At first, the COVID-19 pandemic seemed like the beginning of the end. Shows were postponed momentarily, then indefinitely. It wasn't long before musical heavyweights whose highly anticipated releases coincided with the virus's outbreak also retreated, relenting that their success relied on traditional rollouts that included live shows. The music industry was hurting.
Though, within weeks a renewed sense of hope emerged. When pushed into a corner, artists transform, adapt, and remerge better than before.
So when Charli XCX announced she would be releasing an album, the first to be entirely recorded in self-isolation on May 15, it was clear that a new chapter in music had begun. How I'm Feeling Now started as a concept, one that would be chronicled through multiple Zoom calls with fans over six weeks. But nothing was planned or even certain. At one point, Charli confessed she had only finished two songs with just one week left until the release date.
It was a DIY-project through and through, with the added feature of an all-access pass to the treacherous album recording process. Charli invited fans to vote on which images should be used for singles, co-wrote the verse for Anthems on Instagram live, and requested clips to be featured in the video for Forever.
Executive produced by A.G. Cook and BJ Burton, the album is brimming with sparkly electro-pop bangers. Most of all, it is underscored by deep chaos, emotion, and anger that only those living through this pandemic could understand. Above anything else, it's a time capsule of a moment in time that will never be forgotten.
The record captures 2020’s heightened state of worry, dullness, and longing. Designed by a community with Charli at its helm, How I'm Feeling Now is the digital, lonely, and scrappy encapsulation of a global mood.
since releasing my album last week i’ve been in quite a fragile state. i suppose i was so caught up in making and releasing this album, a process that more often than not takes months, sometimes years to complete, that i really ignored my mental health and emotional needs. ignored is maybe not the right word, perhaps pushed aside is a better phrase. i was so focused on pushing myself, finishing my work and distracting myself from the actuality of the current state of the world that now i’ve come out the other side i feel very lost, overwhelmed and fragile. it seems i am unable to cope with even the most minuscule tasks without crumbling into panic or tears and i constantly doubt myself and my purpose. i think it’s hit me so hard at this point in time because i have just let go of this body of work that was created in such an intense and emotional way, more so than anything i’ve ever made before. i feel like i’m left staring out into the abyss thinking, what was the point? do enough people care? why do i always want more? somehow, after a soaring high, i always seem to end up in an excruciatingly low place - this is something i’m really trying to work on. i’m updating you on how i’m feeling because i want to be open and honest with you and i want to let you know that if you’re feeling emotionally volatile or a bit lost and confused right now - it’s ok. it happens to everyone and you should not feel weak or guilty or wrong, and you should definitely not start comparing yourself to others. i’ve done all of the above, when really all i needed to do was forgive myself and take a day to be calm and breathe and relax: that’s what i’m doing today. call your friends, read a book, open the window, watch your favorite film, eat yummy food, dance around, do what you want - just don’t put pressure on yourself. this process has brought me closer to you guys than ever before, and it’s also begun to show me the importance of really listening to myself and my needs without letting guilt get the better of me. i am extremely grateful for both of these things
However, our moods are also erratic. One minute we're hopeful and the next full of dread. For times we're feeling a little of the former, there is Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber's Stuck At Home. The glossy pop single has wound up becoming an anthem for the times. The music video features clips of fans dancing and singing in their homes, interpolated with videos of Grande lounging her bedroom with her dog, while Bieber canoodles with his wife, Hailey Bieber. It's a saccharine take on the quarantine bop, but it has enough heart.
Moments like Phone Sex by St Pedro, a Latin R&B singer, offer vignettes of self-isolation, especially for young lovers quarantining alone. While Snow Tha Product's Nowhere To Go (Quarantine Love) is a romantic albeit realistic reminder that everyone's schedules are way too empty right now.
Meanwhile, hip-hop takes on the pandemic span Lil Tjay's diaristic salvo, Ice Cold where he laments the state of the world to Young Thug, Gunna and Turbo's Quarantine Clean, a reminder of rappers' impressive ability to turn the simplest of things into a flex. "Yeah, I'm quarantine clean, so relaxed (Relaxed)," is the mellifluous hook on the catchy hip-hop hit.
More than ever before, music feels like a communal experience. As the days continue to blur into one, most of us do what we can to stay active, eat healthily, save money, keep our heads above water, and pay our rent. Life has become a series of contingency plans, workout routines, and breathing exercises but the reminder that we're not alone makes it a little easier.
Whether you're listening to Charli XCX or just annoying your neighbours by playing Quarantine Clean on repeat, there is a sense of comfort knowing that we'll get through this together.