[Marxism] Lily Allen
stuartmunckton at gmail.com
Sat Apr 4 04:04:32 MDT 2009
You have touched a pet theme of mine of late... and probably better to write
down what I think than keep ranting drunkenly to my friends in the pub. No
doubt they will thank you sincerely for provoking me the chance to get it
out of my system and into written words.
I think there are two aspects: what Lily Allen is and says, first. And
second, how she is treated by the media and establishment. The first is
interesting, but more revealing about the type of society we live in (well,
particularly Britain I guess, but it applies to other English -speaking
imperialist nations just as much) is the latter.
Lily Allen is rare among top charted acts in actually including social
commentary in her songs, whatever its limitations. More generally, she is
rare among top charting acts in actually employing any wit or intelligence —
or in fact genuine character and charisma — at all into her lyrics and
She generally employs irony to make a point and that is the case in her
current top charting single "The Fear", which has a go at the empty
consumerism and greed she sees around here - greed for success as well as
Sounding (and looking in the
sweetly innocent, she sings in the first verse "I want lots of clothes and a
fuckload of diamonds/I hear people die while they're trying to find them".
In the second verse, having described a society that worships youth,
celebrity and obscene wealth, she comments (with an audible smile) "but it
doesn't matter coz I'm packing plastic/and that's what makes my life so
She often has a go at body image for young women and the pressure to lose
weight (something that she admits being affected by and which sparked a
caustic attack by her on the truly atrocious Katy Perry after the latter
described herself as a "fatter Amy Winehouse, but a thinner Lily Allen").
Among the songs last lines are "I'm not a saint, but I'm not a sinner/and
everything's cool as long as I'm getting thinner"
All of this is put to an upbeat, catchy elctropop tune not a million miles
from the sort used to move Britney Spears CDs from shelves. That fact alone
makes Lily Allen a bit different.
The analysis in the song is hardly a profound Marxist critique, but an
expression of frustration and disgust at the hyprocisy and emptiness of the
society around her, as well as confusion as the where she fits in to this
scheme and how she should relate to it.
Her quite amusing song "Fuck you<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shY4Y01_ogo>"
- a poppy singalong tune - is her musical shoe thrown at a departing George
Bush. She said she had orginally intended it as an attack on the BNP, but
ended up taking shots at Bush's right-wing politics. ("So you say it's not
okay to be gay/Well, I think you're just evil/You're just some racist who
can't tie my laces/ Your point of view is medieval".)
And it features a cheery chorus of "Fuck you, fuck you very very
mu-u-u-ch/coz we hate what you do and we hate you're whole crew, so please
don;t stay in touch".
Both musically and lyrically, it remains pretty lightweight, but has its
Musically, her stuff is interesting, but only to a point,. Lyrically she is
miles ahead of anyone else in her sphere, but that probablly says more about
Her politics are have their limitations — a basic left-leaning liberal-type
critique — but at least she has politics. And at least she attempts to
critique the society around her, and in a way that attempts to utilise wit
and irony. These days, that's almost revolutionary for an act at the top of
the charts. When I think
Another song, which is proving predictibly contraversial although it
actually doesn't say anything overwhelmingly profound,. is "Everyone's at
it" — which states the bleeding obvious about incredible hypocrisy
surrounding drug use. As the title says everyone's at it, "from top
politicals to young adolescants/prescribing htemselves anti-depressants".
This blinding obvious fact of hypocrisy has predicably brought a hail of
outrage down around her. And outright lies, with a tabloid "mistranslation"
of an interview she did for a Dutch-language publication slanderously
reported her saying parents should encourage their kids take illicit drugs.
Allen actually said, and has repeatedly said, that while she has taken
illicit drugs (and her song makes a point of not drawing a distinction
between illicit and legal - "so you got a prescription and that makes it
legal/I find these excuses overwhelmingly feeble"), she doesn't enjoy them
or even like being around people on them — much less encourages their use.
She has merely stated it is ridiculous and not useful to confront the
problem by only running hysterical bad news drug stories, as it has no
relation to the actual reality (which is, of course, "everyone's at it").
She is on a steep learning curve that exposing hyprocrisy is not
apprieciated in a top-charting act — especially an outspoke female act. But
then, she did sing in the song "if you've got an opinion then you're well up
for slating", so I guess she had an inkling.
In another single from her recent album, the electro-country (true story) "Not
Fair <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUYaosyR4bE>", she revives the feminist
principle that the personal is political, slating a former boyfriend for not
bothering to put the effort in to provide her pleasure in bed.
Apparantly, he took but never gave. And, as she sings, "that's not okay".
Without having listened to most songs on the new album* It's Not Me, it's
you* more than once or maybe twice, it seems less consistent overall than
her first album.
That may be because while this album has more social commentary, whereas the
first was more personal, she is weaker at social commentary (for all that
she is a thousand miles ahead of most at the top of the charts). It also
seems less intersting overall musically, with some high points — and it
isn't as thought her first album was some kind of brilliant musical effort
(though it also had its moments).
In her first album, she put her charisma and biting wit to relationships and
other aspects of being a young woman in Britain. Whole there is some of
that, there is more attempts at social commentary. For istance, speculates
in "Him" about what God is up to and thinks of the world.
It has some amusing lines — including the statement that His favourite band
is Credence Clearwater Revival (seemingly because it rhymes with a previous
line) and wondering whether he had ever tried smack or contemplated suicide
— but it also has its share of pretty standard liberal observations that He
must be pretty sick of people killing each other is his name.
In other words, her forays into broader social criticism, while welcome,
runs the risk of ending up a bit more limp than the very biting, and often
very funny, lyrical shots she fires on her debut album: at former
boyfriends, uptight nightclub security personel, those making unwanted
attempts to pick her up in the pub while she is trying to enjpoy a drink and
the fucking bureacrats denying her a loan to buy flat.
And these are things that other young people confront, and appreciate when
their lives and concerns are relfected and translated well by an artist.
Her best on her debut album is the sort of "personal angst as social
criticism" that marked Morrissey at his best (without putting her in the
same league). The best is the almost desparing "Everthing's just
Personally, her line, over an upbeat dance beat, of "Oh jesus, christ
almighty, do I feel alight? no, not slightly" is one of the better lines in
a pop song for sone time. This follwed by her tale about being being unable
to get a flat "It's very funny coz I got your fucking money/but I know I
wont get it just coz of my bad credit".
It remind me of The Smiths song "Heavens KNows I'm Miserable Know", a
critique of Thatcherism and conditons of the working class but presented
(and misundestrood as merely being) a song of individual suffering —
containing as it does the witty line, "I was looking for a job, then I found
a job/and heaven knows I'm miserable now".
In "Everything's just wonderful", Allen sings that "we're on all
fours/crawling on our knees/someone help us please".
She sings: "Don't you want something else/Something new, than what we've got
here/ And don't you feel it's all the same/Some sick game and it's so
She then expresses the general frustration and powerlessness that many feel
(and is actually, at least in Australia, one of the key things holding back
social struggles - no one goes around saying they love the way things are,
they alweays say there is nothing you can do about it, no point protesting
nothing changes etc). She sings: "I wish I could change the ways of the
world/Make it a nice place/Until that day/I guess we stay/Doing what we
do/Screwing who we screw".
This is reminiscent of that sharp song about class division by the most
class conscious of the Britpop wave of the 'i90s — Pulp — in "Common
People", where the disempowered "drink and dance and screw/because there's
nothing else to do".
Also, she raises in this song the pressure on young women to lose weight.
(In fact, when giving a short vidoe introduction to the song, this was the
only aspect she spoke about. )
She sings: "I wanna be able to eat spaghetti bolognaise/and not feel bad
about it for days and days and days/All the magazines they talk about weight
loss/If I buy those jeans I can look like Kate Moss"
Again there is the resignment: "I know it's not the life that I chose/But I
guess its just the way that things go".
But possibly the most striking thing about Lily Allen is not any of this at
all. It is her treatement at the ahds of the media.
It is absolutely disgraceful, they descend on her in the most foul way. One
writeer in the Guardian even commented not long ago that it appeared Allen
was finally taken her celbrity status seriously because photosd of her
appeared to show she had lost 20 pounds.
And that is the "liberal" media. The tabloids, and scum of the earth
"celebrity bloggers" like Perez
are much worse. Allen herself has commented that the campaign against her
was driven by sexism, saying it felt like it was still the 1950s.
This is the key, Ithink. Myuch more than her social commentary, the cause of
the hostily to Allen can be found be providing this basic description of her
character: She gets drunk in public, smokes, swears, shoots her mputh off
attacking other artists when they really ask for it and is completely free
about sex and her sexuality.
In other words, if she was a young male rock star, she would be a fucking
If she were male, she would be the Gallegher brothers (from the biggest
Britpop act, Oasis, whose swaggering, arrogant and drunken public personas
helped create — not their doing, their defence — the "lad" culture phenomena
also tied to the rise of overtly sexist and mysigonyst magazines like Ralph
But Lily Allen is not a young male. She is a young female.
So, instead, she is a drunken loundmouth who doesn't know her place.
And, beyond her lyrics, it is the not knowing her place that is the most
radical thing about her.
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