I have two caveats before I start: 1. I'm a big Lily Allen fan and have been for years, since her first album came out. 2. I'm not a woman and I’m certainly not a black woman, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. Aight, here we go!
I think that Lily Allen's coming from a good place with this song, and I want to give her the benefit of the doubt for that. However, for me this video falls flat. One of the inherent issues with addressing systematic inequality in popular culture is that the medium requires the message to be short and concise [in the case of music videos, about 3 minutes] which doesn't really offer the space to go into a full dialogue about the complexities and intricacies of these issues. This is true for almost all pop culture empowerment stunts, from Destiny's Child's "Independent Woman" to Lady Gaga's "Born this way" to anything that they try to talk about on Glee. The result of this is twofold; viewers take away a shallow and superficial understanding of the issue, and artists/pop stars appear as though they have a shallow and superficial understanding of the issue (regardless of whether or not they actually do).
In the case of this particular music video, it's pretty clear where Lily Allen falls flat. In addressing inequality between men and women, particularly in the music industry, she fails to recognize the intersections of race and class that affect how gender inequality plays out. Objectification of women doesn't play out the same for Women of Color, particularly Black Women of Color, as it does for White Women. In ignoring this, Lily Allen unknowingly recreates the objectification of WoC, the very same thing she's arguing against in her video (for white women, apparently). It's impossible for me to watch the video and not see the power dynamics that come into play when a white woman accessorizes with black folks.
It would be easy to write this off as satire, like she's poking fun of Miley Cyrus for appropriating black or hood culture, but that's not what the video/single is about. If it were, I think there would have been a lyric or a scene that specifically addresses that issue. I think that it lacks the specific intentionality to discuss the intersectionality of race and gender, especially when you take into account her tweets about the video afterwords. In other words, in refusing to acknowledge the intersectionality of race and gender Lily Allen colludes with and reinforces a racist hierarchy.
Something that I think would make this video more on point/interesting/competent is if she acknowledged her whiteness and how that plays into the dynamic of having only black backup dancers, like if she were to kick out a white back up dancer for not dancing 'slutty' enough or if there was a scene where she requested black backup dancers; something that clearly acknowledges and satirizes the racist structure of this black accessorization, rather than simply mirroring it.
Something that I think is really great about this video is that Lily Allen successfully conveys that there is pressure placed on women to behave in a 'slutty' way from a systematic structure ("The Man" or the agent in her video), and a real set of punishments and rewards for falling in line with that behavior. Rather than putting the onus on women to 'act proper' and engage in slut shaming that is so prevalent nowadays, Lily Allen puts the blame on the shoulders of the music industry (or the patriarchy if you want to go there) where it belongs. I also appreciate how she doesn't shame women for conforming to this standard to succeed, which again is very prevalent. My favorite thing is that she acknowledges her own complicity in this issue in the opening of the video where she's on the operating table getting liposuction. It's easy to call out a fucked up system and complain about it, but to acknowledge the role you play in it is on a whole different level.
One of the things that really bothers me about this song/video that might escape some folks is the lyric “Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits”. I understand the point she’s trying to make here, but this lyric fails to acknowledge that there are some women out there with both balls and tits. Some folks will think this is a stretch, but the erasure of Trans and GNC folks in our society is very real and very damaging. And of course there’s a number of other things that are wrong with the song/video, such as the lyrics “I won’t be bragging ‘bout my cars or talking ‘bout my chains” and the scene where she washes her hubcabs in the sink, however, so much has already been said about this in regards to Lorde’s “Royals” song that I’d rather direct to a well-written article about that instead.
With all of that being said, I do think that it is a catchy song and I do appreciate listening to it. I’m still a big Lily Allen fan and I will definitely be attempting her eye shadow because that shit looks dope. But I will say that it’s definitely problematic and needs to be addressed. For more info on how to be a fan of problematic things, check out this awesome blog post!
Thoughts? Opinions? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!