‘I’m painting rocks’: How pop star Charli XCX is staying sane during quarantine

Charli XCX poses for a quarantine selfie from her home in Beachwood Canyon.
(Charli XCX)

The singer-songwriter Charli XCX has been spending the pandemic shutdown in her Beachwood Canyon home, which she’s been sharing with her boyfriend, Huck Kwong, and two roommates. Though they’re shut in, she’s hardly been isolating herself.

In fact, the pop star born Charlotte Aitchison, who is best known for co-writing and singing on smash hits including “I Love It,” “Fancy” and “Boom Clap,” has been democratizing aspects of her creative process through a lively Instagram feed and during freewheeling Zoom chats with fans. A few weeks ago, the British-born songwriter, 27, announced the release of a forthcoming project called “How I’m Feeling Now,” an “album to be written, recorded and released during self-isolation,” due May 15.

A number of pop songs, including growing hits by newcomers Benee and Powfu, have taken on added meaning in the face of quarantine.

April 7, 2020

She’s already released one new track, “Forever.” Last week in a post, Charli included clips from four different songs she was considering for release with the caption, “which song should come next.....? 1, 2, 3 or 4? comment below.” They voted for the new track tentatively called “Claws.”

Earlier this week Charli spoke to The Times about her new album and some new hobbies.

How is this enforced isolation going for you?
It’s going pretty good. I’m lucky in the sense that I’m quarantined with my boyfriend and my two friends. And I’ve found a way to maintain being creative, which is what brings me my positivity. The idea of remaining still and in one place is quite daunting to me.


Have you developed any day-to-day rituals? Are you getting into a groove?
Honestly, I’m not. It’s OK to not follow a strict routine. If some days you don’t exercise, that’s OK. If it takes you until 3 p.m. to shower, that’s OK. My rule is I try and do one productive thing a day. Either I will write a song or record a part of a song that I need to send to somebody.

Or, if I don’t feel like doing music, I’ll paint something or make a meal. I’ll cook something or tidy the house. I set my days so they all don’t blend into me binge-watching “Tiger King.”

What have you watched besides “Tiger King”?
I’ve just started “The Sopranos.” I’ve never seen it before. Obviously I know people say it’s one of the best shows ever. I’ve also never seen “Love Island” before, and as a Brit, I feel like I should explore that part of our culture.

Oh, and “Jeopardy.” In the U.K., “Jeopardy” is not a thing. So I’m obsessed. We watch it a couple of times a week. It feels like my brain is working. I love the host, Alex Trebek. What a star. I love the music. Everything.

And what are you painting?
I’m painting a lot of rocks.

I’ll go out in the garden and I’ll find a rock and I paint it. I can show you one. [Holds up a baseball-sized rock she’s painted blue and accented with rave-style smiley faces.] This one isn’t that good. There’s been better ones. Very wholesome.

You were on the road a lot last year. Obviously this is very different. Which do you prefer?
Before quarantine I used to think that I was somebody who couldn’t be at home, couldn’t stay in one place. I found it really annoying and frustrating and agitating. But now that I’m actually doing it, I really like it. I love waking up and making coffee.


You’ve been working on an album during quarantine. On Instagram, you’ve been polling your followers on track selections and a release schedule. Have you always interacted with your followers in this way?
I’ve always been quite interactive with my fans but never to this level. I’m literally asking for feedback every step of the way. Not just on which tracks to release but on lyrics, on artwork. They’re involved in the video-making process.

It’s really important for me to make something that is indicative of this time that we’re in. It just feels right.

I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I also want there to be a charity initiative with the album. I’m really interested in supporting the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights. It’s really important that we help the homeless population during this time.

Is “How I’m Feeling Now” a concept record about quarantining?
Before the world changed, a lot of my inspiration came from parties: the things that happened at parties, the people you meet at parties. It was a very social type of writing.

Obviously that isn’t happening anymore. I’m quarantined with my boyfriend. And a lot of the songs are about our relationship and our love and how, actually, this quarantine time has brought us a lot closer together. That’s kind of the narrative of the album — how the quarantine time has changed my relationship. I have to write about what’s going on around me.