I’ve never been a massive fan of Lily Allen. I find her music generally unexciting (sorry everyone, the cockney ska/pop vibe that blew up around 2008 and produced a hoard of Jamie T’s never really did it for me) plus I’ve always resented her for popularising the tea dress n’ Nike’s combo, which I view the same way as socialism: good in theory but when actualised oh my god DISASTER.
However, since she dropped off the radar in 2009 and made room for Jessie J to try to replace her for a bit, UK chart music took a noticeable dive in terms of standards. Whether that’s a coincidence or a product of the fact that, as human beings, we tend to get worse and worse with every passing year I don’t know, but either way, Lily, I am glad to have you back.
Her timing couldn’t have been better, either. I hope you all realise that future generations will refer to 2013 as The Year of the Twerk (an astrological symbol literally zero people will be getting tattooed on the back of their neck). We’ve been trapped in a revolving door of pop stars being sexist and racist provoking commentary on pop stars being sexist provoking commentary on commentary on pop stars being sexist and racist provoking existential suicide. I feel like all I’ve read in the last year is think pieces on the cultural relevance of Miley’s tongue. And the less said about UK chart music the better.
I turned on Radio 1 whilst making soup last night, which isn’t something I’d normally do, and when I heard James Arthur’s re-invention of the co-dependant national anthem that is ‘You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You’ I realised why that is. I was about to give up completely, but then Lily rocks up with ‘Hard Out Here’ – a feminist manifesto that shut everybody up like a teenage daughter screaming “I’M PREGNANT” over a family argument (and swiftly gets them talking again even louder). This is a comeback in every sense of the word.
At this point I don’t need to provide much in the way of analysis because it’s painfully obvious what she’s parodying and also there’s like fifty predictable articles already written regarding whether the whole deal is a snappy critical commentary or a racist pile of shit, but for what it’s worth, I reckon girl done good. From Robin Thicke to E-Cigarettes, nobody and nothing is safe. ‘Hard Out Here’ has (at least half of) you laughing on the outside and crying on the inside.
The cool thing about the video is that it’s not attacking any of its cultural touchstones as much as it is presenting them in a way that makes them feel ridiculous. It’s fun, but it’s also intentionally uncomfortable. Here you have this real “every woman” lifted out of a greasy spoon in suburban London and plonked onto a harshly lit set trying to twerk in black spandex. I also really enjoy the fact that she’s strutting proudly in front of a letter-balloon arrangement that spells out “Lily Allen Has A Baggy Pussy” while her childlike voice sails out of every TV set in the country, crooning a Keane cover over a the wettest Christmas advert John Lewis (who I bet are super stoked on this) has ever created.
Lyrically it ain’t perfect; “Don’t need to shake my arse for you cuz I’ve got a brain”? C’mon Lily, off your sassy horse, everyone knows the two are not mutually exclusive. However, I do feel like ‘Hard Out Here’ raises an important point: do what you want, as long as you’re comfortable with it (a point I think is also raised by the some of the people she’s satirising). For the most part, Allen looks totally awkward throughout this entire video, and so she should. It’s Lily Allen. She’s supposed to be wearing something with a Peter Pan collar and singing out of a pastel-painted caravan window, not sucking off a banana and singing a chorus that primarily consists of repeating the word “bitch”.
Now the sensitive bit…because she fobs off cars and chains (like Lorde) and includes black women in her group of backing dancers (like Miley) who are wearing less clothes than her, she’s been called racist. Of course, there will always be race issues when dealing with sexualisation of women because you’re trying to make a statement about all women and it’s impossible to do that without tripping over tangled socio-cultural backgrounds. However, in this case, I think it’s as simple as this: Lily Allen has been dealt a lot of shit when it comes to body image. She didn’t feel comfortable wearing a bikini on set of her first single in four years but wanted to comment on female body image, so she hired a group of backing dancers who were cool with wearing less. She can’t twerk (despite trying to learn for two weeks) but wanted to draw attention to it as part of a current dialogue, so she hired a group of backing dancers who were willing and able to do so. And she hired them because they are fucking good at what they do, not because of their ethnicity. Commenting on what she is or isn’t wearing is exactly the kind of rubbish Lily Allen is hitting out against in the song and suggesting that the other women featured in the video aren’t smart enough to make an informed decision about whether they are comfortable twerking in a video that satirises twerking is insulting at best. These are some of things that make it hard out here for a bitch
Bottom line is, this is about the objectification of all women. And we need things like this. We need positive feminist dialogue charting at #1. I’m not saying we don’t need people like Miley – we do, they’re important in their own way – but it’s a relief that we now have a commentary on them that comes from other pop musicians. We need people like Lily Allen and Lorde to level the playing field. And if you’re going to write a feminist manifesto, you might as well make it catchy as hell.