It’s Hard Out Here For Lily Allen

lilyallen

In 2008 Katy Perry described herself as a “thinner version of Lily Allen,” a peculiar jab that turned out to be an amalgamation of what caused Allen’s rage at the music industry. In her earlier years with the release of Alright, Still, Allen’s weight and “unconventionality” were talking points (and in some cases, selling points) to an extent that when she lost weight around the time of her follow-up album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, she sarcastically swiped back on her hit “The Fear” with “Everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner.”

Allen has always been acutely aware of the shelf-life of women in the music industry, a beauty and youth based package that, inevitably, would leave her behind. In “22,” Allen relates this to non-singers, a catchy pop tune bemoaning the plight of an aging woman. (“It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over.”) It almost seemed like Lily Allen had taken this to heart and was going to retire from music for good, until the announcement earlier this year that she was working on her third album.

And lo, it’s “Hard Out Here” for a bitch.

In Lily Allen’s New Video Probably Went Over Your Head, Kathy Iandoli summarizes the difficulties of Allen’s life following her departure from music:

The years that followed for Lily Allen were pretty brutal. She miscarried more than once, met with tweets from “fans” who said things like “I’m glad your baby died” and other pleasantries. When she finally gave birth (twice), she was called fat a number of times and accused of “falling off.” She changed her name to her married name, Lily Rose Cooper, and was called a kept woman. So she brought it back to the née status and was accused of going through another divorce. It truly is hard out here for a bitch.

The “Hard Out Here” video, a satirical pop culture send-up of music industry misogyny, begins with her manager bemoaning her post-baby weight gain, until a newly-liposucked Allen makes a comeback of sorts in a cartoonishly over-the-top music video. Besides the obvious swipes at Robyn Thicke with lines like “who will tear your butt in two” and the glorious balloon display of “LILY ALLEN HAS A BAGGY PUSSY,” the majority of the video satirizes the self-objectification of young singers, notably Miley Cyrus.

I’ve said this about Miley before, but her sexually liberated front is really a carefully calculated appeal to the most basic straight male fantasies, and I couldn’t help but think of that when Allen’s manager tries to teach her how to twerk in the “Hard Out Here” video. The twerking, along with the white woman (Allen) objectifying her women of color dancers in order to assert her dominant sexuality, seems pretty familiar to anyone who has seen or read anything about Miley Cyrus in the past year. This is an interesting point on Allen’s part, but the execution is very flawed.

Allen’s got a bit of her own internalized misogyny that she’s dealing with, notably in the lines “I don’t need to shake my ass for you because I’ve got a brain,” which I’m sure the many brilliant ass-shakers of the world take issue with. The idea that overt sexuality and liberation are mutually exclusive is just flat-out wrong, and I would counter that with Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” video.

Allen’s use of women of color backup dancers as a Miley slam mostly ends up feeling awkwardly racist. The close-up shots of butts twerking and bottles popping aren’t something that Miley invented (duh), and in fact, it’s her appropriation of those signifiers that got people talking about Miley to begin with. There’s a lot to critique about how young women singers are marketed, and at points Allen is spot on (The part where she makes a dancer pose for Polaroids, a la Terry Richardson, is fucking brilliant), but at some point she ends up perpetuating sexist views of what, exactly, makes a woman empowered.

“No Problems” and Twitter Beefs

So here’s Azealia Banks’ new video for “No Problems”:

If you don’t remember, “No Problems” was a diss track aimed at Angel Haze very quickly after the two rappers had a Twitter beef. (Haze released two diss tracks, first “On the Edge,” and then a Garageband created “Shut the Fuck Up.”)

This beef was particularly uncomfortable because both rappers went below-the-belt in a way that was very socially troubling (Banks saying that Haze is in love with her, and Haze mocking Banks’ skin color), but as far as Twitter beefs go it seems pretty standard. It’s disingenuous to pretend that beefs don’t have a pretty important place in hip-hop and hip-hop culture, and hand-wringing over women participating in that (“Why do female rappers always have to be fighting each other?!”) ignores that context. There’s a tendency to pit female rappers against each other as if there’s only room for one in the game (a concept that Michelle at The Sociological Ear calls “The Hip-hop Highlander“), but that has more to with tokenism and the perception of limited space for women than the actual reasons that female rappers participate in beefs, which can be varied.

I think it’s kind of strange that Banks chose to make a video out of this particular diss track (both the song and the video were very hastily made), and as Michelle mentioned to me yesterday, it’s also strange that the video doesn’t really acknowledge that the track was originally a diss. Banks is partying at a music festival in Miami, famous dude musicians Steve Aoki and Diplo (who Banks has had an interesting history with) make an appearance, but beyond that the video is intentionally aimless. That aimlessness could read as a very subtle dig at Haze, a “you don’t even register anymore” statement, but if that’s true, it’s not very convincing.