2021 seems to be the year of the pop princess documentary – first Framing Britney Spears, then Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil, and now, the latest addition: Charli XCX’s Alone Together.
Not so much a documentary about her career as it is a chronicle of her time in self-isolation, Alone Together is a thoroughly energetic and unique take on the typical pop documentary, infusing its storytelling with Charli’s signature offbeat charm and emphasizing the role her fans play in informing her creative process. Short and sweet, it’s a vivacious film that will have you streaming “anthems” on repeat – and listening to Charli’s entire discography with newfound clarity.
Taking place almost entirely over just five weeks, Alone Together follows the “Boom Clap” and “Fancy” songstress as she embarks on an ambitious quest: Make an entire album, from scratch, during the stay-at-home mandate, and document the entire process for her millions of fans, who will help her decide everything from lyrics to album covers to art direction. What ensues is a film – comprised of significant chunks of footage that Charli shot herself with the help of her boyfriend and two managers (quarantining in her L.A. home alongside her) – that documents her creative process and struggles with mental health as she works tirelessly to complete the album and deliver something exciting for her eager and uber-loyal fans.
Alone Together is, first and foremost, a unique take on the behind-the-scenes of what goes into making an album: From an artist’s first inkling that they want to put out new music, all the way to the launch party. Except, in this case, the process was condensed into a measly five weeks – nowhere near the typical production timeline, which generally runs about a year. Alone Together doesn’t hesitate to give viewers a look at the nitty-gritty of making an album as well, encompassing everything from Charli trying (and failing) to record raw vocal tracks, to phone calls with producers, and (most critically) her Instagram live and Zoom sessions with her fans.
The film makes it clear from very early on that Charli XCX’s relationship with her fans goes beyond the typical expectation of how a pop star might interact with their legions of followers. At several points in the film, Charli references being in group chats with the “angels” (the nickname for her fanbase) on Twitter, and even confesses to relying on their help and support when struggling through mental health issues.
The power of social media when it comes to helping build stars is hardly a new subject for discussion in the music industry, but the way XCX interacts with her fans is so open and honest that it feels like a novelty in and of itself. True to her promise to document the entire process of writing the album and letting the Angels take part in its creation, the most mesmerizing interactions she has with her fans are when they’re helping her come up with lyrics for songs.
Done simply over Instagram live – as stars like Florence Pugh have done with cooking shows – Charli plays demos and reads lyrics to the camera, as thousands of responses fly in per second, giving her suggestions and tips to help write the song. It’s incredible not only to watch a song come together in real-time but to watch an artist’s fans have a genuine, tangible role in the creative process. Though plenty of pop stars tout how much their fans mean to them, it’s impossible for XCX to fake this sentiment – because you can see it in her body of work.
Charli’s close personal relationship with her fans also makes the film’s handling of her mental health issues during the pandemic more complex than they might be otherwise. It’s made very clear that she needs them just as much as they need her. There are beautiful parallels drawn between Charli’s struggles with coping with the new pandemic-necessitated isolation and similar struggles of her fans – the way their thoughts and feelings mirror each other is a tangible reminder of the old adage, “Celebrities – they’re just like us!”
Though it isn’t a film centered around her mental health, Alone Together doesn’t shy away from shining a spotlight on it either, encompassing everything from Charli’s feelings of inadequacy to her workaholic tendencies and determination to finish the album, to her worries over her relationship with the aforementioned boyfriend, who moved in with her at the beginning of the pandemic.
While he doesn’t feature prominently in the film, his presence looms over both the documentary and the album as a whole – Charli admits that the album is mainly about him, and in a touching moment of vulnerability, confesses that despite having dated for seven years, the longest they’ve spent together is 11 days. It’s a fascinating portrait of two people who know each other to the core, but who also still walk on eggshells by virtue of never having truly lived together. It’s such a powerful dynamic it feels like it might’ve come from a screenwriter instead of merely being the documented reality.
In terms of filmmaking, Alone Together feels every ounce a signature Charli XCX production. It’s short and sweet (sitting at just 67 minutes), and makes frequent use of highly stylized 3d animation to depict Charli and her close inner circle of Angels as characters that look like something out of Sailor Moon. It’s fun, offbeat, and a very visual representation of Charli’s music – the entire documentary oozes her personality, style, and fan-influenced aesthetic, which often draws inspiration from the LGBTQ+ community, thanks to the viral popularity of her single “Vroom Vroom” in queer circles.
Simultaneously a portrait of pandemic living, pop stardom, relationship struggles, and mental health, all coated in Charli’s unapologetic honesty and creative integrity, Alone Together is a vibrant, unique take on documentary filmmaking and a testament to the strength of the bond between Charli XCX and her Angels.
Do you plan to give Alone Together a look? Sound off in the comments.