equality factor: a collaborative masterpiece of instinctive creative expression
producer: BJ Burton, A. G. Cook & Charli XCX
artistic collaborations: Kim Petras, Palmistry, Caroline Polachek
based in: Los Angeles, CA
Today, the queen of futuristic pop and quarantine creativity - of course, Charli XCX - released "how I'm feeling now", an album conceived, written, and recorded entirely at the artist's home in Los Angeles. This fourth (home) studio of an album by UK-born singer Charlotte Emma Aitchison, is more than just the brainchild of a cutting-edge artist. It also captures the zeitgeist of unstoppable artistic expression in times of COVID-19.
"I’m gonna use this isolation time to make a brand new album from scratch"
Charli announced on her social media in late March, as self-isolation and quarantine first began to shape the daily lives of people around the world. And so she did: less than two months after first announcing a new album was in the making, the LA-based music powerhouse dropped the 11 track-long "how I'm feeling now"."The nature of this album is gonna be very indicative of the times, just because I’m only gonna be able to use the tools that I have at my fingertips to create all music, all artwork, videos, everything. In that sense, it will be very ‘DIY.’", she explains.
Just as unusual as its conception period was the album's production process. Charli wrote song lyrics in her notebook, messaging back and forth with fellow artists and friends, then recorded them in her home studio. She hosted Zoom listening parties for her fans, filmed regular updates of the creative process for IGTV. Her co-quarantining boyfriend Huck Kwong took all photos that were used for cover artwork within the comfort of their residence, simply on an iPhone. In order to make the process as collaborative and open as possible, Charli often photos she considered for cover art on her Instagram feed, letting people vote for a song title - and even which song to release next - in the respective comments.
The first release of "how I'm feeling now", the auto-tune heavy ballad "Forever", saw the light of day on April 12th. Like the majority of the album's tracks, it is dedicated to Charli's long-term boyfriend Kwong. For the music video, Charli XCX asked fans and friends to record and submit clips of happy moments of their lives, which editor Dan Streit expertly transformed into a heartwarming journey around the world.
In times like these, when many people feel isolated and disconnected from their closest friends and family, Charli created the opportunity to be part of something fun and creative. A simple idea with a great impact.
"This video makes me cry when i watch it... particularly the crowd shots at the end of the video."
"Forever" was quickly followed by another colorful, poppy electro-love song: "Claws". The music video is core Charli: dorky, colorful, weirdly sexy, and pure fun. Recorded in her LA residence and enhanced with the help of a green screen and trippy animations, Charli XCX again showcased an outpouring of creativity, not letting isolation and missing tools stop her from having fun and expressing herself. Whether you are a fan of Charli's heavily edited vocals or futuristic electro-melodies - this video is guaranteed to make you smile. It might also make you want to listen to the song ten times in a row in your living room - at least it did for me.
In addition to a fun visual, Charli again provided the opportunity to be part of the album's creative process by releasing the raw green screen footage for fans to play around with.
The album's last pre-release single was the danceable "I finally understand", on which Charli XCX openly addresses vulnerability, accepting love, and her mental health. It ties in with the overall themes of the album: finding love, personal struggles - and the emotional response to the global pandemic. Looking at the overall tracklist of "how i'm feeling now", two songs in particular address the omnipresent struggle of everyone who has been self-isolating for the past months: "c2.0" and "anthems". "c2.0", complete with songwriting credits by Tommy Cash, and backing vocals by pop princess Kim Petras, is the extension and nostalgic reflection upon "Click", a wild party song of Charli's 2019 album. As opposed to flaunting the party lifestyle of her clique, Charli now longingly looks back at and forward to spending time with her friends - something most of us will be able to relate to.
"I want anthems late nights, my friends, New York, Finally, when it's over, We might be even closer".
- Lyrics from "anthems"
On Anthems, a strong pop song that immediately gained an overwhelmingly positive response from fans on social media, Charli addresses her conflicted feelings about self-isolation due to COVID-19. She openly talks about her insecurities, anxiety,, and being grateful for her partner's support. Whether listeners are a fan of Charli's intense signature sound - heavily edited, futuristic electro-pop - or not, all of us will be able to resonate with one or more aspects of "how i'm feeling now". It touches upon a long list of topics that are relevant in times like these: anxiety, gratitude, longing for change, isolation, the desire to dance, and many more.
It gave fans the opportunity to both witness and be part of a unique creative process, unlike any albums before this. It reminds us: this too shall pass, and we might come out of it even better, and closer to our loved ones than before.
Often without makeup, openly addressing her mental health status, and how she's feeling now (get it?), Charli XCX easily positioned herself as one of the most relatable artists of 2020 with this quarantine-created album. "how i'm feeling now" is both an album and a collaborative therapy session for Charli and her fans - and her boundlessly creative songwriting and producing efforts are just the cherry on top. Next to this, Charli also announced that "all merch sales will go to the charity LA Alliance, who have been instrumental in advocating for the homeless community in Los Angeles ongoing and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic".
"I couldn’t have made this album without you! This process has introduced me to new work & I’m so grateful for that."
To summarize, we applaud Charli XCX for channelling her struggles and visions into a raw and relatable project that is sonically fun and enjoyable, and lyrically moving and vulnerable. As an empowered female, she is not afraid to play with new tools and transform her weaknesses into something powerful. She openly addresses her sexuality and mental health issues, setting an example for unafraid women of the 21st century. Finally, Charli XCX convinced one of the most powerful labels of the musical world, Warner, to give her a wild card to spontaneously write, record, and produce an entire album. If this is not empowerment - what is?