If there’s one thing about Charli XCX, she lacks any guise of pretension. Deep into weeks of quarantine, Charli - like pretty much the rest of the world - felt an intense and innate need to produce, create, conceive something, just to prove her time on earth was worthwhile. The result was May’s excellent ‘how i’m feeling now’, a synth-pop auditory snapshot of her life in the time of Covid-19 - entirely written and recorded out of her own Los Angeles home.
But soon after its release, Charli intimately detailed her anxieties surrounding the record, outlining her feelings of a lack of purpose and the need to always challenge herself creatively and constantly have an output of work. Reception to ‘how i’m feeling now’ was glowing, and the entire project – done in classic DIY fashion - was a labour of love for Charli.
But there’s something off about releasing a record during a pandemic. You present to your fans a piece of art that captures you in the current time, but musicians are deprived of the immediate, satisfying release of touring the record and thriving off fans’ energy. Live music - and art, for that matter - is a two-way street. The artist provides a beautiful piece of work, and it is there for the fans to enjoy, absorb, bask in - and that itself is a validating experience.
It’s pretty clear Charli XCX realises this.
It’s in August, three months after release, that she performs an entirely virtual show on a livestream for Boiler Room to raise money for charity LA Alliance. Set in the very LA home that she recorded ‘how i’m feeling now’ in, Charli performs solo, occupied only by the quick-moving camera operator live-streaming her set - oh, and the thousands of ever-supportive, die-hard fans keysmashing enthusiastically in the comment box next to the livestream. (Endearingly, Charli can’t help but extend the microphone into the camera a couple of times throughout the set by means of pretending to let the audience sing.)
Equipped with dark shades, biker shorts and an oversized white jacket, Charli performs ‘how i’m feeling now’ in full - for the first time ever. Starting her set with ‘pink diamond’, it’s clear Charli is not used to this, but if she’s nervous, she doesn’t show it. Her shows are typically sweaty, moshpit-happy chaotic events where you feel the weight of thousands of bodies pressing into you and blending into them. She is devoid of a lavish engineering set-up, merely pressing the play button once on her sound system for her backing track that she sings over breathlessly, her house serving as an unassuming, modest backdrop.
“I’ve never done this before. Wish me luck,” she says at the start of her set with a sly wink, staring straight down into the camera. Charli is obviously a performer who feeds off the energy of her audience, and though she is devoid of this feverish force for her livestream set, she performs as if she is having the absolute time of her life. Technical glitches happen, with the stream lagging numerous times - a crowd applause is endearingly substituted by her fans typing phrases such as “PAY THE WIFI BILL QUEEN”, “THE LAG COULDN’T HANDLE HER SWOOSH” and “CHARLI GET AN ETHERNET CABLE CHALLENGE”.
To the viewer, it is yet another livestream during Covid-19, but for Charli, she dances utterly alone in her house like she’s back at a sold-out Village Underground.
We’re all just a little bit anxious, but as shown by Charli, perhaps a dance party in the comfort of your very own home can sometimes suffice.
One thing’s for sure, though: live music can’t come back quickly enough.
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