Music documentaries might have previously offered a unique opportunity to get an inside look at a pop star’s rise, or a momentous time in their career. That is sort of the case with “Alone Together,” a new documentary that follows Charli XCX as the British pop star made her 2020 album How I’m Feeling Now in its entirety in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine.
While we definitely get an insider’s view into the process of making the critically-acclaimed album, it’s not something viewers haven’t had before. Because she made it, alone, during the pandemic, the singer live streamed most of the process of writing and recording while the album was being created in 2020. “Alone Together” follows along where her Instagram live sessions and Zoom meetings with large groups of fans left off.
One of the interesting parts of “Alone Together” is that unlike other music documentaries Charli XCX serves as the narrator herself. There’s no fly-on-the-wall recording, like in Billie Eilish’s recent documentary, “The World’s A Little Blurry,” and there’s no outside documentarian observing and commenting on Charli. The film puts the viewer firmly in Charli XCX’s world, which is fitting because that’s what her music has always done, especially on How I’m Feeling Now. It’s also fitting because the sole focus on Charli XCX captures the lonely world that the singer explores throughout her fourth album.
It’s also a necessity of the time—who else could have recorded the artist during the pandemic? It’s not as if she could have had a film crew following her around during the height of quarantining.
Also, can we talk about the run time? At just over 60 minutes, this has got to be one of the shortest music documentaries I’ve ever seen — which is perfect. It’s quick, concise, and gets straight to the point: Charli doesn’t leave viewers guessing and doesn’t overstay her welcome. In fact, the documentary says more in its first 10 minutes than many music documentaries (cough cough “The World’s A Little Blurry”) get to in their first hour. If she’s trying to prove that she’s a real champion of the digital age, with videos and attention streams getting shorter, then she’s continuing to do so with this short, but fulfilling documentary.
While Charli and the process that she undertook during the pandemic to create How I’m Feeling Now is the primary focus of the documentary, it’s not the sole focus. The film also checks in with several of Charli’s fans in Zoom interviews and personal videos, where they speak not just of their adoration for the artis, but also of their own experience going through the pandemic. It shows that when the singer speaks about her fanbase as a community and a family, they’re not just hollow words. Their lived experiences are just as crucial as Charli’s in “Alone Together.”
But that also might make it a bit too personal. The pandemic isn’t a novel experience for anyone. It’s one of the few things in the world that nearly everyone has been impacted by (there has got to be some billionaire out there on a private island who has felt none of the impacts somewhere, right?). So it’s different from other music documentaries in that not everyone can experience a meteoric rise to fame and stardom as in Billie Eilish and Justin Bieber’s films, and not everyone can relate the pressures of celebrity explored in Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana,” but everyone can relate to enduring the seemingly never-ending pandemic that “Alone Together” follows. It might be a bit too soon for a film like this, especially as numbers of cases and hospitalizations rise from the latest variant. It will be interesting to see how this film ages and if it’s a film that someone will ever want to return to in the future.
At this point, we’ve had a lot of pandemic albums and even seen the process of some of them through various documentaries and social media postings, but one of the more interesting parts of “Alone Together” is the documentation of Charli’s decision to make How I’m Feeling Now, and how she went about it completely on her own. Two years in to the pandemic, it’s easy to forget that How I’m Feeling Now was one of the first albums to come entirely out of the pandemic, and seeing her texts with producer A.G. Cook saying that she has no idea what she’s doing, as she’s taking on all of the work of recording on her own was unique insight into the album-making process and captures the early pandemic spirit well—out of boredom, frustration and wanting to have some fun, a lot of us took on new tasks during the quarantine in which we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. Mine was learning how to play the tin flute. Charli’s turned out a little bit more successfully.
For any fans who have been following Charli XCX’s career, especially over the past few years, the documentary doesn’t show anything new, really. There’s not a lot that the singer has kept private or unveiled, she’s so online and has been so even more throughout the pandemic, something the documentary shows. So if you’re a regular in the Charli Instagram lives, you’re basically reliving early 2020 (ahhh!), but it is an interesting look at what actually goes into making an album, and how that process can be put together even during the most trying of times.
“Alone Together” is available to stream on Hulu.