Originally published in The Quad.
By Rachel Small
After a multiple year hiatus, Lily Allen has resumed her music career with a new, controversial single and music video. Allen returns to form by pushing the envelope through unapologetic irony in “It’s Hard Out Here,” which is an allusion to the hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia’s 2005 Grammy award-winning song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”
Allen has never been shy about including expletives in her songs. In her 2009 album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, she included a song entitled “Fuck You” where the chorus consists of repeating “Fuck You” over and over again. In 2013, Allen takes on a new dirty word sure to shock and appall her easily squeamish pop culture audience – “Feminism.”
Allen’s song has been hailed as “A feminist anthem through and through” by Rolling Stone Magazine with its catchy chorus “It’s hard out here for a bitch” and “Inequality promises that it’s here to stay/Always trust the injustice ’cause it’s not going away.” Other lyrics provide examples of inequality and hypocrisy that occur between the two sexes. “If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut/When boys be talking about their bitches, no one’s making a fuss.”
The song and music video serve as social commentary on the objectification of women in pop music, especially in response to this summer’s breakout hit “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, which has been widely criticized for its misogynistic lyrics and music video depicting naked, rail-thin models parading around the male R&B singer. Allen makes parallels to “Blurred Lines” by including lyrics that directly question rapper T.I.’s explicit, violent lyrics in the song.
The contrasts between the two videos are very stark. In Thicke’s video, he is surrounded by naked women awkwardly dancing for him, whereas, in Allen’s video, she is dancing alongside her scantily clad, ass-shaking dancers who seem to have actual talent with their dance moves. Thicke’s video condones the use of objectifying female “dancers” in his video for the sake of appealing to a male audience, whereas Allen uses her dancers out of irony and female solidarity.
Despite the overarching theme of social equality in her song, Allen’s video has come under fire for its use of black, female dancers who are seen depicting the popular, hip-hop dance craze “twerking.” One of Allen’s lines in her song seems to talk down to women participating in rap videos and provocative dance. “I won’t be bragging ’bout my cars or talking ’bout my chains/Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain.” Taking this line out of context, it does appear as if Allen is against women expressing their sexuality but later in the song, she talks about the double standards women face about how many sexual partners they have, “If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut.” Allen also doesn’t have a problem with looking sexy as she is seen in the beginning of the video with a full face of makeup while she is undergoing forced liposuction instructed by her misogynistic manager. Later in the video, Allen rips off her baggy hospital gown revealing a tight, black, leather and lace ensemble. What Allen is speaking out against is not female promiscuity or femininity, but forced sexuality for the sake of appealing to a male audience. Allen says she doesn’t need to shake her ass as a pop artist, not that she doesn’t want to, nor that she doesn’t want others to.
Allen also doesn’t have a problem with looking sexy as she is seen in the beginning of the video with a full face of makeup while she is undergoing forced liposuction as instructed by her misogynistic manager. Later in the video, Allen rips off her baggy hospital gown revealing a tight, black leather and lace ensemble. What Allen is speaking out against is not female promiscuity or femininity but forced sexuality for the sake of appealing to a male audience. Allen says she doesn’t need to shake her ass as a pop artist, not that she doesn’t want to, nor that she doesn’t want others to.
The racism claims against the video stem from Allen showcasing black women twerking and having champagne sprayed on their slow-motion, jiggling butts. All of these images have happened in male hip-hop artists’ music videos but without the social commentary attached. Allen’s use of her hip-hop dancers is ironic; its depiction in her non-hip-hop music video used to illuminate what kind of dancing and objectification is seen as acceptable in a different context. Furthermore, the claim that Allen is being racist for including black dancers is unfounded since she does not just have black dancers but white and Asian dancers, as well. Allen has responded to the racism criticisms about her video with an official statement entitled “Privilege, Superiority and Misconceptions.”
The message is clear. Whilst I don’t want to offend anyone. I do strive to provoke thought and conversation. The video is meant to be a lighthearted satirical video that deals with objectification of women within modern pop culture. It has nothing to do with race, at all … I’m not going to apologise because I think that would imply that I’m guilty of something, but I promise you this, in no way do I feel superior to anyone, except paedophiles, rapists murderers etc., and I would not only be surprised but deeply saddened if I thought anyone came away from that video feeling taken advantage of or compromised in any way.
Whether or not Allen accomplished portraying her social commentary through satirical means is up for debate, but no one can say her time away from music and having two children has softened Allen’s diatribes against injustices in pop culture.
The song itself is witty and catchy, which indicates that more of Allen’s upcoming work will be of the same caliber.