Lily Allen has staked a claim in mainstream music as pop's most adorable tomboy, first arriving on YouTube in a flouncy dress and mall sneakers. Her public persona balances the sweetness in her cherubic face and girly voice with the occasional acerbic rhyme and a swaggering pride in calling out bullshit when she sees it.
Allen's laid out her feminist concerns in song before, most notably in "Everything is Wonderful" from her sophomore album, Alright Stil. She sings:
I wanna be able to eat spaghetti bologneseAnd not feel bad about it for days and days and daysIn the magazines they talk about weight loss
If I buy those jeans I can look like Kate Moss
Sure, no listener's mind was blown by those lyrics, but it was refreshing all the same to hear a young female artist talk about body insecurities and media pressure -- and in peppy pop, no less.
Allen has become more outspoken in her latest single, "Hard Out There," which criticizes the rampant sexism in the music industry from both the corporate suits and the entertainment press. She is blunt with her criticisms, which include the "thinification" of stars, the materialism of hip hop, and most of all, the use of sex to lure audiences -- and the consequent slut-shaming.
Here are some attack-brags from "Hard Out There":
You'll find me in the studio, and not in the kitchenI won't be braggin' 'bout my cars, or talkin' 'bout my chainsDon't need to shake my ass for you 'cuz I got a brainIf I told you 'bout my sex life, you'd call me a slutWhen boys be talkin' 'bout their bitches no one's making a fussThere's a glass ceiling to break, uh huh there's money to makeYou should probably lose some weight, 'cuz we can't see your bonesYou should probably fix your face, or you'll end up on your ownDon't you want to have somebody who objectifies you?
It's bracing to hear the thoughts we feminist culture-watchers all think but never see acknowledged enough by the mainstream media, especially by the major artists who have the most to lose by speaking out against the system that props them up. Allen also has the balls -- or maybe she'd say the tits -- to target Robin Thicke in particular for his underage porn-chic video "Blurred Lines."
"In Hard Out There" Allen's obvious motives were to mock woman-objectifying videos while illustrating the sexism she's singing about. And yet at the same time Allen squanders much of the feminist goodwill she would have earned with a video since she objectifies female bodies as much she satirizes. She sings in front of a back-up crew of barely dressed, mostly nonwhite dancers, has them pour champagne on each other's bodies, and later slaps a black dancer on her bare ass.
Flavorwire's Michelle Dean also points to the video's exploitation of the dancers' nonwhite bodies:
But beyond the mocking frame, if you think about the result for the women who are actually dancing in the video, it is still the same as your average Miley Cyrus/Gwen Stefani/Madonna exploitation of women of color. Let’s get abstract for a second: Here’s a white lady, singing about how she resents having to lose weight and generally be treated as a sex object. And she’s dancing with a number of comparatively voiceless and nameless black women.
To add insult to, well, more insult, Allen then makes grotesqueries of the bodies of the twerkers with close-ups of their fat jiggling in slo-mo. Don't judge me for my fat, she sings, then body-shames the women around her through the video.
Some singers have a talent with words, while others are experts of visual language. Allen should think harder about the latter so she can practice what she preaches.
Watch Lily Allen's "Hard Out There":