What have you been doing during this recent stay-at-home quarantine because of COVID-19? Whatever is was, Charli XCX has probably got you beat. She created a brand spanking new album with her fans and associates while being locked away. It may not be mind-blowing, but it’s quite good and sets the bar high for those who follow in her wake. How I’m Feeling Now captures the frustrations and pleasures of confinement with a feisty attitude. Her spirits are high, even when she feels low. There is something compellingly animated about the project as a whole. Charli XCX’s exuberance may seem forced at times, but her determination gets her through to the other side of the pandemic.
Ten of the 11 songs on Charli XCX’s latest record were written, recorded, and produced during our recent, self-imposed captivity, and they bash on the walls of our shared detention. From the very beginning, she uses her pent up energy to express her personality. The album begins with “Pink Diamond” which sets the mood with a dance floor beat, squeaky synths, and affected vocals. But then Charli XCX removes the gauzy filters and declares in a clear voice, “I just want to bang real hard for days / I just want to feel in different ways / Every single night kinda feels the same / I’m a pink diamond / I need space.” That sets the tone for what follows, wanting to go out and party but stuck at home: songs about love and boredom as a way of dealing with the mad times in which we have found ourselves.
While Charli XCX reflects upon her past and speculates about the future, this is a record that expresses feelings more than thoughts. When she sings lines such as “I’m so uninspired”, she’s not thinking about mental stimulation. Her lament is that “I just wanna go to parties”. Who doesn’t these days? We all share her desire for social excitement. We all miss being together with other people and interacting as a group. The disco beats and loops assembled that accompany Charli XCX’s lyrics just make us yearn for the club.
There’s a generous informality to the 11 tracks that reveal the affection and impact of her fans, who helped her generate what shows up here. Charli XCX is no diva here, just that charismatic friend who wants you to share her vibe. That can be infectious, even when she’s erotic such as on “Claws” where she sings the phrase “I like I like I like I like” repeatedly instead of declaring some grander sentiment. Feeling good is good enough.
When Charli XCX has self-doubts, as on the explosive “detonate”, she coos her emotions as a way of improving her disposition (as a time bomb clicks in the background). The song is more playful than serious. Even when she sings about her “Enemy”, Charli XCX notes that the person (her lover) is also her best friend. In times of isolation, one can be too close. The problem may not be the other person in one’s life as much as the walls that surround us.
How I’m Feeling Now reveals Charli XCX has found a way to deal with her (our) situation creatively. “I finally understand, finally understand,” she croons over a catchy beat on the revelatory “I Finally Understand”. The inner self is more important than the barriers that divide us.