It was never going to be subtle. She may have spent some time off the radar for a few years (you know, bringing up kids, getting married, setting up a business, starting a record label, working with Chanel… quiet time), but Lily Allen’s music industry comeback is anything but low key. Forget her tinkly cover of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” for THAT advert. Bear and hare can hop along; Allen’s new single “Hard Out Here” has an agenda. She’s addressing the objectification of women in the modern world (pop and hip hop culture take a big hit), sexism, materialism, glass ceilings, body pressure, Robin Thicke, twerking… Lily’s list is long, and for good reason. The feminist plight and fight is more vital than ever, as Allen highlights in her lyrics:
“We’ve never had it so good/ We’re out of the woods/ And if you can’t detect the sarcasm you’ve misunderstood.”
The song’s video has sparked controversy and triggered accusations of racism owing to Lily’s non-white entourage of scantily clad, gyrating dancers, however Lily has responded by assuring critics that the women were solely selected on the basis of their superior dancing skills. The fact that Lily is white, fairly modestly dressed and more “powerful” than her posse may have troubled some viewers, but this was most certainly not her intention:
"If I was a little braver, I would have been wearing a bikini too, but I do not and I have chronic cellulite, which nobody wants to see […] What I'm trying to say is that me being covered up has nothing to do with me wanting to disassociate myself from the girls, it has more to do with my own insecurities and I just wanted to feel as comfortable as possible on the shoot day.
“I'm not going to apologise because I think that would imply that I'm guilty of something, but I promise you this, in no way do I feel superior to anyone, except paedophiles, rapists murderers etc., and I would not only be surprised but deeply saddened if I thought anyone came away from that video feeling taken advantage of or compromised in any way. Ask the ladies yourselves @shalaeuroasia @monique_Lawz @ceodancers @TempleArtist @SelizaShowtime @melycrisp.”
Whatever your thoughts on the video’s casting, Lily’s satirical lampooning of the music industry and the white, middle class men that rule over it is both comical and pertinent. From being instructed on the intricacies of fellating bananas to washing up car grills, Allen’s video highlights how frankly ridiculous the shallow and patriarchal celebrity pop culture of today has become. A middle-aged man in a suit makes snide remarks about the singer’s post-baby body while she lies on the operating table; he makes it crystal clear that her appearance on chat shows is dependent on her having the prerequisite “perfect” body. Appearance is everything… if you don’t appear young and hot, you don’t appear at all ladies. What rubbish.
The allusions to chauvinistic culprits come thick and fast. From the song’s title (a reference to Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”) to the obvious lyrical and visual parodies of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, it’s fair to say that outspoken Lily is not afraid to take the perpetrators of inequality to task. The video’s portrayal of women of colour itself could be considered problematic, but on the whole she’s saying something very pressing and highlighting a situation that needs sorting out sharpish.
She may not be presenting a campaign in parliament, she may not be knocking on doors, but she’s using her power and influence to make a point, and she really doesn’t have to. She could sit pretty and concede to the industry’s demands like many others choose to. She could give herself an easy life, but we’re thankful that she doesn’t. The poor music station staff having to edit her song for daytime playlists might not be so appreciative, however.