Charli XCX earnestly addressed the camera in her hand with glazed eyes that offer a glimpse into weeks of sleepless nights. “Yesterday I cried,” she admitted. “I’m frustrated that I’m so obsessed with working.” The art-pop singer was vlogging from her quarantine in LA to update fans on the album she had been creating in isolation, all within the abbreviated span of a month and a half.
Charli was doing something unprecedented. The coronavirus aimed a ubiquitous blow at the music industry and, like the rest of humanity, musicians have been forced to adapt to their new reality. With venues closed for the unforeseeable future, artists have elected to cope with the pandemic through a variety of means. Some opted to delay releases while others have adhered to their pre-pandemic promotion schedule. A few even chose to release projects early as an offering of escapism through music. But Charli XCX has taken a different path entirely, emerging as a trailblazer for artists everywhere. Charli instead chose to create an entire record from scratch using social media to crowdsource collaboration. The result is more than just a synth-fused, 11-track pop record. Charli XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now has innovated the album recording process and forged a new path for musicians succeeding her.
Charli’s exhausted confession of workaholism wouldn’t be the last time she admitted an emotional episode to the internet. Later, on a Zoom call with fans and collaborators, Charli spoke frankly about her headspace. “I’m feeling a bit nervous about the deadline that’s approaching. I definitely had a bit of a breakdown yesterday,” she candidly expressed, adding: “I’m definitely beginning to crack a little bit.”
This admission arrived in the introduction of a bi-weekly Zoom call, one of the many ways Charli used the internet to collaborate with fans on How I’m Feeling Now. Along with fielding questions and suggestions from fans over regular video calls, Charli relied on her social media followers for their honest input. Her constant dialog with fans touts her as an example of an artist who has successfully honed a niche on social media.
“Going live on insta now, need ur help on some verse lyrics,” Charli tweeted one evening. These real-time brainstorming sessions are a part of what makes her songwriting process unique. She’s not just offering fans a preview of the upcoming record. She’s trusting them with their opinions — and really listening to them. Sure, other musicians have been recording music in quarantine. But no one has cultivated fan collaboration like Charli. From workshopping lyrics to designing album artwork, using fan-record clips in videos, and even accepting homemade beat submissions, Charli has truly joined forces with her listeners. And these exchanges between artist and fan have strengthened Charli’s cult following among art-pop connoisseurs and boundary-pushing Gen-Zers.
Charli previously admitted that she’s been surprised about “just how receptive” her listeners were to the album’s singles. But her collaboration methods warrant positive reactions. Charli has already primed fans on her album’s sound through detailed updates. This allows room for experimentation on a record. Fans aren’t surprised by the jarring, glitchy synths that arrive in the hook of her album closer “Visions” because they had already heard a preview through a number of Instagram live sessions. Moreover, they feel deeply connected to the music because they effectively played a role in its creation. Those who have followed along with, and even contributed to, How I’m Feeling Now can’t help but feel the album is also theirs.
Along with receiving positive feedback, Charli’s record sets a new standard for artists. It exemplifies how connecting with followers and creating music synchronously can empower both artists and fans by challenging convention. Charli’s detailed updates demonstrate what it’s like to record an album. It’s not glamorous. It’s turbulent, and Charli has worn her heart on her brightly-colored mesh sleeve. By following her guidelines, musicians can similarly create a static interpretation of their sentimentality through music.
Through her How I’m Feeling Now recording process, Charli has successfully broken down the barrier between artist and fan, or in her case, pop star and stan. She doesn’t put on a facade that details an apathetic narrative about making music as a global pop icon. She has wielded her way past naysayers and proven the efficacy and innovation in her songwriting methods. Charli has given fans a voice, and their voice speaks loudly.
How I’m Feeling Now is out now via Atlantic. Get it here.
Charli XCX is a Warner Music Artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.