On April 6, 2020, Charli XCX announced through a Zoom call with fans that work would imminently begin on her fourth album. Thirty-nine days later, how I’m feeling now arrived.
“I haven’t really caught up with my feelings yet because it just happened so fast,” she tells Apple Music on the eve of the project’s release. “I’ve never opened up to this extent. There’s usually a period where you sit with an album and live with it a bit. Not here.”
The album is no lockdown curiosity. Energized by open collaboration with fans and quarantine arrangements at home in Los Angeles, Charli has fast-tracked her most complete body of work. The untamed pop blowouts are present and correct—all jacked up with relatable pent-up ferocity—but it’s the vulnerability that really shows off a pop star weaponizing her full talent.
“It’s important for me to write about whatever situation I’m in and what I know,” she says. “Before quarantine, my boyfriend and I were in a different place—physically we were distant because he lived in New York while I was in Los Angeles. But emotionally, we were different, too. There was a point before quarantine where we wondered, would this be the end? And then in this sudden change of world events we were thrown together—he moved into my place. It’s the longest time we’ve spent together in seven years of being in a relationship, and it’s allowed us to blossom.
It’s been really interesting recording songs that are so obviously about a person—and that person be literally sat in the next room. It’s quite full-on, let’s say.” Here, Charli talks us through the most intense and unique project of her life, track by track.
“Dua Lipa asked me to do an Apple Music interview for the At Home With series with her, Zane [Lowe], and Jennifer Lopez. Which is, of course, truly a quarantine situation. When am I going to ever be on a FaceTime with J. Lo? Anyway, on the call, J. Lo was telling this story about meeting Barbra Streisand, and Barbra talking to her about diamonds. At that time, J. Lo had just been given that iconic pink diamond by Ben Affleck. I instantly thought, ‘Pink Diamond is a very cute name for a song,’ and wrote it down on my phone. I immediately texted Dua afterwards and said, ‘Oh my god, she mentioned the pink diamond!’ A few days later, [LA-based R&B artist and producer] Dijon sent me this really hard, aggressive, and quite demonic demo called ‘Makeup On,’ and I felt the two titles had some kind of connection. I always like pairing really silly, sugary imagery with things that sound quite evil. It then became a song about video chatting—this idea that you’re wanting to go out and party and be sexy, but you’re stuck at home on video chat. I wanted it as the first track because I’m into the idea that some people will love it and some people will hate it. I think it’s nice to be antagonistic on track one of an album and really frustrate certain people, but make others really obsessive about what might come next.”
“I’m really, really lucky that I get to create and be in a space where I can do what I love—and times like the coronavirus crisis really show you how fortunate you are. They also band people together and encourage us to help those less fortunate. I was incredibly conscious of this throughout the album process. So it was important for me to give back, whether that be through charity initiatives with all the merch or supporting other creatives who are less able to continue with their normal process, or simply trying to make this album as inclusive as possible so that everybody at home, if they wish, could contribute or feel part of it. So, for example, for this song—having thousands of people send in personal clips so we could make the video is something that makes me feel incredibly emotional. This is actually one of the very few songs where the idea was conceived pre-quarantine. It came from perhaps my third-ever session with [North Carolina producer and songwriter] BJ Burton. The song is obviously about my relationship, but it’s about the moments before lockdown. It asks, ‘What if we don’t make it,’ but reinforces that I will always love him—even if we don’t make it.”
“My romantic life has had a full rebirth. As soon as I heard the track—which is by [New York artist, songwriter, and producer] Dylan Brady—I knew it needed to be this joyous, carefree honeymoon-period song. When you’re just so fascinated and adoring of someone, everything feels like this huge rush of emotion—almost like you’re in a movie. I think it’s been nice for my boyfriend to see that I can write positive and happy songs about us. Because the majority of the songs in the past have been sad, heartbreaking ones. It’s also really made him understand my level of work addiction and the stress I can put myself under.”
“This song is just about our journey as a couple, and the turbulence we’ve incurred along the way. It’s also about how I feel so peaceful to be in this space with him now. Quarantine has been the first time that I’ve tried to remain still, physically and mentally. It’s a very new feeling for me. This is also the first song that I’ve recorded at home since I was probably 15 years old, living with my parents. So it feels very nostalgic as it takes back to a process I hadn’t been through in over a decade.”
“So this was originally a track by [producer and head of record label PC Music] A. G. Cook. A couple of weeks before quarantine happened in the US, A. G. and BJ [Burton] met for the first and only time and worked on this song. It was originally sped up, and they slowed it down. Three or four days after that session, A. G. drove to Montana to be with his girlfriend and her family. So it’s quite interesting that the three of us have been in constant contact over the five weeks we made this album, and they’ve only met once. I wrote the lyrics on a day where I was experiencing a little bit of confusion and frustration about my situation. I maybe wanted some space. It’s actually quite hard for me to listen to this song because I feel like the rest of the album is so joyous and positive and loving. But it encapsulated how I was feeling, and it’s not uncommon in relationships sometimes.”
“A song based around the phrase ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ 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. I don’t actually think my boyfriend is someone who would turn on me if anything went wrong, but I was playing off that idea a little bit. As the song is quite fantasy-based, I thought that the voice memo was something that grounded the song. I had just got off the phone to my therapist—and therapy is still a very new thing for me. I only started a couple of weeks before quarantine, which feels like it has something to do with fate, perhaps. I’ve been recording myself after each session, and it just felt right to include it as some kind of real moment where you have a moment of self-doubt.”
i finally understand
“This one includes the line ‘My therapist said I hate myself real bad.’ She’s getting a lot of shout-outs on this album, isn’t she? I like that this song feels very different from anything I’ve ever explored. I’d always wanted to work with Palmistry [South London producer and artist Benjy Keating]—we have loads of mutual friends and collaborators—and I was so excited when my manager got an email from his team with some beats for me. This is a true quarantine collaboration in the sense that we’ve still never met and it purely came into being from him responding to things I’d posted online about this album.”
“A. G. sent me this beat at the end of last year called ‘Click 2.0’—which was an updated version of my song ‘Click’ from the Charli album. He had put it together for a performance he was doing with [US artist and former Chairlift member] Caroline Polachek. I heard the performance online and loved it, and found myself listening to it on repeat while—and I’m sorry, I know this is so cheesy—driving around Indonesia watching all these colors and trees and rainbows go by. It just felt euphoric and beautiful. Towards the end of this recording process, I wanted to do a few more songs and A. G. reminded me of this track. The original ‘Click’ features Tommy Cash and Kim Petras and is a very braggy song about our community of artists. It’s talking about how we’re the s**t, basically. But through this, it’s been transformed into this celebratory song about friendship and missing the people that you hang out with the most and the world that existed before.”
party 4 u
“This is the oldest song on the album. For myself and A. G., this song has so much life and story—we had played it live in Tokyo and somehow it got out and became this fan favorite. Every time we get together to make an album or a mixtape, it’s always considered, but it had never felt right before now. As small and silly as it sounds, it’s the time to give something back. Lyrically, it also makes some sense now as it’s about throwing a party for someone who doesn’t come—the yearning to see someone but they’re not there. The song has literally grown—we recorded the first part in maybe 2017, there are crowd samples now in the song from the end of my Brixton Academy show in 2019, and now there are recordings of me at home during this period. It’s gone on a journey. It kept on being requested and requested, which made me hesitant to put it out because I like the mythology around certain songs. It’s fun. It gives these songs more life—maybe even more than if I’d actually released them officially. It continues to build this nonexistent hype, which is quite funny and also definitely part of my narrative as an artist. I’ve suffered a lot of leaks and hacks, so I like playing with that narrative a little bit.”
“Well, this song is just about wanting to get f**ked up, essentially. I had a moment one night during lockdown where I was like, ‘I just want to go out.’ I mean, it feels so stupid and dumb to say, and it’s obviously not a priority in the world, but sometimes I just feel like I want to go out, blow off some steam, get f**ked up, do a lot of bad things, and wake up feeling terrible. This song is about missing those nights. When I first heard the track—which was produced by Dylan and [London producer] Danny L Harle—it immediately made me want to watch [2012 film] Project X, as that movie is the closest I’m going to feel to having the night that I want to have. So I wrote the song, and co-wrote the second verse with my fans on Instagram—which was very cool and actually quite a quick experience. After finishing it, I really felt like it definitely belongs on the Project X soundtrack. I think it captures the hectic energy of a once-in-a-lifetime night out that you’ll never forget.”
“I feel like anything that sounds like it should close an album probably shouldn’t. So initially we were talking about ‘party 4 u’ being the final track, but it felt too traditional with the crowd noises at the end—like an emotional goodbye. So it’s way more fun to me to slam that in the middle of the album and have the rave moment at the end. But in some ways, it feels a little traditional, too, because this is the message I want to leave you with. The song feels like this big lucid dream: It’s about seeing visions of my boyfriend and I together, and it being right and final. But then it spirals off into this very weird world that feels euphoric, but also intense and unknown. And I think that’s a quite a nice note to end this particular album on. The whole situation we’ve found ourselves in is unknown. I personally don’t know what I’m going to do next, but I know this final statement feels right for who I am and the direction I’m going in.”
Stream Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now album below: