Lily Allen is back from retirement, and, in typical Allen style, she’s got something to say. After a brief hiatus, in which she married and had two kids, the Mockney singer has returned with a song that comments on the objectification of women in the music industry and their blanket reduction from three dimensional people to a pair of breasts and an arse.
The song, Hard Out Here, delivers a scathing swipe at the marginalisation of women in music and the industry’s narrow definition of female beauty, which is inextricably equated with economic value. What sells is sex, according to the (old, white, middle-class) suits in the music industry, and sex is what you’ll get. Whether it’s Miley manically twerking her practically underage bare buttocks at this year’s MVA’s or Robin Thicke declaring that he’ll ‘tear your ass in two’ in the rapey Blurred Lines video, it’s clear Lily’s got a point.
There are a lot of good things to say about the video – the fact she even managed to make it is impressive (imagine pitching that one to the suits). The start, when she’s lying in the operating theatre, having her body critiqued and scrutinised by the producer ‘(I’ve had two babies,’ she mutters), acts as a pretty damn accurate metaphor of the female reduced to a physical vessel under the male gaze. It’s punchy, it’s clever, it’s fucking funny: the balloons spelling out ‘Lily Allen has a baggy pussy’ – a direct up yours to Robin Thicke’s ‘Robin Thicke has a big dick’ – highlight the ridiculousness of a society which expects perfection of its women, at all times.
It took me a while to decide how I felt about her backing dancers. They made me uncomfortable, but I couldn’t quite give voice to the reasons why. It’s a send-up, I thought to myself, a satire – she’s sticking two fingers up at the man! But actually – well, it’s just not, is it. How can the use of scantily-clad, grinding dancers possibly satirise the ubiquitous use of ‘women as playthings’ in music videos? It’s not turning the tables; it’s reproducing the problem. People have been quick to call Allen out on this – as well as accusing her of racism. While there’s a basis of truth in these claims, I can’t help but feel the haters are firing bullets at the wrong person. The wider problem, which stems from the industry, and not Allen, seems to be being ignored here. Allen has made a start. She’s forced us to have this conversation. We should acknowledge that a bit more gracefully.