It’s been a hot minute since we last heard from Lily Allen, the British songstress who has built her reputation on her unwillingness to play by the rules that govern today’s celebrity industrial complex. Her last album, 2009’s It’s Not Me, It’s You, gleefully genre-hopped from electro to country & western to pure pop, all the while making sly, sarcastic statements about the fetishization of celebrity (“The Fear”), boys who don’t believe in the concept of equality in the bedroom (“Not Fair”), and her issues with the politics of George Bush (“F*** You”). Allen took the last few years off to start a family, but she clearly kept one eye on the way popular culture was evolving (devolving?) while raising her two daughters. Her first statement as a new mom, “Hard Out Here,” dropped yesterday and immediately made waves online thanks to its timely critiques of the likes of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke. However, while we applaud the underlying sentiment of the song, we can’t help but feel like the final video treatment ends up betraying the song’s message.
The video opens up with Lily Allen lying prone on an operating table, draped in surgical cloth as she prepares to get liposuction under apparent duress. You see, her white, grey-haired, besuited manager is bemoaning Allen’s inability to get booked on Letterman and Kimmel because her body is not fit enough. This marks the first time that the “Hard Out Here” video hurts its own cause by getting the facts wrong.
As anyone who has watched the musical acts that get booked on late night television programs would attest, looks rarely, if ever, factor into the equation; the reality of the situation is that musical acts are mostly viewed by showrunners as filler, and they’ll book whoever is willing to show up and fill a 4-6 minute segment. This is the type of “bite the hand that feeds you” critique that would make a lot more sense if Allen directed her ire towards the major labels and their partnerships with the advertising community. Case in point: Sure, you’ll hear an incongrous song like “Radioactive” featured in a Beats By Dre commercial starring LeBron James, but you would NEVER see the faces of a band of attractive-enough-yet-ultimately-average-looking band like Imagine Dragons in a commercial of this ilk.
Once the song kicks in, Allen bemoans the double standard she sees in our looks-obsessed culture and how it relates to female musicians. “I don’t need to shake my ass for you / ‘Cause I’ve got a brain,” she sings, which she then follows up with “If I told you about my sex life / You’d call me a slut.” Both of these points are spot-on, and we can’t imagine anyone with half a brain arguing against Allen’s commentary on video vixen culture, particularly as it relates to the commodification of female artists as sexual objects. Visually, as she gets the fat sucked from her body, Allen’s eyes keep turning towards a monitor in the operating room that’s showing a bunch of interchangeable African-American women twerking their asses off. This, unfortunately, is where the video trips over its own feet.