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

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David M. Benett / Getty Images for MARTINI

Lily Allen at the MARTINI 150 anniversary gala at Villa Erba, Lake Como on Sept. 19, 2013, in Como, Italy.

Earlier this week, when Lily Allen released the music video for her first new single since her 2009 album It’s Not Me, It’s You, it was clear that she meant to make a statement. The song, “Hard Out Here,” references the 2005 Three 6 Mafia song “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” while taking direct aim at some of the most controversial topics in more recent pop music, like Robin Thicke’s video for “Blurred Lines” and, of course, twerking.

(WATCH: Lily Allen’s new video for “Hard Out Here”)

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.

(MORE: 14 Musical Acts to Watch in 2014)

8 comments
lawstar101
lawstar101

This video is in no way racist. I'm ecstatic that Lily Allen is making music while being able to input her social commentary as well. It's good to know that artists, and public alike, see that this misogynistic society still exists and is perpetuated by the music industry as a whole. 

A perfect example of this, and the perceived "racism" of this music video, would be anything that Miley Cyrus seems to be doing at the moment. Cyrus basically uses the most "recognized" black culture to garner attention and a larger fan base. She is not the only one, but just the easiest representative heuristic that comes to mind as of late. 

The world needs more artists like Lily Allen within the music industry, to change the music industry.

melissahoon
melissahoon

I get the satire, but perpetuating an issue only sets it back further. No achievements made or solutions suggested by this parody, only stereotypes reinforced.

Georgia.girl
Georgia.girl

I love the song....I think it's great! and I think it has nothing to do with race...clearly if it did those ladies wouldn't have chosen to be in the video! DUH.... It's obvious to us fans that are noticing that the music industry is telling these are artists they won't become big or famous until they change their appearance, what's the difference between Lily's video and P!nk's "Stupid Girl" which I love just as well, Women have the right to voice their opinions, and I'm glad to see some Musicians are all for following the music industries advice. Miley Cyrus is gonna go down in flames if she doesn't watch out, I feel so sorry for her....she has a lot of talent but pardon my language is LOST and is acting like a Damn fool out there. LILY ALLEN & P!NK are both Artist's that I really enjoy and both have posted videos opposing the Music Industy! 

lucybhall
lucybhall

Also, she doesn't say she's "too smart to twerk." She says she doesn't need to shake her ass for a MAN because she would rather impress men with her intelligence -- "Don't need to shake my ass for you cause I've got a brain." The fact that the women are twerking is actually empowering because they are twerking for THEMSELVES and for celebration of their sexiness and womanhood rather than to appeal to men in any way. 

Thoughts.
Thoughts.

Anyone consider the fact that having only Non-White women twerking in the video was just another BLATANT reference to Miley Cyrus and her objectification of black women at the VMA's? Everything in this video was a choice, and a brilliant one, to subtly point out all of those things about the music industry that make us all cringe.

Yoshi
Yoshi

To whomever objects: Don't listen/watch/participate. It's that simple.

TimeIMO
TimeIMO

@Thoughts. That's not a fact.  Fact is there was a Asian, Hispanic, and a few whites, twerking with the black girls.  A lot of people only see what they want to see and then call it fact and racist.  Tons of people are  just looking for excuses to call something racist these days thats what I think.