All bets are off when it comes to releasing music in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Artists, like Dua Lipa and Laura Marling, have pulled album release dates forward to provide some much-needed comfort while others, like Sam Smith and Lady Gaga, have delayed projects indefinitely. Charli XCX, on the other hand, is deciding to do things in a completely different way, using the social isolation period to her advantage.
Earlier this week, Charli revealed that she would be releasing an album How I’m Feeling Now on 15th May. The only problem, she hasn’t made it yet. The British pop singer who is currently holed up in her LA home was due to release the follow-up to Charli this year but she’s scrapped that material for the moment in favour of a record that she’s going to make from scratch.
I AM MAKING A NEW ALBUM. RELEASE DATE MAY 15TH. WORKING TITLE: HOW I’M FEELING NOW pic.twitter.com/m66Y1K24Zd
— Charli (@charli_xcx) April 6, 2020
She’s no stranger to making and releasing projects quickly as her one-two-punch of mixtapes in 2017 proved, but this is a different game altogether. Charli has pledged to let her fans watch her make the album in real-time. Since Monday, she’s been sharing demos, lyrics and possible melodies with fans on social media. She’s also sharing the collaborator list as they come in, revealing that BJ Burton and A.G. Cook will be on production while 100 Gecs have also joined the gang. Over the past week, we’ve watched first song Forever come together in front of our eyes.
Forever (demo) snippet ?? pic.twitter.com/kbKARFyB1p
— CHARLI XCX UPDATES (@FckyeahCharli) April 7, 2020
On Instagram, she’s been sharing DMs from fans suggesting things like a PC Music version of old song Interior to ballads using the same high-pitched vocal techniques from Charli’s Thoughts. Charli isn’t the first artist to give her fans an insight into the creative process of an album but there’s something different about this one - it feels truly real-time. This isn’t a YouTube video of cut-together behind-the-scenes footage. It’s front row and it’s live.
Since Charli has been in self-isolation, she’s been using livestreams to connect with fans. She’s hosted sessions with Diplo, Tove Lo, Rita Ora and more on Instagram and also DJ’d for Zoom clubs like Club Quarantine. She noted that she’s realised creativity fuels her positivity and she’s using this time to push things forward rather than put them on hold. It seems those steps have led to her traversing the uncharted waters of a real-time album.
As self-isolation has shown most, we’ve had the tools to make livestreaming and real-time connection an integral part of our lives for a while. It’s forced people, however, to fully embrace and explore the possibilities. Lipa, for example, had to consider a very different album rollout that saw her connecting with fans on Zoom and Instagram Live. In many ways, it felt like a much more intimate way of learning about the record than a highly-curated press piece.
It’s somewhat interesting that Charli is the first major artist to make an album in front of her fans on social media. Everyone from rappers to DIY pop artist are churning out albums at a speed fast enough to keep fans involved for the entire process. Artists are also very used to sharing a vast amount of their lives online but when it comes to albums it’s hush-hush. We’re often aware an artist is working on an album but the process is kept on lockdown until an official announcement. Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Adele and more are all masters of secrecy when it comes to this.
Music releases have been revolutionised thanks to streaming but it seems that the platforms have encouraged secrecy and surprise drops, rather than more vivid insights into releases. There’s no right or way wrong way to encourage creativity. Many artists would likely feel stifled by the pressure of having fans breathing down their necks during the creation of an album, particularly in an era of increasing digital greed. It’s exciting, however, that Charli is using a period setting the music industry backward to explore something that could push it forward.
By announcing a date, she’s already opened herself to fan criticism if she doesn’t make it, but the fact they’re along for the ride might ease that. They’ll understand what went wrong or why it’s delayed because they’re involved. The only other big pop artist to partially try this out was Ariana Grande who announced she was working on thank u, next long before it was finished. Fans were treated to sneaky snippets along the way but the updates ultimately slowed as the album was polished. Charli has promised more transparency than Grande, meaning there’s likely nowhere to hide should she feel the need to retreat and finish it.
In 2015, PJ Harvey pledged to record her new album in front of a live studio audience. She was encased in a box in Somerset House in London where museum watchers could come and see her create songs from scratch. Technically, it offers similar transparency to what Charli is offering. The physicality, however, means it’s unlikely a fan will stay for the entire thing making it more of an art experiment. The online aspect of Charli’s experiment means eager fans can be with her live or catch up later on. Once the album drops, fans will have their own footnotes for how every song came to be.
The mystery of music may be shattered but the mystique surrounding popstars died long ago. We’re about to find out whether mystery and music should go hand in hand after all.
which pic for “forever” artwork? 1, 2 or 3? comment below... pic.twitter.com/5783jWOT2U
— Charli (@charli_xcx) April 8, 2020