Lily Allen’s propah come-back took the form of ‘Hard Out Here’ (a title that really feel likes it needs ‘For A Bitch’ in brackets after) and like everyone’s talking about it, didn’t you know? It’s an important song – and video – at a time where both criticism, and promotion of sexism in pop music (and also rock, and indie, and EDM, and rap) have reached an apex. There have been a ludicrous number of think-pieces about Miley Cyrus (So naked! So shameful!). And Robin Thicke (So rapey! So unapologetic!). And Lorde (So refreshing! So Selena and Swift-hating!). But what there hasn’t been as much of are actual musical expressions of said outrage and interrogation. So Lily Allen – who seems like someone who is very much On Our Side (and I’m a blogger from London who’s reading English so guess whose side I’m on via the power of italics) – is probably ready for a Sainthood. And any form of internet coronation is deserved. The song is clever, really clever. Let’s count the way it’s clever:
- At least four people I know texted me quoting ‘Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits’ which is the song’s stand-out lins and is a good explanation of how nonsensical the phrase ‘grow a pair’ is. Testicles are not the route of all courage.
- The silver balloons in the video are a super, super necessary rebuttal to Robin Thicke’s helium monstrosities. On a side note, do you remember when we were allowed to like the video for Blurred Lines? Those were the days.
- Look, just watch it:
But while it’s easy to list off just how good the song is, and how much of a cultural First Aid it is, its parody of society at large, Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus et al is also its downfall. Towards the end, in the song’s compulsory break-down (which is to rap and R ‘n’ B what the ‘soar‘ is to mainstream pop) Allen rap-talks ‘Inequality promises that it’s here to stay’ and suddenly it feels like a shticky, Government hand-out. Like if your dentist urged a teenager to floss with a comic strip about fighting plaque. Or when we used to get rulers with the phrase ‘Safety Rules’ printed on them by the local police-force. Weirdly specific examples aside, I think my point is semi-clear: It’s just a bit nail-on-the-head. It’s tailor-made for the internet of course (in a week where Allen also soundtracked the John Lewis advert; another by-product of successful commercial-internet integration). You’re going to have these tweeted at with #feminism or #hereslookingatyoumiley . Someone’s going to post this on your wall with the comment: ‘OMG. What I’ve been saying for so long.’ There are going to GIFs of Lily Allen singing at you ‘You should probably lose some weight cos we can’t see your bones’ on BuzzFeed articles about female body image.
And what that does, as much as providing a hurrah for people who think it’s worrying when a number one song contains lyrics about splitting women’s arses in two, is galvanise the other end of the spectrum. The end of the spectrum who don’t notice, or more worrying think it’s like totally hilarious dude that a number one song contains lyrics about splitting women’s arses in two. And it’s totally cool for that; it should be done! People should offend that extreme because they’re in need of offence. But I just wish it hadn’t been Allen. She’s such a clever song-writer that it feels like a waste on two levels. Firstly, this just isn’t a lead-in single to an album. It’s not even an album song, really. It should have been a side-project, or maybe a B-side. It feels like a classier, more expensive version of this. And so as a taster for what to come, it’s just a little slapstick. And where Allen excels isn’t in slapstick. Well, okay it’s slapstick in small doses – and normally on more personal levels than all-out political statements (take ‘I’m lying in the wet patch in the middle of the bed / Feeling really hard-done by, I spent ages giving head’ in ‘Not Fair’). Her music’s subversive as fuck; her second album was called ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You.’ Just check out the presenter’s introduction to ‘Not Fair.’
She knows exactly what she’s doing. And when she does do broader political statements, she does in such a subtly lyrical way that feels playful. And cleverer. And with playfulness and cleverness comes longevity. Just look at one of her biggest hits, ‘The Fear’ which presents, comments and critiques the vacuousness of 21st century priorities in way that refreshes a well-trodden path. She sings in the opening lines ‘I want a fuckload of diamonds, I heard people die when they’re trying to find them.’ It’s brilliant and I’m still thinking about it a good few years since it was released. And ‘Hard Out Here’ just doesn’t have longevity. It will be shared all this week, it will be included in end-of-year lists but it won’t be remembered as her finest moment. There’s real, long-term value in a song that plays hard-to-get. Songs that luxuriate in being covert, are often much more powerful than their overt counter-parts. They’re stealthy, installing themselves inside listeners’ heads and then revealing their motives and not vice versa. But maybe Allen’s she’s angry about sexism in pop. And you know, I can understand that. I’m angry too. It’s hard out here for a bitch.