Sunday, 17 November 2013

Lily Allen: Hard Out Here

I love Lily Allen. The video for her new single "Hard Out Here" was released this week, but as you may have heard has been fairly controversial, with Lily being accused of racism. Check out the video above, peruse the three articles below that discuss the controversy and make up your own mind. I absolutely get why people are upset about the video, but it's interesting that in trying to address the issue - even if she has been somewhat naive - she's angered people more than the plethora of music videos that do it for real without giving a shit about the message they send to society - particularly young people - about gender and race. At least she's got us talking. I'll take Lily over Miley any time.

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Lily Allen - Hard Out Here: New music

Following a dalliance with Keane, Lily Allen is properly back with this sweary, controversy-stirring ode to gender inequality
Back in June 2012 Lily Allen announced that she was coming out of self-imposed pop retirement and working in a studio with Greg Kurstin, producer of her last album, It's Not Me, It's You. Hooray, shouted pop fans and editors of the Daily Mail website alike. Later that year she turned up – as Lily Rose Cooper - on Pink's True Love a song produced by Greg Kurstin. The supposed return seemed short-lived.

Later that year, however, she claimed to be in a studio again, "throwing shit in the wall [sic] and seeing if anything sticks". Last week the supposed first fruits of this shit flinging arrived in the shape of her saccharine cover of Somewhere Only We Know for the John Lewis Christmas advert.
It seemed like an odd way for a pop star so used to over-sharing her own experiences into perfectly constructed, attitude-heavy pop to come back, which is where Hard Out Here comes in. Teased earlier this afternoon via a Twitter Q&A that involved questions based on mistreated females from history, Hard Out Here is very much the opposite to the safe, pipe-and-slippers-sporting Keane cover (which is currently at number 2 on iTunes).

"I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking, you'll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen" she sings sweetly over a typically jaunty piano-lead beat by way of a reintroduction, before the song rattles through a series of gender injustices that positions Allen at the forefront for change: "It's time to speed it up because I can't move at this pace." The chorus is a slightly muddled message featuring the lines "Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits" and "It's hard out here for a bitch", while the zeitgeist-y, multi-layered video references both Miley Cyrus's recent MTV performance and Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines video (her message spelt out via silver balloons is even more explicit than his boast about his manhood, however).

Created specifically to drum up controversy, engage a debate and represent the now, Hard Out Here is exactly what we wanted from a Lily Allen comeback – sorry, John Lewis.
Why People Are Angry About Lily Allen’s New Video
The singer's latest track takes on the music business — but some listeners don't think it goes far enough

The lyrics are largely focused on the double standards that affect women when it comes to appearances (“You should probably lose some weight / Because we can’t see your bones” and a plastic-surgery scene) and sexuality (“If I told you about my sex life you’d call me a slut / When boys be talking about their bitches, no one’s making a fuss”), with a final message that such inequality is “here to stay.”
Much of the initial response to the video’s message was positive. PolicyMic‘s headline was that the video will “make feminists proud” and Uproxx and Spin gave it a seal of approval. Though the Washington Post found the song itself “bland,” their critic gave Allen props for “righteously targeting the patriarchal double standards of 21st-century celebrity culture.” Yahoo! proclaimed that it was “the song with world needs right now.”
But, though there has been little philosophical objection to the actual song, not everyone who doesn’t like double standards is happy with the video. As The Root put it: “Singer Attacks Sexism With Racist and Sexist Video.”
The particular aspect of the video that has drawn the most criticism is the juxtaposition of Allen and her back-up dancers, a group of scantily-clad ladies — mostly non-white women — who would not be out of place in one of the videos that Allen is mocking. The source of this anger is this: because Allen, who earlier in the song implies that she doesn’t have to twerk because she’s too smart for that, is fully dressed and does not perform the same level of suggestive movement that her back-up dancers do, the women in her video are actually being used as props the way women of color often are non-satirically, and objectified even as the singer laments objectification. (Ironically enough, it’s a similar uproar to the one that Robin Thicke faced over the “Blurred Lines” clip — that, even though the video’s director said the appearance in the video of naked women was meant to poke fun at what goes on in music videos, the clip still benefitted from the use of the very thing it was mocking.)
Allen responded to the criticism by saying that she simply chose the best dancers without considering race, that she didn’t dance like them because she’s not good enough, that she meant to provoke conversation and that “it has nothing to do with race, at all.” Some of the dancers in the video have also come to Allen’s defense:
Questions about the way feminism addresses race issues are certainly not new, and Allen’s self-proclaimed effort not to include race in the discussion backfired in a way that fits in with what many see as an long-standing myopia among the well-meaning but privileged. But the uproar over Allen’s video, taken alongside her response to it, highlights one of the more prominent reasons this kind of controversy pops up — and the deeper reason why some people are angry about it, and some eager to defend her against such anger.
There’s no question that Allen’s intent was to be sarcastic; she says as much in the lyrics, and her critics know as much. In some places — as in her use of Thicke-style balloon letters — her intentions translate directly to the finished product; in others the satire seems, to many, to not be far enough from the target. Leaving the audience to get the point her based on context means the point the audience gets can be a different one from what the artist intended. Doing a thing you don’t like ironically, without actually changing it much, is still doing the thing you don’t like; others who also don’t like that thing may therefore not like what you’re doing either.
So in this case the question of intent is pretty easy to sort out; the question of what viewers will get out of the video is less so. And, at its heart, the conflict over whether the “Hard Out Here” video is racist is one about the definition, implications and proper execution of satire — and that’s a question that, as the folks at Girls and The Onion could have told Lily Allen, is perhaps the hardest of all.

Lily Allen says her video for Hard Out Here isn't to do with race. She is wrong

Racism works by denying the presence of race, the privilege being to not notice it
Not so lighthearted: Lily Allen in the video for Hard Out Here.
Not so lighthearted: Lily Allen in the video for Hard Out Here.
The last time I checked my privilege it was wedged somewhere behind the Habitat sofa. But at least I have some idea where it might be. The applause given to Lily Allen's new video Hard Out Here has made me both sad and angry. Are our expectations of anything vaguely feminist so low we can wave through a little exploitation? Some minstrelsy?
Allen is apparently having a go at the nasty sexism of the music industry. She is funny and that all-purpose word "feisty". She speaks for all women who have "baggy pussies" and bodies changed by birth, and the Robin Thicke haters. She has got a brain, balls, tits and babies. She really has it all.
This is just a pop video, not a policy document, and all kinds of women have cheered her on. Socking it to the man! I like Allen's voice and presence and mouthiness, but I don't like racism. Even tongue-in-cheek, hand-on-slapped-black-buttocks racism. In the video she walks away from her twerking dancers. She remains in charge. They don't. Maybe I have read it wrong. But what I see is the black female body, anonymous and sexualised, grinding away to make the rent. Maybe I should just overlook it. Silly pop culture, full of "bitches" and "hos", T and A, and Justin Bieber drawing pictures of monkeys in gold chains. It's just fun!
I missed the meeting where one had to choose between racism and sexism. While it is obvious that not every feminist statement can or has to represent all women, I naively thought we had reached the point where we did think we had to represent someone more than just privileged white women. Sure enough, I have been told that the video is ironic. Ah, irony! The dead-eyed, conservative and lazy substitute for critical thinking.
Allen herself says the whole thing is meant to be lighthearted, dealing "with objectification of women … It has nothing to do with race at all." The whole thing may have been more lighthearted if the dancers also walked off at the end. You know, using their brains as well as their bodies. But what do I know? I am way too old for Miley. Even my 12-year-old is way too old for Miley Cyrus. Twerking isn't a recent invention. Has anyone been to West Africa? Jamaica? New Orleans or Tottenham? Miley can do what she likes with her own body.
But it is the continual, unrelenting exploitation of the bodies of black women (and men) that cannot be ignored. Soon everyone will cry buckets in cinemas watching 12 Years a Slave because, you know, it wasn't nice. But if anyone bothers to think about how black bodies came to be in America and how they came to be nothing more than units of economic production, then maybe the phrase "shake your money maker" becomes a little less joyous.
The great crossover of hip-hop here and in the US to middle-class youth has been intriguing to watch. To a large extent youth culture has imbibed all kinds of black cultures. We might think that brings with it an actual shift in power, but no. Look around at any gatherings, in the tech industry, in the City, while Cameron tells us that austerity is not just for Christmas but for life, and you will be hard pushed to spot a black face.
We are not post-racism any more than we are post-feminism. This is the context into which this video falls: a white middle-class woman playing ringleader to anonymous black women. Maybe there is a knowing wink here I missed. But I haven't missed years of black women writing about how their bodies are used for white people to write their own scripts all over them.
For as Simone de Beauvoir said: "The body is not a thing, it is a situation: it is our grasp on the world and our sketch of our project." Thisis the situation. Whether the project is feminism or a way of selling a song. Our sketches matter. Who gets to be in charge of our bodies matters. So I am sorry but Allen cannot be the one to say this is nothing to do with race. Racism works precisely by denying the presence of race. The privilege is to not notice it.
Does liberal feminism expect so little that we lap up the crumbs from the table? That we say to women of colour: I am afraid your concerns are a bit humourless, we will sort out the race stuff later, and by the way where did you get your nails done? Well, it's just not good enough for this bitch.
As hard as it might be here, I still know it's a damn sight harder for some bitches than others.

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