In the beginning of the 2020 quarantine, before the Pandemic Album became a thing, singer and songwriter Charli XCX gathered her fans — affectionately called “Angels” — on Zoom for an announcement.
“My positivity goes hand-in-hand with being creative,” she said. “I really need to be creative to feel happy and to feel comfortable and to make sure that my mental health is staying on track.”
Charli XCX then shared that she planned to focus all of that creativity on a new album, how i’m feeling now. “I’m going to basically be making it live,” she continued. “I want to open up the entire process to all of you. I’m gonna be sharing demos with you, acapellas with you, I’m going to ask you guys to help me make videos.”
While recording her fourth LP over a five-week period, Charli XCX enlisted directors Bradley & Pablo (who also directed her music video for “2099”) to capture her journey. The resulting documentary, called Alone Together, debuted at this year’s SXSW and will be released worldwide on March 20.
While the documentary’s main focus is the whirlwind process of making an album in a mere 40 days, Charli XCX’s unique relationship with the Angels is the magic ingredient truly makes the film shine. It’s that rapport, forged by chatrooms, Zoom, social media, virtual meetups and dance parties, which makes Alone Together feel like a seminal time capsule of the 2020-2021 era.
As Charli XCX records how i’m feeling now, her fans aren’t just voyeurs, they’re true collaborators. While writing and recording her song “anthems,” the singer hops on Instagram live to ask Angels to help her finish a few lyrics. “Well, I just wrote lyrics with my fans online, which was really cool. They have good ideas,” she says as she films herself. “Now I’m going to record.”
She then posts a Twitter update: “here the first instrumental from the first song I’ve been working on for the album. I’ll share a version with my vocal/topline ideas on my insta live.” The scene cuts to a handful of different Angels immediately playing the song they just helped bring to life, giving them a rare feeling of connection. “It’s just so fun to be alone in your room and put your headphones in and listen to the new stuff and just dance, and like forget about it for three minutes,” says one fan. “The fact that everyone as a community can listen to this online at the same time, it’s like you get to be there with everyone else,” adds @nxtlvlarchi.
For the music video for “claws,” Charli XCX dons a green suit in front of a green screen and has her fans submit footage and images to project on to her. “claws green screen is now available now for u to download and play with go crazy angels,” Charli tweets.
“A lot of people don’t have supportive parents or family that they’re staying with at the moment, and that’s a really tough thing for them,” says Atlanta-based fan Ellen (@elln2angel) as she makes her submission to the “claws” visual. “Just having something to feel like they’re a part of, and to contribute to, and talk about has definitively been a bright part of it.”
The community of Angels are also motivated to act on their own in order to support each other. “I don’t have many friends in real life,” says Ronald (@bodyofmyown), a fan from Mexico. “Here where I live, the people that surround me don’t like the way I dress or the music I listen to — they will never understand me.” Ronald decides to throw a virtual party for Angels, in which they play DJ sets and remixes of their favourite Charli XCX songs. At the end of the party, Charli herself shows up to the delight of her fans, and plays a demo of a new version of her song “Click.”
Of course, as is with any ambitious project (especially a quarantine project), there are low points in which the end feels too far out of reach. During these difficult moments, when Charli XCX feels stressed and overwhelmed, she sends audio messages to Angels on her Instagram sharing her fears. After all, the point of how i’m feeling now is to capture the real, complex emotions of this time period — and not just the good ones. In return, Angels send her words of encouragement and art to let her know that she isn’t going through the journey alone.
But Charli XCX eventually meets her deadline, and celebrates her release day with the people who helped her get there: her fans. The documentary ends with the singer throwing a virtual album release party at Club Quarantine, a nightly LGBTQ+ party on Zoom.
“I went to a listening party a few weeks ago and it was honestly one of the most fun times I’ve had in quarantine so far,” Ellen says. “Everybody just dancing and enjoying all the same music and feeling like you’re in a room with everybody….I don’t know how to explain it, it just feels really comforting.”
Watching this tight-knit fandom process their feelings and emotions through Zoom session and virtual collaborations together feels surreal in many ways. We still haven’t yet come out on the other side of the pandemic, but somehow this documentary still feels like watching a relic of the past. And even though the circumstances through which Alone Together was filmed were difficult, it’s heartening to see a community step forward in the face of stagnancy, .
“We are all in some ways going through exactly the same thing,” Charli XCX says at the end of the film. “And it feels like this new way of connecting. We created a world online where we could be together, and we went somewhere without even having to leave our bedrooms. In a time where we were forced to be apart, we felt connected in ways we never had before.”