think about it
Your cart is empty
Visit The Shop

hard out here: the rights and wrongs of lily allen’s feminism

Image: Screenshot via YouTube

Image: Screenshot via YouTube

Last week, pop singer Lily Allen posted online a music video of her latest song ‘Hard Out Here.’ Within two days, video received over 2 million hits on YouTube and consequently, a whirlwind of articles, tweets and ‘WTF?’ exasperations have been voiced from fans and haters all over the globe.  The premise is that Allen is attempting to give women what Jezebel calls ‘a feminist pop anthem you can blast at parties’. The video is controversial because Allen’s satirical commentary on both sexism and racism is treading a fine line. No one can agree on what is right or wrong in this video – if there is anything right or wrong about it at all.

Let’s take a step back. Before writing this article, I had only caught a glimpse on my Facebook feed that there was a new Lily Allen video causing controversy. As someone who is not particularly interested in pop music and all the luggage that comes with it – I mean, how can a feminist or someone who respects themselves even listen to most pop music that has been around for the past few decades? Not only is it usually lacking in musical talent but also it often perpetuates patriarchal culture – I did not click on the link and voluntarily watch the video. However, when asked to write a piece, of course I had to click play.

My initial reaction upon watching the video? Well, I actually quite enjoyed it. I felt a bit refreshed that the song itself was trying to give women something to feel empowered about. Sarcastic lines like ‘You’re not a size six, and you’re not good looking; well, you better be rich, or be real good at cooking’ and the bridge: ‘Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits; it’s hard out here for a bitch’ struck a chord with me. And the opening sequence that shows her on an operating table being lipo-suctioned to perfection because her manager claims she’s let herself go and she retorts, “I’ve just had two babies” gave me a rush of satisfaction. Even though, as Lip’s Ruby Grant pointed out, the operating table scenario is not unique – check out Pink’s ‘Stupid Girls.’

But no sooner than I was feeling good did I start to feel bad. Putting aside the lyrics, which do some justice to satirising the unfortunate continuation of sexist politics, the actual content of the video is abhorrent. While some bloggers wholeheartedly agree that Allen is completely in the right to present us with outrageous footage of an all-black team of backup dancers that proceed to twerk and lick their way through the video, I just cannot put up with it. I’m hard-pressed to understand why, yet again, I’m staring at young ladies being objectified over and over and over for the entire world to see on a pop music clip. These ladies are not just having ‘a bit of fun’ as the director of the video, Christopher Sweeney, was quoted as saying. He really thinks they were just having some fun on set, but I agree with Suzanne Moore of The Guardian when she said: ‘What I see is the black female body, anonymous and sexualised, grinding away to make the rent’.

Allen’s backup dancers are probably not proud of how they are being portrayed, and I’m left asking what the difference is between this video and your average Miley Cyrus clip.

So to round this all up, here are my opinions: this video is attempting to satirise pop culture and the way it objectifies women, and succeeds in this through the song lyrics – they could be considered a “feminist pop anthem”. But the extreme slow motion shots of arse-grinding, bitch-slapping and licking of penis-shaped objects just adds to the pile of videos out there that take this sort of thing seriously. I am left thinking that to make a satire out of pop culture – one that really knocks sexism out of the ballpark – would be a video that features women doing things that they actually do in real life that makes them equal to men and deserving of something better than a scantily clad outfit and a background dancer job. Yeah, I’d really like to see that happen.

6 thoughts on “hard out here: the rights and wrongs of lily allen’s feminism

  1. “Allen’s backup dancers are probably not proud of how they are being portrayed, and I’m left asking what the difference is between this video and your average Miley Cyrus clip.”

    It’s striking that none of the purported defenders of the dignity and agency of Lily Allen’s back-up dancers have vouched their actual opinions.

    “I am left thinking that to make a satire out of pop culture – one that really knocks sexism out of the ballpark – would be a video that features women doing things that they actually do in real life that makes them equal to men and deserving of something better than a scantily clad outfit and a background dancer job.”

    But that wouldn’t really be satire. As in, if you’re trying to impart a satirical critique of Video Hits and MTV culture, then doing the above would just confuse the audience.

    I think there’s actually a legitimate point to be made that it’s ultimately a good thing for white people to be aware of the historical context of cultural depiction of non-white people as an tribal/primitive/exotic other, but to make the logical leap from that, to saying that having an all-black back up dancer crew (if you’re white) is tantamount to racism, is unjustified.

    What Suzanne Moore sees is the oppressed “black female body” being ridiculed. What anyone whose been brought up on Video Hits or commercial radio sees, is a critique of pop culture, of which the wealth signfiers of rap are a major part.

  2. Is everyone blind or something? The back up dancers are NOT all black. Lets face it african girls can dance more ‘sexualised’ as it’s something a lot of them learn in their cultural surroundings. Heck I’m middle eastern and yes I can shake my hips and ‘belly dance’ I didn’t have lessons I just do it from childhood. I’m sure more white girls would be in the clip if there were more white girls going for the part. Unfortunately there is a market for black girls who can shake it. Who are we to judge them or feel bad for them. If they love to shake it let them shake it. Obviously we also need to state the obvious which is why are criticising Lilly Allen so much when this is obviously suppose to be a satire. It’s a music video talking about this and ranting about how bad this point was and that was is just like talking over the main point of the video in the first place. This video will get airplay and hopefully get more younger girls questioning their idols and why they do what they do. By the way, no one ever talks about why Beyonce only has black dancers.

  3. Thanks everyone for all your comments and thoughts. I am still musing and unsure as to what exactly I think about the video itself – however as far as the SONG goes I am definitely for it. I do not love it nor do I hate it – and the reason why I can’t love it is because to me showing more and more images of this kind can still be harmful to young girls watching the content who may not understand the difference between satire and not. I would like to see more of the song content of Allen’s being played alongside a video that is more friendly towards young girls. For the rest of us, however, we can understand it and interpret it how we please.

    I would love to hear from not just the backup dancers in this video, but in other videos that this one is satirising. I don’t know what they would say but I am sure some of them would be unhappy about they way they have been portrayed (both Caucasian and ethnic alike).

    Again, thanks for voicing your opinions everyone.

  4. I actually find it rather strange that you like the lyrics and song and yet find yourself confused about the video. I believe that what the video does (for me, at least) is back up the lyrics with an ironic satire on the music industry- Twerking, smoking, eating phallic images are all symbolic of sexualised culture in pop culture such as Miley Cyrus or Rihanna. What Lily Allen is saying is not new but she has purposefully executed a catchy pop song and a video that challenges modern ideals- but do you really believe that if she were to make this a gender equal video (women doing the same tasks as men) that this would receive the same controversial outlook? I don’t think she aimed it to be a role model for young girls either, I agree that it would miss the mark but I don’t believe that it is her intention. She wanted this to make a statement and it has.

    As for the black cast- first off, if my eyes aren’t deceiving me, 2/6 of the backup dancers are not black. This could be honest casting of the best dancers, or an attempt to stamp out racism by hiring white and black girls. At first I thought, “hey, most of these girls are black, you know why, it’s because they can shake their asses harder than Beyoncé.” I still think that, but I believe it was also a deliberate comment on the rap industry- a primarily black culture slapping asses, grinding, twerking, champagne pouring; it is still a ridiculous sight, but one that emerges in so many videos of rap artists.

    I believe a video like this will always receive mixed reviews. I think that there is a comment that no matter how hard we try to rebel or insult the industry, we come off looking the same way (sexualised vs feminist critique) because in the end what Lily Allen is commenting is that the injustice is something that will not ever go away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>