceived, and its themes of isolation are more fitting than ever.

Listening to the album with its creation in mind, it’s clear how the pandemic has shaped its sound and lyrics. The production is fairly experimental, with catchy melodies underlined with aggressive synths and heavy bass. Charli uses heavy autotune to great effect, one that could be annoying but now a tool to convey the intense emotion of her situation. It’s a rougher version of the sound Charli developed in her previous album, “Charli” (2019), but no less effective. While there are some weaker tracks, like the overly repetitive “party 4 u,” the album maintains a consistent quality, and each track adds a new layer to Charli’s emotions. “pink diamond” is the album’s opener and the perfect theme for confinement. The song is danceable but harsh, with a tense metallic beat creating a claustrophobic mood. It introduces a common theme of the album: Charli just wanting to go out and party with her friends. This desire has continued from her “Boom Clap” days to her most recent material, because to her, partying is more than just fun—it’s a celebration of life, love, and friendship. The deprivation of that essential part of her life is clear throughout the album and gives it a uniquely lonely edge. On “c2.0,” a reinterpretation of her 2019 song “Click,” Charli twists the original track’s braggadocio into deep longing. With its distorted yet beautiful production and repetition of lyrics about her clique, listeners get the impression that all she wants is to see her friends again. The longing reaches a peak on “anthems,” where Charli explodes into an over-the-top club banger that is as exciting as it is tragic. As she declares how much she misses her friends and the parties they used to go to together, Charli melds her sadness with the energetic beat, elevating it into one of the best songs on the album.

While “how i’m feeling now” has a consistent aura of loneliness, there is one person that Charli has in quarantine: her boyfriend. Many songs on “how i’m feeling now” are about how locking down together has brought them closer than ever before, like in “7 years,” where Charli contemplates their relationship over operatic synths. It’s one of her strongest vocal performances on the album, and her intentional use of autotune makes the emotion even stronger. “claws” is one of the album’s shorter songs, but it makes great use of its time with a kinetic beat and captivating hook: you can’t get a stronger declaration of love than “I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you.” Charli takes a more tragic look at her relationship on “detonate,” where she questions why her boyfriend stays with her despite the emotional turmoil. Despite its title, “detonate” is one of the most delicate songs on the album, with blipping keys and low synths complementing Charli’s more subdued vocals.

“visions” closes the album on a strong, somewhat strange note. The track builds from a soft beginning to one of the most intense sections of the album as the dancey beat spirals into chaos and eventually fades into an empty throbbing bass. It’s a mysterious ending that reflects the uncertainty that we all face in these times. While most people would be discouraged by that uncertainty, Charli XCX has taken on the challenge and created an album that serves as a window into her soul and a reflection of every listener’s circumstances. “how i’m feeling now” embodies not only the current loneliness and anxiety of quarantine, but also commemorates the friendship and love many have developed a greater appreciation for. While the more experimental production may deter some mainstream listeners, its creativity and raw emotion make it well worth listening to, and because its themes capture such an unforgettable point in time, the music will continue to resonate even after the pandemic.