“This isn’t your typical love story…” opens the trailer for a movie about a white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, middle class, and likely loosely Christian couple who find each other through serendipity and a very small amount of actual work.
Allen’s first solo single since 2009 manages to scapegoat not just rappers but black women for all the insecurities she’s been grappling with over her career. The song begins with her scoffing at what is meant to look like a rap video complete with women of color body rolling in shorts. She then begins, “You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen/I won’t be bragging ’bout my cars or talking ’bout my chains.” The elite prep school educated daughter of an actor and film producer finds such conspicuous consumption distasteful.
From Lorde to Macklemore, it’s a sentiment that’s galling for its popularity: white artists need to stop using the wealth signifiers of rap music to gesture at their self-important “anti-consumerism.” What Allen misses as she washes rims in a kitchen decorated only with bottles of champagne is that it’s not anti-consumerism when it only targets one type of consumer.
Rap owns a unique history soundtracking the triumph of financial success in a country that long barred black Americans from that success. It shouldn’t be an opportunity for white artists to wax superior. Beyond poor taste, it’s the myopia of latent racism that’s more anxious about gold chains on a rapper than an Armani tie on a hedge fund analyst.
Similarly, Lily Allen’s response to sexist industry demands for thinness becomes entirely ineffectual when it lashes out against women who succeed despite those demands. Allen is not savily critiquing the world of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Miley Cyrus, she’s resentfully bemoaning not getting to enjoy the same success.
“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.
The spectacle feels like a corny send up of hip-hop dancers from someone who hasn’t seen many, reducing institutionalized misogyny to the success of a look Allen can’t master. The non-white women in Allen’s video act as dehumanized proxies of patriarchy—assumed to have neither brains nor agency—with Allen aiming all her contempt at them sideways.
While Rihanna releases strip club anthems that prioritize the female gaze, and Nicki Minaj regularly eviscerates the double standards of sexism in the music industry, Allen’s petulant sermon is both anachronistic and racist.
In a twitlonger post Allen addressed the allegations of racism by ignoring their substance:
“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…If I was a little braver, I would have been wearing a bikini too…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.”
The world would certainly be a better place if intent determined impact. But it doesn’t, and Allen’s ability to ignore race doesn’t dissolve her song’s major racial connotations. The video uses black bodies as the aggressors of Allen’s insecurities, juxtaposing them as physicalities Allen can’t replicate and thus finds worthy of ridicule. The song claims to be a feminist jab and has been cosigned by Lena Dunham as such, who accurately interpreted it “as pure rap-game parody.” By making rap music and its most visible participants the lightening rod for America’s social ills Allen acquits institutional patriarchy.
“I like to be in my pajamas all day. Sometimes I don’t wash for days because I like to read and sit around. I like to eat in bed. I like melancholy. I like to pretend that I’m alone in the world and I’m just sort of abandoned. I’m not fun to be with.”—Jamaica Kincaid, award-winning novelist and my other new hero. (via fit-tan-blonde)
“Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: He lit a cigarette. His glass of whiskey lit a cigarette too. “I can only truly love my best friend,” he said, “but not in a gay way. Women wouldn’t understand it. They’re too gay.” Both of the cigarettes agreed.”—Male Novelist Jokes (via The Toast)
“Ultimately, most things that are offensive are also lazy and unoriginal; because you can’t reach that point of view by looking at the world honestly…You reach that point of view by taking short cuts and by just sort of repeating what someone else told you.”—Joseph Fink Writer from Welcome To Night Vale discussing writing on Citizen Radio 865 (via podquotes)