Charli XCX’s lockdown productivity is putting us all to shame. On the 6th of April she announced to fans via a public Zoom meeting that she was producing a new album despite the global pandemic. It would be created just with ‘the tools she has at her fingertips’, including all of the music videos and artwork. Oh, and it would drop in 6 weeks. Fast forward through numerous weekly updates posted to her YouTube channel and how i’m feeling now has been released for us all to enjoy in the self-isolated safely of our homes/workspaces/world.
To say that Charli has her finger on the beating pulse of the current global situation would not be enough. The album accurately describes the thing that we’re all struggling with right now, trying to create something amongst the current madness. But it is also so much more. how i’m feeling now is a direct product of winning that battle with boredom and procrastination. It is, paradoxically, a professional rendition of a DIY art project. It is personal, genuine, polished, unpolished, and covered in PVA and glitter. If you can’t tell, I love it.
Like I do with most of Charli’s work, I checked the producer credits on the album before listening. Seeing either A.G. Cook, Danny L Harle, or Dylan Brady listed on every single song peaked my anticipation to almost unattainable levels. For the uninitiated, these three producers make up a significant proportion of the underground internet sub-genre Hyper-Pop. The genre is notoriously hard to define, but imagine an early noughties pop song sped up and pitched up to speaker clipping levels, all drizzled with a healthy dose of LGBTQIA+ pride vibes. A.G. Cook can be described as the spearhead of this musical vanguard. He’s the founder of the PC Music record label, a hub for huge names in the Hyper-Pop scene. He is also the most frequent producer of Charli’s tracks and his experimental tendencies can be found all over songs like ‘Vroom Vroom’ and ‘Click’, as well as her new album.
Charli has two musical personalities. One can be found in the music video to her mainstream chart-topping classic ‘Boom Clap’, the accompanying musical release to YA blockbuster film The Fault in Our Stars. In the video, Charli is dressed in Top Shop-esque fashion, sporting big hair and throwing lots of serious, smouldering glances at the camera. The song, and all her others like it, still sounds catchy and pops in all the right ways. But it lacks the experimental electricity found in projects like her EP Pop 2that puts her streets ahead of all the others she frequently collaborates with.
Luckily, Charli nerds would be pleased to hear that she described her newest album as the ‘frantic emo younger sister’ of Pop 2 on Twitter. The album’s first three tracks are a perfect encapsulation of why a significant portion of her fanbase are the type you’d never catch tuning to Radio 1’s big Top 40. The record opens with ‘pink diamond’, a crunchy two minutes of Hard Trap in the vein of another PC Music genius, SOPHIE. ‘forever’ was the first single Charli released off the album and its video is a quick cut mash-up of her fans quarantine home-videos. It’s hard to fight the lump in your throat as you read through all the people fangirling and putting time stamps to their appearances in the comment section under the video. Charli singing ‘I will always love you… even though we’re not together’ feels like a direct message to them. The experience of being on the ground floor for this record’s release feels as close to an album release party that can be achieved in our current, socially distanced reality.
The third track on the album is the record’s glittering, 3D modelled, jewel in its pink-plastic tiara. ‘claws’ is an autotuned, up-tempo, squeaking roller coaster ride with all the prickly synths and sickening bass drums that you could expect from producer Dylan Brady, one half of experimental pioneers 100 Gecs. This is another track where the music video adds buckets to the song’s charm. The visuals were made with nothing but Charli’s own eclectic wardrobe, her on a greenscreen and an electric scooter. The video is perfectly described by ‘Fursio Names’ in the comments, who says it screams ‘graphic design is my passion’ vibes.
Words like ‘unpolished’, ‘crunchy’, and ‘sickening’ wouldn’t typically be used to describe a ‘Masterpiece’ album. Yet, that’s kind of the point. Hyper-Pop walks the tightrope of cheesy trash and truly boundary pushing music production with such subtle finesse that the ‘ironic hipster’ mindset is necessary to really appreciate it.