Charli XCX was officially declared the “savior of pop” by music blogs and pop connoisseurs everywhere after she shook the globe with two highly-acclaimed mixtapes, “Number 1 Angel” and “Pop 2” with bubbly sludge production by SOPHIE and A.G. Cook from the PC Music collective. In September of 2019 she released a full-length album, “Charli,” and now she’s back to reflect on her life during lockdown with a new record, “how i’m feeling now.” The album tackles a wide range of issues in her life, such as romance, isolation, anxiety, and the trials she’s facing while she’s stuck at home with her significant other.
In true Charli fashion, the album opens with a brisk, hard-hitting industrial beat with ear-splitting synths on “pink diamond.” With production by alternative R&B artist Dijon, Charli hits the listener over the head with her effortless flow and charisma. “forever” and the Dylan Brady-produced “claws” are both inventive love songs that have tonal similarities. However, “claws” is more of a look inside her brain during the honeymoon phase of a relationship where everything feels new and there’s still an edge of uncertainty, whereas on “forever” she’s unwavering and confident in her dedication to her partner and is ready to dive headfirst into commitment.
Lyrically, Charli always has the upper hand. Throughout the album she maintains her signature blend of stabbing confessions on tracks like “detonate” (“Switch your faith and leave you so low/Hurt me, know you’ll never hurt me”), and the witty, playful jabs on songs like “7 years” (“Oh yeah, I really, really love you for life/Without the Holy matrimony, I’m wife”) that are always done with a wink. One of the biggest reasons people flock to Charli so easily is because she’s a creative thinker who never takes herself too seriously, and those aspects of her personality shine through in her lyrics.
One of the main themes on the album, aside from Charli’s relationship, is the juxtaposition of her life in quarantine with her regular life, which often involves touring and frequently going to raves. “party 4 u,” is a song that tackles the painful yearning to see somebody who isn’t in the same place as her, which was written in 2017. However, looking at the current state of the world, the song seems to have aged fairly well.
On “enemy” Charli opens up about her hesitance to let people in due to fear that it would give them the power to hurt her the most. The interlude is a recording of a phone conversation she had after a therapy session, laced with raw and unfiltered emotion. “I kept thinking about how if you can have someone so close to you, does that mean that one day they could become your biggest enemy? They’d have the most ammunition,” she stated in an interview with Apple Music. On “i finally understand,” Charli sings about the the emotional highs and lows that being stuck at home brings, along with sleek pop production by Palmistry and A.G. Cook
“c2.0” is a somber follow-up to her most-recent track with frequent collaborator Kim Petras, “Clique,” with a section of Kim’s verse on the initial track (“I’m next level so legit with all my clique-clique-clique, yeah”) looped throughout the song and pitched up to a cartoon level. The lyrics go, “My clique running through my mind like a rainbow/I miss them every night,” which shows her giving a nod to her adoring fanbase, collaborators, and comrades in the LGBTQ+ community. “The community that I’m surrounded by has always been the LGBTQ+ community… that is a community that has embraced who I truly am and made me feel less afraid to be myself,” she stated in an interview with the Fader last September.
“anthems” is a power-pop banger that she wrote about feeling stifled by lockdown regulations, wishing for a night out to blow off steam. “I get existential and so strange/I hear no sounds when I’m shouting/I just wanna go to parties/Up high, wanna feel the heat from all the bodies,” she sings. These are visceral lyrics that bring to light a universal desperation to turn off your brain.
When it comes to closing out an album, Charli is no stranger to ending on a note of sorrow and discombobulation, and the final track, “visions,” perfectly captures that tone. The initial part of the song has lyrics that deconstruct the impossibility of knowing where she’s headed after this record, and at the very end the song is catapulted into a polarizing beat-switch that carries the listener off into an uncertain future with dark, menacing synths that are abruptly cut off.
Charli XCX is leading the charge, pushing pop forward along with Robyn, Kim Petras, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Her expert songwriting, innovative sound always makes for the perfect album that adds so many layers to pop. With everything she’s managed to achieve in the past year, it’s quite clear that this is Charli’s world and we are all just here along for the ride.