Back in March, when people were saying that quarantine would be a month-long shut in, I probably wasn’t alone in thinking it would feel like an extended spring break. It was supposed to be a time during which productivity was forgone. I watched TV, listened to music and took long walks. I stayed up to date on outbreaks and guidelines and tried not to acknowledge the whiplash I felt after my abrupt removal from a busy college lifestyle. Online school seemed manageable, but I felt a mounting sense of dread in anticipation of the long hours outside of class that I would have to fill.
Enter Charli XCX, critically acclaimed artist and producer. Less than a month into quarantine, she held an exclusive Zoom event to announce the start of production on her fourth studio album, “how i’m feeling now” (2020).
“I’m going to keep the process very open … it will be very much what I can do myself,” she said in the first installment of a series of video diaries she started on YouTube. She called it a collaborative album, requesting that fans send in artwork, beats and lyrics. If the project didn’t seem daunting enough already, she claimed it would be produced in the short span of six weeks.
Celebrity culture, or “standom” as people call it these days, has always fascinated me. In this new world, artists aren’t mere mortals; they’re gods that people idealize and pay tribute to. Stars like Charli are within closer reach than they’ve ever been thanks to online platforms like Twitter and, in this case, Zoom. They entertain us, and they give us something to talk about when the pandemic feels heavy. They’re cultural icons.
I’ve tried to stay away from the obsessive, overprotective parts of this modern worship, but it felt exciting to have a front row seat to the creation of Charli’s new album. The way she spoke about the necessity of the project and the motivating force of creativity resonated with me.
The announcement inspired me to pursue my own creative endeavors. I began to see our collective predicament as an opportunity. I started writing regularly: journal entries, personal essays, short stories and even a few poems. This was something I had done sporadically throughout my life, but I didn’t seriously commit to it until April. I created a Google Drive folder; I rediscovered the joy that followed writing a skillful piece of dialogue or an elegant turn of phrase. As projections became gloomier and gloomier, I sat on the floor of my candle-lit living room and wrote pages of messy catharsis.
Oddly enough, accessing the loneliest, most frightened parts of my brain conjured up the works I’m most proud of to date. Writing may not be everyone’s outlet, but I can’t imagine surviving this year without it. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to Charli, the woman on the other side of the screen, who made me think: “If she can make an album, what can I do?”