“It’s so hard to focus, because I know that you’re watching,” complains Charli XCX to camera in this video diary about her lockdown project: cobbling together fourth album How I’m Feeling Now in an ad hoc home studio in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, that’s the predicament the pop star has made for herself, thanks to her hyper-intimate relationship with her fanbase; not just sharing her millennial insecurities freely with them on social media, but also the making of this record.
How I’m Feeling Now – recorded to a tight deadline – joins Bo Burnham’s Inside and Zoom slasher Host as quarantine-prompted creative endeavours to put our burnt banana bread and wonky tomato trellises to shame. Charli XCX, saying art is crucial for her mental wellbeing, rolls her sleeves up as soon she receives a box of mics from her producer. She massages her off-kilter lockdown emotions into zeitgeist-ready toplines over choice beats arriving in her inbox from around the world. Long-term boyfriend Huck Kwong, with whom she finds herself in sudden cohabitation after previously never having spent more than 11 days with him, is another source of inspiration.
What is interesting is the strongly collaborative aspect to the work, with the singer-songwriter in more or less constant communication with her fans, running tracks by them and, in one instance, crowdsourcing lyrics. Others have tried this beta-test approach, including Kanye West from Life of Pablo onwards, but there is something especially familial about Charli XCX’s take on it. Alone Together intersperses its focus on her music-making with segments from the bedrooms of eight LGBT “Angels” (ie XCX fans), all of whom have found a sense of belonging in her community.
It feels like a very modern, fusional kind of digital fandom – not dissimilar to the intense feedback loop between followers and luminaries on show in this year’s anime hit Belle. Alone Together has similar virtual-style sequences, with the fans featured pictured as stylised avatars, though they somewhat undermine the film’s claim to being a spontaneous documentation of lo-fi creativity. But Charli XCX’s drive and heart are infectious, even for non-Angels.