So, I’ve been thinking a lot about Lily Allen’s new video, “Hard Out Here”, and all the criticism that has been written about it in the past few days. It’s centered around her choice to use women of color as background dancers in what seems to be a critique on sexism in the music industry, but then ends up focusing on hip-hop/rap video aesthetics specifically, but also manages to include one jab at Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video, which I guess would be considered ‘pop’?
Anyway, women of color as props, we all know that the good people of the internet weren’t going to let that stand.
But I’ve always liked Lily Allen, most of her songs have a fun, pop anthem quality to them– they’re catchy as hell and usually make some sort of “statement”, like, Hey, don’t be a homophobe or Hey, don’t be lazy, or Hey, I want to eat Chinese food. Her lyrics have always been a little on the nose, but I guess that’s what makes them fun. She’s not a subtle person, she’s a person who has posted pictures of herself crying in bed on her MySpace blog.
The blog post that accompanied this photo explained that because of the pressure she felt to be thin, Allen was considering gastric bypass surgery or liposuction, writing: “I’m afraid I am not strong and have fallen victim to the evil machine.”
Well, we all hate the evil machine! Which is why I think we’re all on board with her in the opening scene of “Hard Out Here”, as she lies on an operating table enduring just such a procedure, while the men around her discuss how disgusting she has “let” her body become. But then comes the part where she starts to go off-topic:
I suppose I should tell you
What this bitch is thinking
You find me in the studio
And not in the kitchen
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
From Julianne Escobedo Shepherd at The Hairpin:
OHHHH!!!!!! FOUL, LILY. And therein begin the false equivalencies—that bragging about material goods is exclusively stupid (and not, say, aspirational or representational), and that women who dance or shake their asses are stupid. The latter is made especially ironic by the fact that Allen has chosen to populate her video with women, mostly of color, who twerk in slow motion and pour champagne down their breasts like errant ejaculate. These are all things that we have seen in rap videos, of course, but it doesn’t make it any better if it’s executed under the guise of satire…
From Ayesha A. Siddiqi at Noisey:
“Hard Out Here” is the opposite of Mileywave. Instead of using black women as props to further her career, Allen blames them for its stagnation. In full-sleeved dresses Allen mocks her inability to twerk amidst women of color in body suits who launch into exaggerated dance moves, licking their hands and then rubbing their crotch. Her older white male manager tries to get to her to mimic them. Meanwhile she sings, “Don’t need to shake my ass for you/‘Cause I’ve got a brain.” Cut to black women shaking their ass, so much for sisterly solidarity.
(As a side note, I really hate that ‘Mileywave’ is a word, or a thing.) Both of these articles make great points. Shepherd points out that Allen’s lyrics seem to be attacking the materialism of hip-hop, without acknowledging the context of a culturally disadvantaged group aspiring for more. Siddigi’s article points out that Allen seems to go so far as to blame the other women in the industry who have succeeded by doing what she hasn’t been able to do, implying that while others twerk their way to the top, Allen is stuck at the bottom because she’s ‘got a brain’.
Allen has responded to the criticism via twitter, saying that the casting of the dancers had nothing to do with race. She went on to say:
“If I could dance like the ladies can, it would have been my arse on your screens; I actually rehearsed for two weeks trying to perfect my twerk, but failed miserably. If I was a little braver, I would have been wearing a bikini too, but I do not and I have chronic cellulite, which nobody wants to see. What I’m trying to say is that me being covered up has nothing to do with me wanting to disassociate myself from the girls, it has more to do with my own insecurities and I just wanted to feel as comfortable as possible on the shoot day.”
“I have chronic cellulite, which nobody wants to see.” This is really sad. It really sucks that she feels that way. It seems like the song and video are the product of Allen’s attempt to start a feminist conversation about women’s bodies in the media, but then the message got muddied by a misinterpretation of feminism. Take her lyric, “You’ll find me in the studio / And not in the kitchen”. But, you can be in the studio AND in the kitchen, that’s what feminism means, it’s your choice! No, you don’t have to shake your ass for anyone, but you can if you want to, and you can also shake your ass for yourself. Allen is making a statement about her own choices but she’s tearing down other women in the process. Is Rihanna stupid? Is Beyoncé stupid? (Blasphemy)
I get what she’s saying about misogyny in the music industry, her take on how the female body is depicted in many rap/hip-hop videos is not wrong. Women are frequently objectified in those videos (and also everywhere). BUT maybe she didn’t notice that she was doing the same in HER video by including a group of dancers (mostly women of color) and calling them stupid to their faces?
“Hard Out Here” is basically a convoluted (albeit fun) song with a mixed message and problematic video. It starts out as a story about Allen’s experience with industry pressure to be thin, but then changes into a conversation about a musical genre that she is not even a part of, therefore it gets racial, and ends up skewering the totally wrong people in the process.
Let’s conclude with a Fun Fact: Alfie Allen is Lily Allen’s brother. You’re welcome.