It speaks volumes on Charli XCX’s relationship with her fans that she labeled them angels. Other fandom titles refer to underlings or literal soldiers, designations that imply groups united beneath an all-powerful pop act. In Charlotte Aitchison’s case, her supporters share the name of guardians, who offer wisdom and protection to those they love. The angels’ guidance has led her to Cupcakke among other victories – it’s no wonder she has an enduring appreciation for the Lord ’s Day, a joke also likely initiated by an angel.

Her digital seraphs play a larger role than ever in her newest effort, How I’m Feeling Now. While chatting with Vulture ahead of the release, Charli gleefully shared the relief of being free from “professional people’s opinions.” Whereas the lukewarm Charli came after a massive months-long, label-assisted rollout, HIFN arrives after just two months, similar to the all-nighter energy that powered the Pop 2 sessions. Just like that and Number 1 Angel, HIFN holds together far better than her “official” label effort.

It’s evident from the downbeat of “pink diamond,” sauntering onto the dance floor in a threatening brat-rap cadence. Unlike “Next Level Charli,” which staggered out of the gate thereby hindering the album’s energy, this latest addition to her gemstone jams sets HIFN up for success: “Gonna give you really good views” is a promise kept, as the album dives into her love life more than anything prior. “7 years,” a love letter to her boyfriend, reveals a Charli open and confident when left to her devices. “Used to be afraid to say it/ Now that’s changed” – it’s telling she feels more comfortable sharing this here than on an official release.

However, the smothering presence of quarantine, which the Cali-based singer will now endure until at least July, also squeezed feelings to the surface, not often the positive ones either. With 16th-note arpeggios anxiously running beneath the rest of the track, “detonate” captures the building unease of being left alone to your own thoughts. Her runaway thoughts spill over into “enemy” as she imagines her significant other becoming her primary antagonist. As the panic recedes, her thoughts come down on the upbeat “i finally understand,” whose backstory provides the balm and “hug” she needs. Palmistry, a new addition to the pop queen’s circle, reached out after seeing her praise of his work online. “i finally understand” may be a higher BPM, but it’s grounded by the support she’s found in quarantine, both from her partner and by those on the internet.

Said internet, that simultaneously terrible and wonderful connector, lays heavy over HIFN. Platforms like Myspace played hugely into her initial development, and she continues to find new uses for the web like the innovator she is. Perhaps the most “pop” thing one can do is ask the fans for input: asks them to name tracks (“claws”) or visualize her music (“forever”). She blesses her angels with further treats such as fan favorite “party 4 u,” which resembles a slow-motion scene between two guests at a house party. Another beloved XCX moment, the grating chaos that finishes “Click,” is stretched into “c2.0.” Turning to her angels, she taps into the (for lack of a better term) culture, ascribing a BPM to the pulse of the modern condition.

Her appreciation for their assistance resonates across HIFN, in some places more evident than others. “7 years” refers to her relationship, but it also dates back to the year True Romance came out. That this song’s outro somewhat recalls the Gold Panda chirps of “You (Ha Ha Ha)” reminds longtime listeners just how extensive and varied her catalog of anthems has become since her debut LP. HIFN’s own “anthems” also plays like a token of gratitude with its promise of better tomorrows: “When it’s over/ We might even be closer.”

Whether or not the future turns out okay remains to be seen. Charli, too, mulls this over, concluding her aural diary entries with “visions.” The glitchy white noise at the beginning gives the impression of a broadcast signal, a message beamed down from a spaceship overhead. From the cockpit, she divulges the message at the heart of HIFN: uncertain yet hopeful. The melody, referential of “Unlock It,” goes from benign to atonal, as she whips forward towards the unknown. In the face of uncertainty, hope is not enough. Conviction, even if it’s just in one’s own power, is needed to fuel the charge forward. So onward she presses, unclear of the path much less the destination, with the solace that it’s all anyone, angel or human, can hope to achieve in 2020.

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