A Party During the Pandemic: A Look At Charli’s “Alone Together”
Faced with limited resources and a fleeting confidence, Charli creates one of the most prolific projects in music today.
Charli Aitchison’s (Charli XCX) COVID-19 documentary, “Alone Together” is a reliable snapshot of her mental state during a time when any sense of normalcy was hard to come by. Shutting down the 2019 tour for her album ‘Charli,’ bringing her face-to-face with self doubt and challenging the relationship with her boyfriend of 7 years, the pandemic’s toll on the singer-songwriter can be seen across the hour-long string of footage detailing the production of her 2020 album, ‘How I’m Feeling Now.’
“Alone Together” focuses on Charli’s solution to the pandemic’s isolating grip on her community and the production of ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ in her makeshift LA-home studio. For five weeks, Charli was in constant conversation with producers while desperately seeking fan feedback. She was gonna make this album without the resources afforded to her by her label.
The collaborative effort included in the production of the album was due to physical limitations sprung from the lasting effects of the pandemic and she needed all the help she could get.
Charli XCX has been in and out of the limelight for some time now. After her 2014 success, ‘SUCKER,’ including “Boom Clap” and “Break the Rules,” she pivoted towards a more electronic, percussively-exaggerated direction with her strong sense for pop melodies.
In 2016, she hinted at a new sound, one informed by industrial snares and elastic bass lines. The single “Vroom Vroom,” produced by the late hyperpop mogul SOPHIE, brought about a liberated fan base dubbed “Charli’s Angels.” Her music soon left the radio sphere, appearing in more inner city nightclubs and discord servers. From that point forth, Charli ascended beyond internet stardom and into pioneer status.
“The fact that I can stand up here and sing the songs that I’ve made because I wanted to make them, not even thinking if anyone else would like them, and that you guys care and you f***ing showed up… I would not be here without you,” she said, captured by a fan during her concert in 2019.
‘Charli’ stands as a rebrand for Aitchison. She employed a range of sounds, from CupcakKe to Clairo, to polish techniques from its experimental precursor ‘Pop 2' (2017). Her standing in the 2017 music industry allowed her to collaborate with just about any up-and-coming producer that piqued her interest in pushing pop’s limits. By the time ‘Charli’ released, she had nearly perfected her brand of electronic novelty.
What was originally anticipated to be a breakout tour for the album, unfortunately, became a series of canceled shows. The state of international emergency sprung on by the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 brought an array of limitations, one being Charli’s efforts to maintain fan interactions — resorting to Instagram live and, later, Zoom.
Upon announcing her plan to create an album during the pandemic, Charli wanted the entire process to be shared with her fans. From sharing demos to acapellas, the creation of ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ couldn’t have been completed without the help of her Angels.
With the obstacles of learning how to use recording equipment and writing an album with millions of people watching through her camera, Charli was at the mercy of cellular connection.
During a phone call with her producer, A.G. Cook, she explained how bad her vocals sound on the new set up.
“I can’t really sing at the moment. Like, I sound crazy.” Charli said.
“It might also be the set up. It might all be-” Cook begins before cutting out of the call.
Huck, Charli’s boyfriend of 7-years, remained a pillar of emotional support and the lyrical focus of the album. He appears in the documentary, often wearing a hoodie and a slight smile for the camera. The two begin to clash, however, when Charli wants to use a clip of the two kissing for the “claws” music video.
Charli assures him that he doesn’t have to do it if he doesn’t feel like it. It’s not that Huck doesn’t want to do it, he just knows that he won’t enjoy it. After Charli explains that they’ll be alone while shooting, Huck decides to bear with it.
The documentary takes a purposive turn when Charli approaches the deadline of the album. From canceling Zoom meetings with fans, to posting her self-doubt to Instagram to questioning how it’s all going to get done, “Alone Together” highlights the effect the entire process had on her close relationships, as well as her own self esteem. She was losing it.
The pressure gets to her one day while trying to write lyrics to one of her beats, “Ah, it’s so hard to f***ing focus, because I know that you’re watching. I can’t, it’s really difficult,” Charli said.
At this point, you’re wondering why the camera’s are still rolling. How is she even going to make the deadline with this much mental anguish and stress? After muttering a few swear words to herself, she reaches for the camera and turns it off.
After some empty clips of Charli searching for lyrics in her head and completing rollout work for her album — from cover shoot to interviews to merch — she pronounces the album finished. Quietly shocked that she made an 11-track album before the May 15 deadline, she runs through her mental to-do list to find a task she forgot about — she’s looking for something to confirm that her ignorance got the better of her. There’s no mistake, she did it.
With all that she accomplished during a time that was lonely and desolate, Charli devised something beautiful — concluding with self-appraisal. A smile grows on her face as she concludes, “It takes a lot for me to say this, but I’m really proud of myself,” she said.
Watch the documentary here.