Music Pop Culture

Charli XCX is redefining pop one quarantine album at a time

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past decade, you’ve probably heard of Charli XCX. The music provocateur broke out in the early 2010s by featuring in Iggy Azalea’s iconic smash-hit Fancy, and then made her own mark in the music industry with her song Boom Clap

Truth to be said, none of these songs appealed to me. Their brashness, and lack of lyrical creativity was something I disliked (along with how overplayed they were). But over the years, Charli XCX has managed to completely flip her sound, from a traditional raucous pop formula to a futuristic, unique techno-rave one that’s ahead of its time. Simply put, Charli has become a niche, unstoppable force in her field – a kind of evolution that’s nothing short of admirable. 

And that’s why, it’s no surprise to her fans that in the past 6 weeks, she’s made an entire album from scratch. Dubbed as ‘the first album of the quarantine’, How I’m Feeling Now features experimental club tracks, edgy ballads and anthemic production. In true millennial fashion, Charli documented the whole album-making process – collaborating with fans for song lyrics, sharing melodies on Instagram Live and vlogging her all-nighters while editing its tracks – a kind of transparency in creative process that is almost unheard of.

The album heavily centers around the rollercoaster of emotions she’s felt during this uncertain time, isolation, nostalgia and the highs and lows of her relationship. The album kicks off with “pink diamond”, a bombastic, electronic expression of missed adrenaline rushes, with a Grimes-esque influence. It’s glossy and laser-sharp- setting a good precedent for the rest of the album. 

It’s similar to “anthems“, a club banger designed specifically for a party for one. The track is studded with synths, cut-up and layered in just the right places – making it feel refreshing yet familiar at the same time. It’s a Charli classic – the noisy, glamorous aesthetic that she’s mastered in previous mixtapes, like Vroom Vroom.

However, it’s at her most vulnerable that Charli XCX truly shines on the record. On “claws”, which is a neon-pink, mutant pop confession of being helplessly in love, she puts forth one of her catchiest melodies. It’s an upbeat song with an incredible beat – one that’s definitely a hidden gem in the singer’s discography. “forever”, the album’s second single, is possibly quarantine in a song. Charli XCX wistfully reminisces on the lifestyle we all took for granted before the pandemic. The production is invasive and harsh at first – but is somehow complemented by the gentle, fairy-like vocals Charli provides.

Charli manages to lend her signature, electro-pop touch to the albums ballads as well, a prime example of this being the emotional 7 years” – a tribute to the beauty of long-term love. It’s endearing and complemented by its low-key, subtle instrumental. 

While How I’m Feeling Now does have its weak, almost excessive moments – such as “c2.0” whose artistic aim is ruined by splintered, static production – it’s a cohesive, varied body of work. Charli encapsulates the anxious, yet hopeful emotion that we’re all feeling right now. With no collaborators (unlike her previous work, the self-titled Charli), it puts the singer at the forefront of music, proving how much of an innovator she is in her arena.

If there’s anyone who knows how to do internet-pop, it’s Charli XCX, and How I’m Feeling Now is a testament to that. 

Culture Family Gender & Identity Life

I’m Kashmiri – poetry helped me embrace that

“I’m Kashmiri.” 

It’s a simple sentence – two words, to be exact. But it took me over a decade to say it with conviction. Or to say it at all, for that matter. Despite being raised to take pride in my ethnicity, it was something I never truly connected with. How could I call myself Kashmiri after everything that my family had been through because of Kashmir? 

I belong to the community of Pandits. As far as I’ve been told, our roots have been in the Valley since forever. That was, until violence cloaked its landscape in the 90s, and my kin was left with no option but to escape the land that was once home. What they hoped would be a week’s disruption lasted 25 years, and before they knew it, their lives would never be the same again. The destiny of their future generations had been rewritten forever; their sense of stability and identity had been gruesomely torn apart by politics. 

Growing up, I was a first-hand witness to the effects of this unexpected displacement. It was the little things that had the most impact on me, like the several times I caught my grandfather admiring a picture of the Dal Lake on his wall, to the way my grandmother wished she’d had a moment to say goodbye. There was this unspoken longing for home that seemed to linger just on the outskirts of every conversation we had. And throughout our talks, I’d wonder how they could speak so fondly of a place that reminded them of so much pain.

But it was perhaps years later, through the strangest of mediums, that I learned to embrace my identity. When I picked up reading poetry, I expected nothing but boring sonnets glamorizing love. To my surprise, I discovered accounts of women of color who had similar experiences and were using words as a medium to heal from their own transgenerational trauma.  I’d found my catharsis, and it altered my perspective on a lot of things, including what being Kashmiri truly meant. 

It made me look beyond my angst and realize the resilience my people possessed. The kind of courage and tenacity they’ve had – to rebuild their lives despite everything being taken away from them. And just like that, I fell in love with the sheer spirit that ran through Kashmiri blood. We weren’t lost – we were simply paving another path for ourselves, overcoming obstacles and moving forward like never before. Eventually, it also dawned on me that the Kashmir my grandparents spoke so lovingly of was the one inhabited by these very people – ones with unparalleled resolve and strength – and it was the people of Kashmir they missed more than anything. 

In one of her poems,  Rupi Kaur stated that she was “the product of all the ancestors getting together, and deciding these stories need to be told.” Perhaps, I am also meant to tell this story. One about the indomitable nature of my people, one that I am still in awe of. 

Maybe one day the grey skies in the Valley will finally clear, and we’ll have a chance to go back home. Or maybe we won’t. But all I know is that the next time someone asks me about my ethnicity, I won’t shy away from telling it like it is.

After all, I’m Kashmiri. 

Music Pop Culture

Dua Lipa’s new album “Future Nostalgia” is exactly what we needed in these hard times

I listened to Future Nostalgia the day my country went into complete lockdown. They say art is an escape from the most turbulent of times – which is why, it only felt right to be transported into Dua Lipa’s dazzling, 80s-inspired dance party while I was dreadfully quarantined at home.

The Grammy-winning artist’s sophomore album is smooth, impeccably produced pop studded with thick baselines and funky beats. It’s a distinctive dash of neon in the bland, trap-infused world of modern day music – and perhaps, her boldest statement yet.

If anything, it’s a testament to the fact that Lipa has finally owned her sound. Right from the album’s opener, Future Nostalgia, where she expresses her female-alpha nature over groovy, Prince-inspired guitars, to its final track, ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, where she tackles sexism in the most badass way possible –  Dua Lipa exhibits a blasé confidence. It’s an unmistakable quality which gives us her strongest moments on the LP, of them being ‘Cool’ – a synth-heavy track showcasing Lipa’s gorgeous, raspy voice. Heavy bass is sprinkled across the song’s chorus, leaving you with no option but to dance along. It helps in setting the right tone for the rest of this musical journey through the decades.

But the party has just begun. As the album progresses, Lipa’s tracks burst with increasing energy and euphoria. ‘Don’t Start Now’ is a triumphant anthem about successfully moving on. ‘Physical’ (inspired by Olivia Newton John’s hit of the same name) is an absolute disco banger. ‘Break My Heart’ and ‘Love Again’ are her most vulnerable moments on the record. Both tracks feature incredible disco strings and hypnotic verses. They convey the common anxieties about falling in love and risking heartbreak.

However, the subtly-produced ‘Pretty Please’ is an unexpected highlight. Lipa’s voice is the undisputed star of the track. It shifts from fluttery falsettos to harmonies, giving it a charm that’s alluring and effortless at the same time.

There’s no doubt that in Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa has somehow crafted the perfect mix of contemporary pop and retro sounds. Although its upbeat nature juxtaposes the gloomy timing of its release, it is an album the world desperately needs right now.

Not only does it provide a surge of happiness that distracts us from our worries, but also makes us nostalgic about a time when our dance parties weren’t just for one. “I wanted to make music that takes your mind away from that,” Lipa told Vogue Australia recently. “I wanted to just make it a bit easier for me to get out of bed and not think about the negative things that are going on in the world all the time.”

While her previous effort Dua Lipa saw her trying to find her niche between generic tropical and dark indie sounds, this album marks the success of her experimentation. Her meteoric rise to fame may have been faster than the time taken to count her ‘New Rules’, but Future Nostalgia proves that she’s here for the long run. And although Lipa doesn’t deliver any heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics or stirring emotional moments on the LP, she still manages to create an impact in her sphere.

Through her brilliant, technicolor attempt to bring grooviness back into the world, Dua Lipa has provided a glittery dose of positivity to me, and millions of other people around the world. Future Nostalgia may be an album made for the clubs, but its euphoria can still be experienced within the limited territory of your four walls. It’s an absolute blast through and through and cements Lipa’s place as the disco queen of the new decade.