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Isolation and quarantine in ‘How I’m Feeling Now’

English pop singer and songwriter Charli XCX released her fourth studio album, “How I’m Feeling Now” in May 2020, an 11-track culmination of Charli’s explosive and ever-evolving pop sound. 

This experimental concept album serves as a snapshot of Charli’s feelings during the period of quarantine while also showcasing a blip of positive collaboration during such a despairing time period. To this day, it remains a cornerstone of the unconventional and distinct subgenre of music known as hyperpop.

Charli’s previous release in September 2019, “Charli,” was met with critical acclaim, with one of the most praised aspects being the stellar production. The previous album was already a tough act to follow, but circumstances surrounding her next album would end up defining the theme of “How I’m Feeling Now.” From concept to production, the album is distorted and chaotic but also quite an engaging listen, remaining as one of Charli’s most uniquely impressive projects in her catalog.

2020 was a rather tumultuous year for music, largely due to the worldwide lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic. Artists worldwide were forced to cancel planned tours, delay releases of music projects, and shut down studio production as everyone was encouraged to stay inside. Charli XCX, to the surprise of fans and other artists, used this period to record and produce an entire new album in a matter of just six weeks. 

The opening track, “pink diamond” comprises industrial and experimental pop sounds, immediately giving the album a claustrophobic feel. The feeling of being trapped in quarantine with nowhere to go, no one to meet, and only being able to socialize through a computer or phone screen permeates throughout the entire opener. The lyrics “Every single night kinda feels the same; I’m a pink diamond, I need space” are not only relatable to the average person during this time period but can also be interpreted as feelings of general social anxiety and isolation. 

During the album’s production, Charli live-streamed the creation process to thousands of fans who were stuck at home and hosted various polls for fans to vote on which beats would be remixed for the album. This collaboration process proved to be a highly successful endeavor, as Charli cited it as one of her absolute favorite music projects she’s worked on. Tracks like “claws” feature collaborative production by producer Dylan Brady, while the track “c2.0” remixes the beat off of the track “Click” from Charli’s previous album. 

Feelings of isolation and lovesickness are also present in tracks such as “7 years,” “enemy” and “i finally understand,” which are layered with distorted experimental pop beats that contrast with Charli’s high-energy vocal performance.

“How I’m Feeling Now” holds up even three years after its initial release, with its distinctly harsh yet pristinely produced sound helping it stand out from not only other pop records but even within Charli XCX’s discography. The project succeeds as both a snapshot of the 2020 quarantine period and general feelings of caged isolation, making for a very engaging listening experience. 

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