Although it may sound peculiar to those who aren’t familiar with her work, it came as no surprise to her supporters when Charli XCX announced she wanted to make an album from scratch during quarantine, in one month, not even one full year after releasing her self-titled third studio album. It’s no secret in the pop scene that XCX is one of the most prolific artists in the industry — she’s always busy, whether it be by collaborating with fellow musicians who are breaking the mold, producing the wildest live shows, managing a girl group, showing up in the cover of your favorite magazine or putting out music to feed her passionate fans.
On May 15th, the world received ‘how i’m feeling now’ — but in the month and eleven days before that, we got to be a part of the process. Charli explicitly said that this would be her most collaborative album and that she wanted to work with anyone that was willing to contribute to the process. That’s how, with many Zoom calls, Instagram lives and social media discussions — the album became a full experience where fans got to see the very inside of Charli’s creative process and make some decisions on the way as well.
Today, we can finally say that this project is fully ours to enjoy during these not-so-enjoyable times. The concept and story behind ‘how i’m feeling now,’ is definitely captivating to any music fan and its content certainly follows the same track.
- PINK DIAMOND
Charli XCX knows exactly how to set the tone for an album. ‘Pink Diamond’ is ‘Vroom Vroom’s little sister: the track makes you jump from your seat instantly, reminding you that while this project will have its reflective moments, we all need a little escapism.
In only 2 minutes and 4 seconds, this banger is a one-way door to a hyper-pop party where everyone’s king of the world. It exudes confidence from beginning to end — and it’s her way to disprove the old saying of “go hard or go home”: with ‘Pink Diamond,’ you can now do both. It is, without the lack of a better phrase, Next Level Charli.
‘Forever’ was the first taste the fans got from this era, being released only 3 days after the album announcement. This song is a letter written by Charli for her boyfriend, telling a tale of everlasting love. The production was in hands of AG Cook — head of the PC Music label, close friend and regular collaborator in the XCX world — and BJ Burton, who was heavily involved in the rest of the project. It’s explosive and surprisingly harmonic.
This single shows a vulnerable side of Charli, one that we have been able to see more and more in the past few years and it constitutes one of the only truly wholesomely romantic bits in her catalogue. Without a doubt, it is one of the strongest singles she’s ever put out.
Right when we thought ‘Forever’ couldn’t possibly get more emotional, XCX released a music video filled with thousands of clips that her fans from all over the world submitted, with a very personal look into their daily lives — in which yours truly appears for about a second, if I may brag. Although the video is simply a compilation of moments from the past and present of people who don’t know each other, the end result sent a beautiful and much-needed message: we’ll get through this and we’ll do it together.
It makes perfect sense that ‘Claws’ is the follow-up to ‘Forever’ on this album: the track has similar intentions to its predecessor — but as the opposite side of the same coin, it’s way more mindless and innocent, with a hook that recites “I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you” in a way that’s simple but quite relatable to anyone that has ever felt butterflies in their stomach.
‘Claws’ was produced by Dylan Brady of the ecstatic group ‘100 gecs,’ who’s never afraid to have fun, experiment and make one hell of an earworm. It may not be the strongest track on the project, but it shines in its euphoric way and sets itself as a perfect at-home summer anthem.
4. 7 YEARS
Charli is back on a reflective mindset with ‘7 years,’ but she’s not leaving the fiery sonic atmosphere behind. This is one of the few moments on the album where the lyrics take the stage, front and center.
The sheer existence of ‘7 years’ is proof of Charli XCX’s uniqueness. Most musicians would’ve instantly thought about a song with these lyrics as a ballad, with a piano and some violins — but this one’s no Lukas Graham: the production, on all its A.G. Cook glory, has a way of working around with harmonies and ad-libs that makes it much more captivating. Overall, the fourth track on this record is a nostalgic, lovely anthem to sing at the top of your lungs while reminiscing.
‘Detonate’ kicks off with a Nintendo-y beat and some glitchy background vocals, swiftly transitioning into a relaxed chorus where vocals are accompanied by autotune but sound as real and raw as ever. Cook’s most highlightable work on this track is the vocal manipulation, which stops the song from becoming repetitive after its second verse.
‘Detonate’ is one of the most sincere moments on ‘how i’m feeling now.’ It stands out due to its non-confident manner, which differs from most of the work that characterizes Charli — once again, the artist is, perhaps unintentionally, proving how vulnerable she can be in her songs. This is a 3-minute-and-a-half statement about the artist’s insecurities and fears and it adds to the narrative behind the album, the “from me, to you” factor that drove its making. This mindset is the same one that made ‘February 2017’ one of the standouts on her previous project and it’s safe to say it’s worked once again.
The sixth track on this project plays on the common phrase “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” with Charli commenting on the fact that her attachment to her boyfriend could be detrimental to her if he were to ever turn on her.
Production wise, ‘Enemy’ is nowhere near the rest when it comes to uniqueness. However, its lyrics and vocal delivery make it another perfect moment of vulnerability sang directly from the soul. The versatility of this project is not uncommon to the rest of Charli’s catalogue, but it’s a great testament to the environment and the context of its creation — she’s currently quarantined with her boyfriend, completely unable to go outside and party, forced to live with a mind that’s working overtime. The fact that Charli created this piece and shared with the world is a true sign of her genuineness: one of the factors that have taken her to the place where she is today as an artist.
7. I FINALLY UNDERSTAND
‘I finally understand’ continues the path of the previous three-way punch of reflective songs, marking the end of the narrative that explains the journey that Charli and her boyfriend have gone through — and fortunately, our hyper-pop princess gets her happy ending.
This bouncy track was produced by Palmistry, as their first ever collaboration. The beat has subtle Garage influences, which makes it feel quite fresh, especially in the context of the album. While it does drift away from the previously heard aggressiveness, it remains infectious and cooperates with the album’s cohesion while opening a door for Charli to dive into similar sounds in the future.
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🌼 i finally understand 🌼 out now 🌼 next official artwork by @polygon1993 🌼 currently speaking to @zanelowe on @applemusic to talk about the meaning behind the song and basically how I’m feeling now (listen at the link on my story) 🌼 the past week has been stressful, with real emotional highs and lows. i feel like you guys have been with me the entire time. thank u for being so supportive. i am eternally grateful for all of you and for the fact that I am able to continue making music and doing what I love during this time. I’m aware that my situation is very lucky 🌼 i hope you’re all staying safe and happy and connected, keep checking on eachother and looking out for your friends and family 🌼 love you all 🌼
When Charli XCX released her self-titled studio album last year, ‘Click’ instantly became a fan favorite due to its insane production with an iconic outro and cooler-than-thou lyrics. For this album, she’s bringing us the sequel titled ‘C2.0.’ This track kicks off reciting a line sung by Kim Petras in the original track: “I’m next level, so legit with all my clique” — after some repetition, those vocals turn to the back of the song and they’re heard until the very end.
Once Charli takes the stage, the song turns into an ode to friendship. During the pandemic, lots of us can’t help but look at pictures and videos from when we used to hang out with our friends — and this track is a perfect representation of that. While ‘Click’ has a bragging spirit, ‘C2.0’ completely avoids the materialistic aspect and has a more personal approach about longing to re-live the moments of pure enjoyment. That itself is a reflection of how things have changed and our priorities have completely switched after our world was turned upside down.
9. PARTY 4 U
Charli’s fans – or Angels, as she likes to call them — completely flipped out when they find out this song would be included on the album, since it has been played live many times by A.G. Cook but had never seen an official release. We can now officially say that it was worth the wait.
‘Party 4 u’ is conceptually different from the rest of the record, as the artist sings about throwing a party for somebody that never arrives, a metaphor for unrealized expectations and the feeling of heartbreak after giving your all to somebody who won’t do the same for you. This is one of the more beautiful tracks on ‘how I’m feeling now,’ from the soft melodies, the versatile production and the vocal delivery, to its perfect flow.
The word ‘party’ is said at least 100 times in 5 minutes in this song. The repetitive aspect of this song is not unheard of in Charli’s catalogue: we’ve witnessed it in tracks like ‘I Got It’ and ‘Shake It’ in the past —and while it may seem minor, her ability to use repetition in a way that sounds anything but lazy is remarkable. She knows exactly how to grab a word, a phrase, a hook, or an ad-lib and plaster it all over a song to make it unforgettably unique — this creativity-driven skill constitutes another one of the qualities that make her a brilliant artist.
‘Anthems’ is the ultimate quarantine hymn. The 10th track on this album kicks off after the applause and chants at the end of ‘party 4 u,’ making it a perfect encore where the ecstatic Charli comes back to make everybody start jumping again. The message of the song is clear: we miss real life, especially the small details that made it exciting.
The production, on the hands of Dylan Brady and Danny L. Harle, is simply outstanding and made for a quality electronic banger. While the lyrics exude a feeling that is definitely real to Charli due to her everlasting passion for partying, this is a collective anthem about our desire to break our routines and go back to the experiences that made our serotonin blast off — which is supported by the fact that some parts of this song were written with fans on an Instagram Live. It is undeniably a shame that we cannot go outside and blast this in the club, but it’s a damn good song to dance at home to and release some pressure.
‘Visions’ is the epilogue to the story about Charli and her boyfriend told in the first half of the album, a look into their future in a lucid-dreaming style. It was produced by Cook and Burton, the two who were the most involved in the sonic side of the project. The beat starts off soft and slowly builds up to an epic rave-like breakdown that we can add to the collection of details that made ‘how i’m feeling now‘ an album that nobody else could’ve been close to achieving. The pulsating beat heard at the very end of this track was the perfect way to end the crazy trip that Charli took the listeners into for a total of 37 minutes.
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how i’m feeling now 🤍 the new album out now link in bio longest caption ever: heres an outtake from the album shoot. all these pics were taken by @huckkwong 🤍 i just wanna take a second to say a huge thank u to all the people involved in the making of this album. this project was a total head rush; exhilarating & emotional from start to finish. i don’t think i’ve ever made an album in such a whirlwind where i’ve been so open & felt so constantly inspired & energized throughout. firstly thank you to all my fans for your constant support & generosity. your ideas & fingerprints are all over this album as much as mine. i couldn’t have done this without u. hugeeee thank you to @agcook404 & @beejburton for being the best & most inspiring producers in the world. working with both of you is a dream. i’ve loved every second. you’re both so ahead & fearless & totally understand & care about my vision. thank u to @dijondijon_ @dylanbrady @dannylharle @jimestack @eliteplin @palmistry_globe 🤍 @geoff_swan thank u for pulling a 36 hour all nighter & absolutely nailing every single mix! thank u @jedskrzypczak for ur impeccable taste & your cool calm head in the face of my ridiculous requests & last minute ideas. thank u to all visual artists involved in this project: @sethbogartofficial @carolineplz @regards_coupables @naked_cherry @tmthy.luke @cwynars @polygon1993 @jonemmony @allisonzuckerman @dan.streit @angelasteps @studionari @charlie__chops & @daniedegrasse. thank u @bradleyandpablo for spying on me from afar (more on that later). thank u @huxley & @beautifuldigital for all ur hard work & expertise. thank u @brandoncreed for being our overlord & leader and to all the team at @atlanticrecords for trusting me & going with it! only fast releases from now on!! finally thank you to @sampringle @kvrowley & of course @huckkwong who i love endlessly. the 3 of you have been isolated with me, woken up to my stresses, panic attacks, hysteria & breakdowns but have still rallied around me and come to my rescue whenever i needed it. i am so proud of us & can’t wait for our 4 person rave tonight. 🤍 love you all, enjoy this album 🤍
It seems very hard to encapsulate in words how important Charli XCX’s contributions to the pop scene are. Whether people are aware of it or not, she is constantly breaking the mold and exceeding expectations. With six projects released in seven years, her sound has constantly evolved and always brings something completely fresh to the table. Every time Charli sets the bar higher and introduces her audience to new concepts and sounds, she’s also evolving as an artist and telling new stories.
In ‘how i’m feeling now,’ Charli is more mature, vulnerable and raw than ever. With so many manufactured artists out there, the fact that she was able to create this in a few days over a month, not being able to meet up with anyone and clearly not looking for commercial success, but for the creation of a gift to her fans and to herself is living proof that she is as authentic as it gets — and she’s completely unstoppable. It is undeniable that Charli is inspiring a generation of artists and fans, not only with her music but also with her constant desire to be productive and work with her skills to improve and show the world what she’s here for.
This pandemic will eventually end and quarantine will be no longer part of our daily vocabularies. It is safe to assume that to everyone who’s a fan of ‘how i’m feeling now‘ along with those who were a part of the process as well, that this album will always be a product of its time, forever attached to unforgettable feelings. No matter what, it will surely go down in Charli’s history as a breakthrough moment that proved everyone she’s here to stay and conquer.
Featured Image by Huck Kwong/Atlantic Records.