At this point, we’ve all heard the phrase “unprecedented times” enough times to want to throttle the neck of the next person to utter it. But an aspect of the COVID pandemic that I think will be the most fascinating in the coming years is how our experiences of those dreaded, unprecedented times will be echoed in the music, cinema, literature, video games and other media in years to come.
Alone Together, directed by duo Bradley & Pablo, is a striking example of exactly that. While the documentary primarily focuses on the whirlwind production of British pop prodigy Charli XCX’s 2020 album How I’m Feeling Now – which she produced in just 40 days during lockdown in her LA-based home studio – it’s also a vulnerable peeling-back of Charli’s party girl image and a touching exploration of how the isolation of lockdown so heavily affected so many of us without warning.
Much of the footage in Alone Together was shot by Charli and her long-term partner Huck Kwong, who shacked up together in Charli’s LA home at the beginning of the state-wide lockdown in early 2020. The creation of the singer’s fourth studio album, How I’m Feeling Now, began with her inherent discomfort with the idea of doing nothing at all during lockdown – a discomfort we soon learn is not a symptom of boredom but a deeply-rooted, self-deprecating belief that her creative work is the only aspect of her existence worth anything.
It’s a sentiment that more of us can relate to than we’d probably like to admit. The lockdowns of 2020 were a deeply uncomfortable experience on so many levels, especially for vulnerable members of society for whom the family home was an unsafe but necessary shelter during the pandemic. Much of Charli’s fan base, affectionately referred to as her Angels, belong to the LGBTQ+ community; her live concerts and online communities serving as safe havens for frequently young, vulnerable queer music lovers.
With clubs and other public spaces closed last year, these communities had little choice but to shift to virtual alternatives such as Club Quarantine, a popular Zoom-based nightclub experience for those stuck behind screens. Alone Together lovingly explores these online communities and their dedicated members, as well as how Charli tapped into them throughout the production of How I’m Feeling Now as a form of connection to her audience as well as a intimate, collaborative force in the writing process.
How I’m Feeling Now is an extraordinary pop album in its own right, and its significance is only heightened by the insights offered by Bradley & Pablo’s documentary. Alone Together’s primary focus might not fully connect with audiences who aren’t already fans of Charli XCX’s music, but there’s still plenty to chew on here in its exploration of the importance of community to those who were already isolated in their own ways long before COVID-19 hit the scene.