Lily Allen dramatically returned to the music world fray earlier in the week with a video that’s caused quite a lot of controversy – and healthy discussion. Here Louder Than War’s Hannah McFaull examines what people have been saying about Lily, her video and the sexism inherent in the music industry, before concluding “Whilst I think Lily is an artist to be applauded, I think she got it wrong on this one…” Read on to find out why.
I sat down twice to try to write this, and twice have given up after reading another article online that pretty much sums up how I feel about the new Lily Allen video for “Hard Out Here”. So for those of you who haven’t had their Twitter feeds flooded with articles about it, here’s my round up for you.
Let’s start with Billboard.com, who let us know that the single is deep in:
“…auto-tuned, deeply sarcastic territory, as Allen tears into society’s (and the music biz’s) outlandish expectations for females” (see here).
Most of the mainstream media outlets have concentrated on lyrics which relate directly to Allen’s post-pregnancy body, or her personal experience as a figure in the public eye. The opening to the video sees Allen on an operating table having liposuction. When the ‘villain’ asks her how she let herself get like this, she replies ‘Erm, I had two babies.”
The video outrightly takes the p*iss out of a huge number of modern music videos, with references including Three-6 Mafia and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. It’s hard to tell whether The Mirror approves or disapproves of the parodies in “Hard Out Here”, but you can imagine their faces when the reporter watched this scene for this first time:
“In the promo for his song Blurred Lines, a woman can be seen dancing in front of bubble balloons which spell out “Robin Thicke has a big d**k.” And in a swipe at Robin’s stunt, Lily can be seen dancing in front of the words “Lily Allen has a baggy p**sy.” Nice.”
There are plenty more examples on the t’internets of reviews like this. Reviews that are a little bit shocked, a little bit tantalized and a little bit “ooh matron someone said the word tits in a song”. Provocative is a word that has cropped up a number of times.
There’s also a couple that are saying that she saved pop music with this single. (See this piece in Idolator here for instance.) I’m going to guess that these journalists are a little bit scared of the lyrical wit of this song (and if there’s one thing you can count on in a Lily Allen track it’s humor and a sharp tongue).
Yes, she’s pointing a finger at Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus, but ultimately if she’d released the song in any of the four years it has been since her last release, there would have been examples she could have used which would have illustrated the same picture.
But I personally think that our Lily is cleverer than that. If you look closely, the message isn’t just, “Don’t need to shake my arse for you because I’ve got a brain” but a wider comment about the position of women in society using a much broader lens that just the music industry.
“I like where she’s going with flipping the ‘Hard Out Here for a Pimp’ idea and making it about the ugly pressure for women to be hot glamazons or virgins or happy homemakers or some combination of those. “It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect women to look and behave in this certain way” is a pretty familiar message, obviously, but I’d say it’s one that’s worth hearing often. (Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic)”
So, in general, mainstream media is treating the video as a call to arms for feminists everywhere. The Telegraph even asked: “Who is a better feminist: Lily Allen or Miley Cyrus?”My enormous problem with this is the assumption that it reinforces the idea that there is only one kind of feminism, and that the message in the video is a message we all ascribe to. Us feminists that is. It also makes the shaking your arse or having a brain an either / or thing, and I know many smart women who love a dance.
The quote above is from a discussion on TheAtlantic.com between Ashley Fetters and Nolan Feeney, who ask whether the video is actually as progressive as the internet is saying it is. And ultimately, the answer is no.
Theirs is only one of a number of articles that calls to attention the lack of racial solidarity shared by the women in the video. The fact that not only are all of Lily’s backing dancers black, but whilst she breaks character at the end of the video, none of them do.
“At the end of the video, it would have been great to know that while many of the women in this video do, indeed, shake their asses with impunity, they, too, are real people with thoughts and sore feet and maybe depleted patience.” (Check out the full discussion here).
This I entirely agree with. One of the biggest issues that boils my blood is the use of women as decoration or objects to be possessed. And this is a problem that raises its ugly head again and again when we talk about race and the music industry. Is she really addressing this in her video, or is she perpetuating the familiar structures of gender and race in music?
Whilst I think Lily is an artist to be applauded, I think she got it wrong on this one. I’m going to use the video to start conversations with my younger female relatives about gender stereotypes, and race will play a part in it. Because we live in a world where you can’t disassociate the two, even in our criticisms of society, however clever they might be.