'Charli XCX: Alone Together' Is a Euphoric Look at a Pop Star and Her Fans' Connections
The documentary will make you one of Charli XCX's Angels if you weren't already.
Charli XCX is a rare pop star. Despite being adored by critics, having written a number of songs that were successful on the charts, working with Lizzo, and touring with Taylor Swift, the 29-year-old has never become a household name in the 15 years that she's been at it. She doesn't seem to care, though; her pop music is typically too experimental for mainstream audiences. She seems to like having maintained an attachment to underground music, still frequently collaborating with rising acts after coming up in the London rave scene.
Her new documentary, Charli XCX: Alone Together, illustrates that she feels especially satisfied with the stature of her career because of the so-called Angels, her devout, largely LGBTQ+ fan base. The 67-minute documentary, which is out in select theaters and available on Hulu and via VOD on January 28, is directed by music-video maestros Bradley & Pablo (known for their work on Charli's "1999" video, Harry Styles' "Watermelon Sugar," and others). They chronicle Charli as she writes and records her 2020 album how i'm feeling now over five weeks in the COVID-19 spring lockdown. Pieced together from 5,000 clips of footage shot by Charli herself and submitted by her fans, it's not just a portrait of an artist at work against a deadline; it's about the way her fans are tuned into and contributing to her process, as well as the euphoria of one pop star feeling no stronger connection than with the people who love her music.
Bradley & Pablo position the Angels to be as pivotal to the documentary as Charli is, following the tribe online, where she shares updates to her process as it unfolds in her Los Angeles home (which she co-owns and lives in with her two managers). Among others, we're introduced to Cole in Alabama, who is worried about the likelihood of college in the fall; Ronald in Mexico, whose family isn't supportive of his identity; and Emiliano in California, who feels the weight of not having a creative outlet while being unable to perform drag in person. All of them express how inclusive the Angels are and how hearing Charli's music—especially live—is when they feel the most free to be themselves. It's clear that Charli feels and is nearly fueled by their exuberance, too. A clip from a pre-pandemic concert shows her on stage, in tears, explaining how she felt no direction in her career until her fans inspired her to do whatever the fuck she wanted. Then, as soon as the pandemic hits, she immediately seeks solace in their community by hosting a series of Instagram Lives, and when she decides to record an album, she wants them to experience every step along the way.
It's fascinating to see not just how a Charli banger comes together—recording on equipment that producer A.G. Cook mails her and she sets up in a living room lit up by a neon palm tree—but how she seeks her fans' involvement in this particular project. For example, dozens of screen recordings capture her previewing beats on live streams and pulling ideas for lyrics out of the comments, and the two are in constant communication about cover-art ideas. Most interestingly, the pop darling allows us to see how much she and her fans keep one another mentally sound. For the Angels, the collaboration is an escape from the confines of quarantine and an opportunity to imagine a world where dressing in chic rave attire and clubbing still exists. For Charli, it's a project born out of her workaholic tendencies and an attempt to stave off depression. With an executive-producer credit and a camcorder in her hand throughout the entire production, the artist could have shied away from making claims or posting online that she feels like nothing she does will ever be good enough. But she puts it all out there, exhibiting just how much she relies on Zoom calls and DMs with her fans, who are struggling in their own way, to help her come out of those insecure moments and feel a sense of purpose again.
If you aren't too familiar with Charli XCX or her music, you won't necessarily get an expansive portrait of her career here. And fans looking for more details about her private relationship with her boyfriend of seven years, Huck Kwong, won't learn more than they might already know, even though the album she's creating is about him and they're spending more time together than ever during lockdown. It's a tight documentary confined to one period, and better for it. Like how i'm feeling now, Alone Together is a piece of pandemic ephemera, but it works because of how limited it is in scope and the fact that t focuses on a single saving grace—how one pop star and her Angels can find their own form of heaven on the internet, where they create, escape, and find joy and support... alone, together.
On the how i'm feeling now track "anthems," a song the recording artist partially wrote over a livestream that's about craving the nightlife that COVID-19 took away, she sings, "Finally, when it's over, we might be even closer." The enjoyable experience that is Alone Tonight and the power of Charli and the Angels will convince you that's true—and that you'd be missing out on something special if you didn't become an Angel yourself.