In isolation with Charli XCX: How the coronavirus is impacting artists

In isolation with Charli XCX: How the coronavirus is impacting artists

Halfway through our conversation with Charli XCX, someone she knows knocks on her door wearing a hazmat suit. This is the kind of sight the world is having to get used to as the coronavirus spreads, and the singer immediately stresses that she's fortunate to be able to hole up at home, acknowledging that not everyone has that luxury. Charli wants to use her platform to help and is here to talk about how the situation is affecting her and, more widely, the music industry and pop culture, in the wake of the opening entries in her isolation diary.

The first post came via Twitter on Sunday. She shared an image of a note on her iPhone that began, ‘Being a workaholic in quarantine is quite stressful’. The Atlantic-signed star went on to talk about the impact on her mental health and said that the free time had got her thinking about the industry she works in, too. She questioned whether we’d see an ‘extreme shift’ in the music business.

And, after Charli picks up the phone and tells us she’s just taken delivery of a new easel with which she plans to get down to some painting, that’s where our conversation begins…

What made you start your diary?
“It started with a conversation I was having with my boyfriend about how we were in the middle of the beginning of this pandemic but everything felt the same. When this is over, will there have been such a stagnant era of time in the music industry that things will have to change? Will the industry have to adapt to this new way of life where people are inside? A lot of artists are already trying to get creative with providing their fans with content online, lots of Instagram Live, TikTok and livestreaming. But livestreaming is such a big part of our world anyway, so will it amp up? The idea of gathering together to see a DJ or a concert is so normal to us, but will it become abnormal? Once things hopefully go back to normal, how will people feel about going to big events? Will this change the way people think?”

How has the coronavirus affected your career so far? You’ve postponed some gigs already…
“I’ve postponed lots of things. October seems like it’s going be a very busy month for the music industry. When the postponing and cancellations started happening, I saw a lot of artists [saying things like], ‘This is our lifeline as artists, this is how we make our money, please find a way to support the artists you love in another way’. That was really interesting because, speaking candidly, I don’t really make my money from live shows. It’s not my main source of income, so it’s less of a blow financially. But I just feel scared that I can’t perform for my fans, live is a really joyous part of my life, I love performing live and I love watching artists perform.”

Where else might the industry suffer?
“Brand partnerships – no one’s really walking around looking to sign off a load of brand deals or place products in a music video, obviously nobody can travel to shoot videos, or get insurance to shoot videos. I have a couple of director friends who I work with a lot who live down the road. I posted about the next album and how I have a song about the end of the world and they were like, ‘We want to shoot the video,’ I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t know if you’re gonna be shooting a video again for a while’. They said, ‘It will be amazing because the world actually is ending...’ I don’t know about that.”

It’s quite an interesting time to release music, as long as you’re doing it in the right way

Do you think the industry is worried? What is your team saying?
“My manager is a germophobe, so he’s freaking out for that reason! From a label perspective, this could be quite a good time for them, depending on the artist you’re talking about. What’s it like to start a campaign at this time? Especially if you’re an established artist. I don’t know the answer, but does it feel like the wrong tone to be like, ‘Hey, stream my music!’ unless the song has a specific tone or message? I have spoken to people and, unsurprisingly, streaming is really up because people are at home doing nothing so they’re watching a lot of Netflix and listening to a lot of music, so that’s great.”

So what’s your stance on releasing music now?
“It’s quite an interesting time to release music, as long as you’re doing it in the right way. I’ve been speaking with some of my collaborators about possibly releasing something, but the intention behind it isn’t to be marketing something and really ramming it down people’s throats. It’s not a finished product, it’s a gesture, ‘Here’s some music, it’s unfinished, but we wanted to put something out for you guys’. It’s not about the stats, for me it never really is. It’s not about getting a No.1 or being on a playlist on Spotify, it’s being creative. I saw Rita Ora release a new song, what is the dynamic of that for her? The song is called How To Be Lonely, which is kind of perfect in this climate. But how does that feel for her, talking about her song? Does it feel comfortable, does it feel right? How is it doing for the label?”

Charli XCX took part in a livestream on Instagram with Christine And The Queens yesterday, and will broadcast pieces with Diplo, Rita Ora, Kim Petras and Clairo in the coming days. Find Charli on Instagram here, and check back tomorrow for more on her musical plans.

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