Charli XCX does not make music for the quieter moments of life. She got her start in the London rave scene as a teenager and her live shows have remained sweaty, loud, and exuberant throughout her career. Her music is best served with a side of strobe lights and sneakers so you never have to stop jumping along. The queen of electro party pop seems an unlikely figure to be spearheading the music of social distancing during a moment where most of us are listening to music exclusively in earbuds where the days of dancing with friends and strangers in a club are a distant memory.
But Charli is also highly literate in the ecosystem of the internet and places a high value on creative collaboration. In a little more than a month, she created a full-length album entitled, how I’m feeling now while isolated in her Los Angeles home, letting her legion of fans shape every contour of the process.
On April 6th, Charli announced on a Zoom call that she would be producing a new album to drop on May 15th. The call hit the thousand-user capacity within seconds. Since then, her Instagram posts (over sixty since the announcement) have become windows for fans to see into the production process and offer their own feedback. She asked fans to vote on their favorite shots from her camera roll; then, she requested fan-made interpretations of the photos to be cover art for singles. She posted texts with collaborators like A.G. Cook and Dylan Brady of 100 gecs. She hosted Instagram lives where she played early versions of tracks and edited them in real-time based on her followers’ feedback. She released a music video for the first single, “forever,” composed entirely of fan footage and dropped a line of merch to benefit the LA Alliance.
Charli has created and released more in a month than many pop stars can manage in a year, and she has been open with her fans about the pressure of a quick turnaround. Ten days before the album release, she announced that six songs were in the process of being mixed and three to four were little more than ideas; she wanted to have a tracklist of eleven by release time. Though the time crunch seemed impossible to overcome to her followers, on May 13th, Charli posted a final tracklist eleven songs strong and announced a book to accompany the album that would showcase fan art and writing alongside her own.
Most pop albums are announced with a developed aesthetic in mind, a rehearsed narrative to accompany the album in press interviews, a slew of photoshoots and red carpet appearances to reinforce the visuals, and of course, a tour. how I’m feeling now is a pop album in real-time, announced before a single track had been fully written. It has no guiding narrative but the present moment and is more interested in being an evangelist for the possibilities of distanced collaboration than parading Charli’s own aesthetics or talent.
When how i’m feeling now emerges from its fragments as a fully-formed record, it will be the most “present” pop album in recent memory. Listeners will hear tracks that aren’t being released in spite of the pandemic; they only exist because of it. Charli has opened the door to a new artist-to-fan dynamic and stretched the notion of “authenticity” in pop music to its limits.
The entertainment industry is upside-down in every direction, and only time will tell what trends persist post-pandemic and what will end up being a passing fad. But perhaps the traditional relationship between artist and fan will grow more intimate and the life cycle of an album will become more fluid. Artists like Charli XCX who continue to revolutionize in the digital space are laying the foundation for a more innovative pop genre, even when life returns to “normal” and fans can experience Charli’s music in the club again.
how i’m feeling now is available to stream now.