Mark, My Words: Charli XCX’s ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ is just stage one of pandemic albums

The pop star has released the first anxiety lockdown album, and columnist Mark Beaumont thinks acts should now look to the future stages

How’s your really shit novel coming along? We all have a really shit novel in us and these long weeks and months in isolation are the perfect time to dredge it out. You can write a really shit novel – I believe in you!

One thing, though – if you’re midway through a really shit novel about the pandemic, consider changing tack. Believe me: there are lots of authors in far better positions than you, with publishing deals and no ideas, who are currently firing off really shit novels about the pandemic. By the time you’re halfway through your really shit pandemic novel there’ll be several thousand of them swamping the market. There’ll be articles in broadsheet culture sections explaining how the age of the really shit novel about the pandemic has long since run its course. Write a really shit novel about something else.

Just look at the music community right now. They’ve all been pouring their fragile souls into the best MakeMeDrake home recording software in order to express the horror of isolating away from their adoring public and second-home cult harem. They’ve been penning anguished odes called ‘The Silent Pain Of The Applause Emoji’, ‘Penthouse Prisoners’ and ‘Tumble Drier Shrunken-Kecks Blues’, all destined for their lockdown album ‘Clap For Me’.

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Then – boom clap! – Charli XCX drops her celebrated lockdown album ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, recorded in just five weeks and bristling with the anxiety of the age, and everyone’s instantly behind the curve. And it won’t stop there. There’ll be two more insta-corona albums out before your band has even worked out how to tune up properly over Skype. If you’re currently making an album about what a scary and stressful time we’re living through, you’re already irrelevant.

Time for a rethink. Lockdown albums are going to be valid throughout, but it’s already too late to be reactive; you need to look ahead and specialise. If Charli XCX is the person to encapsulate the initial insanity and bewilderment of the isolation nation, what’s your lockdown USP?

Are you a rustic folk rock band like Mumford & Sons? Then consider writing an album that speaks to our shared technological confusion, addressing the living nightmare of remotely guiding your gran through the Ocado website, or struggling to change your background to make it look like you’re self-isolating on the Vengabus. Are you a duo of electro-boffins like Public Service Broadcasting? An album that raves up common general knowledge questions wouldn’t go amiss at of our next family Zoom quiz.

As we move forward through the lockdown, I propose a colour-coded four step alert system for new pandemic albums. Currently we’re in step one: the Screaming Into Void stage, where Charli XCX and her fellow first responders lose their glitchy pop shit. This will quickly give way to step two: the New Normal stage, when we’ll be needing calming records about the routine, zen-like serenity of home quarantine from Brian Eno and Tame Impala. You know: full of ambient, perma-pissed tracks called things like ‘Five O’Clock And All’s Unwell’, ‘What Season Is It?’ and ‘Pantless For Pointless’.

Come the peak of summer madness, as some shops reopen, we’ll shift into step three: the Coronapunk stage. This is the time for the rebels to rise up – Green Day, IDLES, Wolf Alice, Miriam Margolyes – and fire out a flurry of records demanding the heads of the political class. Maybe, in the final apocalyptic sign of a world upturned, we’ll even see them all streamed live onto a new show called Later…With Piers Morgan.

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And finally, when the numbers subside, a vaccine arrives and the world reopens, we’ll hit step four: Pub. If you’re famed for knocking out a rousing drinking song (looking at you, The Pogues, Chumbawamba, Skinny Lister and UB40) and getting ‘Drunk In Love’ or filling Kendrick-shaped swimming pools with liquor, forget about writing any quarantine despair ballads right now, because in six months or so we’ll be getting drunk in every bar, club, coffee shop and garden centre that’s survived this shitshow.

Albums about the crisis will get tired very quickly; albums designed to help us through it, on the other hand, will remain encased in the generational amber. It’s time, already, to start singing for when we’re winning.

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