In the early days of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, global pop star Charli XCX announced that she would write and record an entire new album, along with creating the visuals, from self-quarantine in her home in LA, while promising to involve her fans—or Angels as they’re known—many of whom are LGBTQ+, via zoom and social media, consulting them and incorporating some of their ideas and imagery. She added to the intensity of the task by giving herself a five-week time limit in which to achieve all this, setting up a makeshift studio and liaising with producers virtually.
The directing duo Bradley&Pablo (Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler)—who’ve made videos for the likes of Harry Styles, Lil Nas X, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Dua Lipa, and Frank Ocean—chronicle this process for the feature documentary Alone Together which just world premiered, fittingly, at the virtual SXSW Online. The result is a raw, intimate and at times deeply moving portrait of a passionate and restless creative mind grappling with the world’s abrupt and prolonged pause, told in a compelling and dynamic way, with some stunning CG visual flourishes.
The Grammy, Brit and MTV Award nominated British singer-songwriter was in the midst of headlining a world tour with her 2019 album Charli when the pandemic struck, leading to a series of cancelled shows planned for the spring and summer of 2020, and lots of spare time on the hands of the usually occupied star. So rather than binging Tiger King or old Drag Race episodes like the rest of us, she distilled what she was experiencing, and made the Mercury Prize nominated album How I’m Feeling Now. Many of the songs explore her relationship with her boyfriend Huck who, initially rather reluctantly, appears throughout the film. Although they had been a couple for seven years before lockdown, the long distance bicoastal aspect of the relationship meant that the longest time they’d spent together consecutively was eleven days. As many couples watching will be able to relate to, this intense period was a make or break situation for the pair.
One of the things that makes the film so engaging is how admirably frank and incredibly open Charli XCX is about her mental health and self-esteem issues, discussing what she’s been exploring with her therapist and unafraid to show her vulnerable side with the world, something that along with her musical genius has endeared her to her fans.
As a musical talent who first came to prominence through MySpace, the sudden reliance on virtual connectively comes naturally to her, and the film develops into a tribute to her fierce LGBTQ+ following as we get to meet a diverse range of her fans from across the globe in their daily lives and see them interact with their idol who frequently makes herself available to them. Aside from providing a fascinating insight into the artist’s creative process during this challenging time, it also evocatively captures the sense of isolation that so many of us have experienced through this period, celebrating the power of music to bring us together in queer communal online spaces, even dance together and find some joy.
This is a fine music doc, a Truth or Dare/In Bed With Madonna for the Zoom generation (which I guess is all of us now) and one of the best films yet that captures a sense of what 2020 was like to live through. Beautifully queer and inclusive, this is an inspiring, hopeful watch.
By James Kleinmann
Alone Together world premiered at SXSW Online 2021.