“Clique clique clique (x33)”
- c2.0, Charli XCX
Repetition erases. Our twentieth crush wipes our sixteenth from our memory, continual war coverage destroys the horror of watching a bomb soar across a television screen, and the sixtieth day of self-quarantine erases almost everything. The erasure of the dragged-out COVID pandemic – of lives, jobs, established self-care habits, in-person interaction essential to maintaining friendships – is key to why self-quarantine feels like a time of mourning.
My list of losses is void of anything tragic: my graduation ceremony and thesis reading, time with Kansas friends before I moved out of the state, and the disappearance of most editing and publishing jobs that I dreamed of getting. However, one sneaky loss does stand out.
I gradually realized that when I was productive during the day, I no longer spent the evenings feeling accomplished and ready to relax. Instead, I spent them pacing inside. The grey cloud of depression, gone for two years, had settled over the claustrophobic room I lived in. I watched myself work, deflate, and try to sleep it off over and over again as my brain failed to utilize its consistent source of melatonin.
And then I watched it happen to avant-popstar Charli XCX.
“Since releasing my album last week I’ve been in quite a fragile state…I was so focused on pushing myself, finishing my work and distracting myself from the actuality of the current state of the world that now I’ve come out the other side I feel very lost, overwhelmed and fragile,” wrote Charli on her Instagram a week ago. “it seems I am unable to cope with even the most minuscule tasks without crumbling into panic or tears and I constantly doubt myself and my purpose.”
This excerpt from Charli’s Instagram account is followed by a list of Charli’s possible solutions to her own problem, and she asserts hope despite the hardship she recounts. After all, she had met her insane goal of making a record in a little over a month. She’d posted stressful, but exciting, video and audio updates through the whole process. The album’s release was met with universal acclaim. However, the end of the tunnel held the same pain that had led Charli to dive full-force into her creative endeavors.
Living through the COVID pandemic feels like reaching continuously for a level of happiness that no longer exists. When I talk to my friends over video chat, we talk about things that we’ve tried to do to make life better that mostly haven’t worked. We talk about things we will try to do to make life better that most likely won’t. Eventually, there was one other thing we talked about: how Charli XCX’s “How I’m Feeling Now” was a masterpiece.
Repetition doesn’t just erase – it also hypnotizes. Hearing a pop song’s first chorus for the first time is nothing compared to hearing its final chorus a tenth time. Hearing “I like I like I like I like I like everything about you” feels a lot more ‘everything’ than “I like everything about you,” and “I miss them I miss them I miss them” carries a desperate sense of longing that increases every time it’s repeated. The cyclical phrases that populate “How I’m Feeling Now” certainly gain power from the context of self-quarantine monotony. What saves them and makes them special is their universal yearning for loved ones which makes ‘life-affirming’ register as an understatement.
All of this is bolstered by elements that ooze passion. The sound design on the record, handled mostly by the now-legendary A.G. Cook and 100 Gecs up-and-comer Dylan Brady, is a perfect mix of rhythmic dissonance and cascading synth melody. These provide a dynamic background for Charli’s vocals as they oscillate wildly from shouted declarations to near-whispered confessions. Some tracks are content to showcase a handful of gorgeous hooks. Others morph beyond recognition over the course of their run times.
What separates a good pop song from a great one is deep emotional resonance, sound design, and song structure. That depth and originality allow listeners to burrow farther and farther into a track until it becomes a home to live in. On the good days, we listen to a beloved song and turn a corner to find some new secret glittering there. You are unlikely to listen to “How I’m Feeling Now” and find yourself forgetting that we are still suffering through a pandemic, some of us in ways that continue to shock even after we’ve experienced them ten times over. It is possible, however, to hear someone else repeat that they miss their friends, their dance floor, their feelings, their anthems – and to forget that you were ever doing it alone.