When lockdowns began to go into effect around the world in early March, artists who had planned to release albums stalled their plans. Lady Gaga pushed back the release of Chromatica, Sam Smith canned his To Die For record and HAIM delayed Women In Music P.III until the summer. At the time, it was uncertain how long this was going to last. Now, it’s still uncertain but it’s certain that it’s a marathon not a sprint. Musicians are learning how to promote virtually and Gaga and HAIM have re-set dates for their albums.
Charli XCX, on the other hand, jumped the gun early. She stalled plans for an album she was working on and instead decided to create one from scratch. In front of the world. In six weeks. Charli fans know that she’s a fast creator but it’s another thing to set yourself a deadline with no finished songs and put the process in front of your fans. Instead of pausing the music, Charli hit play. And then hit record on Zoom, Instagram, Twitter and more.
Since announcing how i’m feeling now, Charli has made good on her promise for it to be a transparent process. She’s shared demos, lyric ideas, early track names and text messages with collaborators. At stages, fans have had their say on lyrics and even penned some of their own. She’s held herself accountable by checking in frequently with fans on social media. So much so, that fans had big opinions on the tracklist when it dropped, fighting for their favourites with the clips she’s shared locked in their heads.
Once again, Charli has re-imagined the way that a pop album can work. Most artists are transparent with sharing their lives now. We get to see their workouts, shopping, movie nights and more but when it comes to the music-making process, fans are locked out. With how i’m feeling now, observers got to watch it unfold in real time. And now, without delay, it’s arrived.
There’s a quote as old as time that you can’t rush perfection so what are you left with if you do rush? How i’m feeling now came together in six weeks as opposed to the months it took to make its predecessor Charli. It’s what she wanted though. The point was to put all those isolation feelings in a pressure cooker and see what eventuated. She’s been overjoyed, loved-up, stressed, bored and anxious in the period. We’ve seen it as she’s been creating the album but now we get to hear it all together. It’s not perfect but that’s the point.
This is a distinctly lo-fi album. It crunches and crushes in places we’ve never heard before with producers from A.G. Cook to Palmistry bringing a purposeful grit to the table. It doesn’t sound like it could’ve been made outside of isolation because the emotions are solitary to the situation. Yearning for the club, for example, is not something a Charli album has ever housed before. Usually, the albums are made for the club. On Anthems, however, she sings, “I want late nights.” Once a throwaway line, it now carries extra weight, heightened by the rushing, anxious synth-work.
A lot of the songs on here are nostalgic for freedom but also feel like they’ll truly reach their potential once they’re played in the club once again. Party 4 U even ends with the distant murmurs of a crowd cheering. A song that’s essentially about being intimate with one person takes on a new life as the beat speeds up and begins to palpitate. This song is the only one written outside of isolation and under this new lens it takes on a new meaning.
The tail-end of the album is where all the party nostalgia lies. C2.0 is a glitchy re-work of Charli favourite Click and album closer Visions is like a trance version of Pop2’s Track10. The latter comes to a halting, disrupting finish as if we’re being whipped from a daydream.
Apart from Pink Diamond which has Charli declaring, “I just wanna go real hard,” the first part of the album zones into her relationship with her boyfriend. For potentially the first time ever Charli is writing straight-up love songs, the isolation only magnifying her intense feelings. Forever envisions the future only in the context of her relationships while claws is a vivid, sense-drawing depiction of their physical romance.
It’s the middle part of the album she really gets sentimental beginning with 7 Years. It’s a triumphant celebration of how far they’ve come with Charli describing some kind of magnetic force that always brings them back together. Detonate gets even dreamier, creating a safe haven in which she knows, “you’ll never hurt me.” A.G. Cook’s production on this is at its flourishing best with twinkling synths adding buoyancy.
The love-in becomes slightly darker on Enemy as she considers her giddy feelings as one that could destroy her. “Maybe you’re my enemy, know I’ve finally let you come a little close to me,” she sings. It’s interesting how her perspectives on the relationship change through the album - a direct result of writing an album in a short, intense period. We hear her safe, euphoric, scared and even horny throughout.
That’s perhaps the biggest success of how i’m feeling now. It’s a real-time train-of-thought. She doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight when it comes to fully understanding her feelings. Sure, Charli fleshed out fuller ideas like social anxiety (Gone) and locking down relationships (Official) but there’s something refreshing about hearing such an unhinged pop record. She’s succeeded in her promise to tell us exactly how she’s feeling now.