I used to follow so many things that concern the arts. But as an adult in my thirties I had to let go of many of them. These things include drag and podcasts, which is kind of where I know her from. Drag queens can never unfollow music, and some of them do podcasts like Bob the Drag Queen. Bob, specifically, recognize that Charli XCX is the brain behind many of the pop songs that other artists have sing in the past decade. Think Sia but less problematic. She also gets the occasional mention in non-drag podcasts. She gets those mentions for providing guest vocals in songs of that define many of the summers of the past decade.
One of those songs include Iggy Azealia’s “Fancy,” which blares in a scene in Bradley and Pablo’s Charli XCX: Alone Together, which documents the pop star’s experience during the early months of the pandemic. She calls a lot of Zoom meetings for 1000 of her fans who call themselves Angels. Some musicians in this contemporary era who are secretive. While there are others like her who are more hands on with their fans. The Angels figure more into the documentary after her announcement of trying to record a whole album. She starts during the beginning of the pandemic. And she gives herself a deadline to release the album in May 15, 2020.
I apologize for talking a bit or too much about myself in these reviews but it makes sense here, following Charli XCX’s open ethos. Documentaries like this will always have this distance from regular viewers. And that’s just because a celebrity’s pandemic experience is different from those viewers, especially mine, as someone who did front end work during the pandemic’s first year. Even some of the intersections between her experience and that of regular people still feel slightly distant, like the occasional boyfriend drama with Huck Kwong that the documentary resolves within seconds.
But there’s something interesting about watching them living together as Charli XCX simulates her work environment in her LA home. It speaks to people like her who see purpose in work. And work is one of those aspects of life that will differ among people yet will still relate to. I’m as as ‘anti-work’ as they go,. And I keep a list of things I want to during my free days. And that list, just like Charli’s lists, still feel like work and, fortunately, purposeful.
There are a lot more interesting topics that this film touches, like the public nature of mental illness, which doesn’t just affect celebrities. But the topic of work is something that the documentary highlights. During the five weeks Charli XCX spent while recording this album, she hold more Zoom meetings, encouraging the Angels to give her input on lyrics. To make videos and artwork of them that reflect how much inspiration they get from her rough work. There’s so many questions that pop up in a process like this. Like are these fans getting credit and residuals for their contributions to How I Feel Now?
Or will the Angels turn on her because the rough work is subpar, as rough work and vocals often are? (There’s a scene where she playfully gives the finger to the camera during one of the times when a few fans call the rough lyrics ‘shit’.) This also disobeys the rule of art and business in that the customer doesn’t know what they want. But somehow, she gives the Angels what they want and it ends up being good. The documentary plays snippets of the album which sounds like a pop version of the drum and bass and grime music I used to listen to in high school. Documentaries like this have this secondary mission of turning viewers into stans. I’m not giving away my badge from the Beygency, but this might make people grow some wings.
The documentary, lastly, shows Charli XCX’s new home life where she looks like a person with the digital and imaginary worlds where the Angels live, a haven for her young, international LGBT2+ fans and archive footage of her life of her past decade. There’s also the equal share of news footage of newscasters. These newscasters announce that the pandemic is going to be longer than we expected. And the movie mixes all of that well, the sadness of isolation and the joy of creation.