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For the past five years, Charli XCX has positioned herself as a futurepop star. After a stint writing radio-friendly bubblegum anthems (I Love It, Boom Clap), she started to experiment with the alternative worlds of PC Music and Hyperpop for a pair of glitching, abrasive mixtapes that buried big hooks under lashings of autotune and featured a cast of forward-thinking but underground artists.
Then came 2019’s Charli, a cutting-edge pop album that dealt with vulnerability amid a tracklisting that featured big-name collaborations with Haim, Lizzo and Christine and the Queens. The planned followup was scrapped in 2020, though, when the world went into lockdown.
While most artists decided to wait it out, Charli set about making How I’m Feeling Now – the world’s first pandemic album. Written, recorded and released in the first six weeks of Coronavirus taking hold in America and the UK, the record is a time capsule of her initial thoughts and fears, echoed by a global audience.
Despite using her bulging contact book to curate a series of daily livestreams in the early days of lockdown (Rita Ora, Diplo and Clairo all featured), How I’m Feeling Now was created solely between Charli, a handful of trusted producers and her fanbase (the Angels) who provided lyrics, artwork ideas and general feedback at a time where no one really knew what they were doing. The record quickly became a comfort blanket for both artist and audience.
On Sunday night, 18 months after the project was first announced, the 29 year old from Essex brought How I’m Feeling Now to the stage of Lafayette, near King’s Cross. The concert was the third and final album release show, following gigs in New York and Los Angeles, with tickets for all three selling out in under two-minutes.
The 600-capacity venue was a far cry from her last gig in London, which saw her play to 5,000 people at Brixton Academy, but that intimate nature reflected the spirit of the record. The more out-there moments of How I’m Feeling Now might have got lost in a bigger space, but this underground club was the perfect setting for Charli’s existential euphoria.
Taking to a stage decked out in nothing but numerous strobes, Charli launched straight into Visions, a turbulent rave track that was equal parts Nineties Ibiza House and The Matrix. What followed was a 45-minute release of bottled-up feelings, unsaid things and communal exorcism. The crowd, dressed up in devil horns, angel wings or cowboy hats, partied hard while Charli bounced between rapid-fire lyrics and dancing about the stage like a personal trainer stuck on fast-forward. It was hard to tell who was more emotional, or having more fun.
The rowdy, hyperactive Anthems started with a woop and a cry of “I’m so bored’, while the nursey rhyme sweetness of Claws saw Charli very much head over in heels in love and showing off her impressive vocal chops, as did Forever before it descended into an abrasive “glitchcore” remix that teetered on the point of disgusting.
Once the album had been played in full, Charli returned to the stage for a two-song encore that made nods to her past and future. Vroom Vroom, the 2016 fan favourite that first saw Charli embrace alt-pop, caused absolute pandemonium in the room, while the new single Good Ones might be her finest moment yet. The opening arena-baiting guitar line inspired an instant reaction, before Charli stopped the track. “I don’t really talk that much during shows apart from going ‘what the f---?’ but that’s just cos I’m really nervous. I just wanted to say thank you so much for being here,” she said over cries of “we love you”.
“Thank you for helping me make How I’m Feeling Now, thank you for giving me so many ideas, and so much confidence to make this record. Yeah, I’d be s--- without you guys,” she continued.
Obviously, the world has changed a lot since those early days of the pandemic, but the emotions on display across How I’m Feeling Now are still felt by a generation. The record flip-flopped between self-doubt, swaggering confidence and millennial angst without apology, and as Sunday night proved, the music is as cathartic now as it ever was. Messy, confused and finding joy in the little things, this is a pandemic album that’s perfect for dealing with the post-lockdown world.