Skip to main content

SXSW 2021 Review: 'Alone Together' is Charli XCX's gift to her fans

Bradley & Pablo's 'Alone Together' is a documentary look into Charli XCX's pandemic life while creating 'How I'm Feeling Now' at a breakneck pace, dating, and supporting her fanbase.

Charli XCX honors her squad in 'Alone Together.'
(Image: © SXSW)

Our Verdict

'Alone Together' is Charli XCX once again using her platform from a place of responsibility and gratitude, with such a miraculous authenticity that proves not all "pandemic cinema" is created equal.

For

  • 🎤 Focuses on fanbase.
  • 🎤 Shows a celebrity breaking the barrier between artist and audience.
  • 🎤 As entertaining as it is expressive.
  • 🎤 A brisk 70 minutes.

Against

  • 🎤 Reuses pandemic news announcements, if you're not in the mood.
  • 🎤 A bit slighter around relationship subplots.

Alone Together is part of our SXSW 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

In terms of “Pandemic Cinema,” Alone Together should be recognized as the new golden standard. Films like Songbird, Safer At Home, and The End Of Us curiously remind audiences about COVID-19 without commentary like it’s bygone nostalgia—without COVID-19’s first season finale in sight. Charli XCX’s "Pandemic Cinema" brand doesn't repurposes trauma for headlines, nor do documentarians Bradley & Pablo execute something disingenuous. I didn't expect Alone Together to be as much of a gift from Charli XCX to her fans—who she adores as much as they adore her—or that I'd fall in love with a fandom so easily. Every line more powerful, every breakdown more vulnerable, and every expression of gratitude to her adoring fans that much more remarkable as she reinvents celebrity-fandom stigmas.

At the beginning of 2020’s coronavirus outbreak, when Los Angeles quarantine orders halted civilian activities, Charli XCX announced her intentions to ambitiously produce an entirely new album in forty days. Her fans—Charli's Angels—rejoiced, and Charli XCX began recording sessions. Cameras capture as much “studio” time as possible and remain rolling during candid conversations with now live-in boyfriend Huck Kwong. It’s as much Charli XCX keeping herself honest to meet another challenge as it is Charli XCX remaining bravely accessible to those who are empowered by her reassuring admissions. A video journal, if you will, that’s a beacon of communal hope and a template for how fandoms can become accepting, invaluable resources for both crowds and idols.

How Charli XCX normalizes her depressive spirals—faces her demons—via social media platforms to show how even the wealthy, the famously achieving, still struggle with mental turmoil is heroic. Charli XCX uses the industry spotlight and online platform she’s earned to assure her fanbase that acknowledging pain isn’t weak, nor is our society’s downplaying of psychological anguish healthy. Alone Together is the latest extension of appreciation towards the Angels who inspire Charli XCX. Concert footage from 2019 glimpses a happy-sobbing Charli XCX thanking her sold-out venue for sticking around when she realized what made her happiest as an artist—the Angels accepted Charli XCX for being herself on stage, not chasing chart rankings or paydays. It’s an essential inauguration for outsider viewers and a touching reminder for those inner-circle members pressing play, as selected Angles become supporting characters throughout Charli XCX’s on-screen journey.

Charli XCX’s fearlessness about public perception is such a saving grace and genuine stance throughout Alone Together. Editors could have snipped together a celebratory reel of Charli XCX completing an otherwise insane race against deadline stress, minus sobering personal breakdowns—but those are the defining moments of Charli XCX’s tell-all. Where Charli XCX admits self-imposed assignments like her pandemic album How I’m Feeling Now stem from self-conscious voices that conflate her career output with personal worthiness. How she’s not pretty, smart, or interesting enough to exist outside “Charli XCX: The Superstar.” There is no hiding behind false confidence or publicist-groomed images because those who depend on Charli XCX most need to hear how they’re not alone. Whether that’s another Angel watching Charli XCX’s Instagram stories atop their neon-pink comforter, or an exhausted film critic who regularly battles identity-worth issues suddenly connecting with a musician he’s rarely mixed into Spotify playlists.

It’s the responsibility and conviction of Alone Together that strikes me so raw. How Charli XCX positions her documentary without vanity, as the camera turns back on pandemic issues less are championing. Charli XCX asks devoted attendees on moderated Zoom calls how they’re coping with pandemic conditions, and she hears stories from transitioning teenagers stuck living under rooftops where parents neglect acceptance. Misunderstood sons and daughters are isolated within bedrooms because judgment exists outside those four walls, no part-time jobs as an escape, while drag queens like Poison Oakland commiserate over the lost expression of performance and shuttered ally venues. Music will forever be an outlet, but Charli XCX ensures unprecedented appreciation of her faithful because she understands the artist-fanbase reciprocity not as a business transaction but as mutual intimacy. If not proven ad nauseam already, Alone Together solidifies how much Charli XCX cares about these Angles, is dedicated to their well-being, and will only rise with them, hoisting her to new heights—which is quite beautiful.

As a documentary, Alone Together finds its narrative rhythm by featuring the background vocals of not only Huck—touching on pandemic relationship fears—but Charli's Angels, a testament to Charli XCX's grandest gestures. Not to mention, Bradley & Pablo insert explainers via faux chat bubble exposition and Final Fantasy lookin’ Angels avatars for a pop-animated signature. As a race against release dates, we already know How I’m Feeling Now dropped May 15th as expected—but that doesn’t rob Charli XCX’s emotional therapy reveals as to why the project may have even begun. As an ode to the Angels Charli XCX surprise bombs during virtual raves, incorporates in her lyrical formulation, and welcomes into her creative process because they’re the ones who inspire her creativity? Alone Together is a startlingly soothing expression of—sorry—togetherness that, against all odds, explores how a catastrophe that’s keeping us more separated than ever can bring wounded souls closer. Charli XCX built her Angels a place to belong, and not even a pandemic can silence their songs of survival, uniqueness, and hope that reinforces until concerts reunite warm, welcoming faces once again.