Friday, July 31st, 2009

Lily Allen – 22

Opinion up…


Chuck Eddy: I may be way off on this, but I get the idea that the consensus feels her follow-up LP isn’t a letdown. If so, I disagree, though I doubt I can convincingly formulate why. My gut says it has to do with Lily succumbing to precocious-and-proud Nellie McKay cuteseiness. Which may have been there all along, and I just chose to ignore it. Or maybe it just means she’s less rhythmic now. Anyway, this song seems slight even compared to the album’s previous singles. And as somebody who’s lived in places where unmarried 30-year-old women are quite common “in this day and age” and hardly considered old maids, I also think it’s full of shit, and Lily being six clueless years shy of 30 herself may be a major factor. But there’s something affecting about it regardless. Whatever happened to a boyfriend, the kind of guy who makes love ’cause he’s in it?

Alex Macpherson: This ex-hater has been slowly coming round to Lily Allen lately, largely due to her toning down some of her Cockney street urchin bullshit and making one of the finest pop singles of 2009 in “The Fear”. She’s still hit-or-miss, and definitely not yet the wit and wordsmith that she wants to be – please, leave the use of the phrase “in this day and age” to the Daily Mail commentariat. But “22”s power isn’t in its social analysis; it’s in the clear-headed, empathetic way Allen vocalises what it feels like for a girl in 2009. The excellent video (love the sly presence of urinals in what’s meant to be a girls’ toilet) makes this explicit, but plenty of people will see themselves reflected in this song.

Martin Skidmore: I have a problem with negative songs about types – Lily says this started about a particular woman, which I believe, since many of her songs are clearly like that, but the song suggests a general statement about a class of women, who she clearly thinks deserve their failure and misery, since they are asking for it. I went off even great examples of that long ago – I love the Kinks, but can’t enjoy several of their hits now. The problem for me is when the sneering comes from this position of privilege and success and is aimed at ordinary people. I usually like Lily a lot, and musically this is as cute as usual, but the contempt here is very distasteful.

Edward Okulicz: Lyrically, does about as much for society’s treatment of women older than Lily as what “Fuck You” did for political discourse, but the triteness is easily ignored to hear it melodically for what it is: a slight but cheery enough ditty whose only crime is that it’s not as clever or original as it thinks it is. Agreeable, bouncy, forgettable, pleasant, functional.

Jonathan Bradley: Over that kind of droll music-hall instrumental the Beatles inexplicably decided was emblematic of everything great about being British, Allen tut-tuts about a poor miss whose life ain’t turning out right. Like an earnest undergraduate majoring in sociology, she concludes that the whole thing can be blamed on the nebulous bete noire “society,” for supposedly judging the lass as “finished.” Really, the only person saying any such thing is Allen herself. But while her vapidity is youthful, her social politics are conservative and reactionary; she scolds away about the misery of the single thirty-something like a graying Tory declaring that the problem with women in “this day and age” is that they won’t settle down with a good man already: aggresive sexism masquerading as feminism. There is genuine pathos in “She’s got an alright job, but it’s not a career/Whenever she thinks about it, it brings her to tears,” but Allen skips blithely past it on to her next piece of rhetorical weaponry; her characters are never allowed to experience emotions, because that would get in the way of their role as conduits of the oh-so-deep philosophies the singer is intent on explicating. The one point I’ve awarded is because this song, unlike “Alfie” and “Not Fair,” is airheaded rather than repulsive.

Mallory O’Donnell: She’s still not saying anything, but at least now she’s talking about something. Where Lily says “society” I would say “women’s media,” but it may just be that they’re one and the same, today. Meritorious.

Keane Tzong: The highest praise I have for “22” is that it’s sweet and lightweight, an absolute trifle of a song. That’s more positive than it might initially seem: in any other performer’s hands it’d be a shitty attempt at a Statement, didactic and leaden. Lily proves her mettle by treating the material just right, delivering potentially cringeworthy lyrics in a tone that smacks equally of self-deprecation and schadenfreude.

Michaelangelo Matos: Phrases like “It’s so unlikely in this day and age” don’t even make for entertaining bar talk, never mind bolstering A Statement; why not throw in a couple “And another thing”s for good measure? Yet I like the music enough to be generous; Lily’s tack piano sure beats the living crap out of Matt & Kim’s.

Martin Kavka: In the context of its album, “22” never stood out that much for me; it’s one of the better songs on the album, but overall it seemed Lily-Allen-y in its Lily-Allen-ness. As a single, it reveals itself as a powerful articulation of feminism, and one of the best indictments of men’s (and women’s internalized) sexism. Yet I’m not sure how much of the credit here should go to Allen herself — she’s always on the verge of being thrown under the bus by her own narcissist and rambling nature. I suspect most of it should go to Jake Scott for his video treatment, which neatly makes the point that women are still in the same social trap that they were in in the 1920s, and that this can only change if women stop persuading themselves that men are necessary for happiness. I can’t think of a video made this decade that has better served the song it’s marketing (although there have certainly been more artistically creative and even aesthetically pleasing videos); I certainly can no longer think of “22” as meh.

Anthony Easton: Lily Allen is one of the best creators of narratives in pop music today, clever and sad, ludicrous and sex drenched, ennui ridden, but humane. Without reservation, I have never heard anything uninteresting coming from her lips, and this makes me sound silly, but you know that feeling like you are 17, and listening to the Smiths, and feel like Morrissey is talking to you and only you about the travails of yr life — it is nice to have a Morrissey when you are 28, and have much less of an idea of what is going on then you did at 17.

John Seroff: Unfortunately, I can only imagine two possible, equally unpleasant interpretations of “22”. One reading has it as a bland, modern Eleanor Rigby… minus the poetry (“cause all she wants is a boyfriend/she gets one night stands/she’s thinking how did I get here/I’m doing all that I can” is sub-High School literary journal fare). The other, the one that the song’s somewhat vile video seems to reinforce, is that we’re meant to take Allen seriously as she laments the ruff and tuff lives of ennui-ridden First World twenty-something wage slaves; old maids before their times who just need t’ fahnd a MAHYUN. Facing an idiotic lady-or-the-tiger choice like this would merit little more than a shrug if it weren’t for the terrifyingly catchy music, an Alexandra’s Rag-Time Valium Band blend of Fosse-hands vaudevilliana, swingin’ pop and a whiff of dancehall. Tracks this hummable really have no business being pushed into the service of lyrics this empty headed. This sets up an interesting question, one that seems to dog Allen’s career thus far: is she much less clever that she ought to be or much more clever than she’s given credit for? If the former, how does she keep landing such meaty filets of soul? If the latter, why’s her work keep getting mired in such vapidity? What’s it all about, Lily?

Frank Kogan: Think the video serves the song especially well, the whole mass of women jostling through and preparing themselves at once, and while at least some of the women have at least some solidarity, helping each other vomit or walk, Lily’s there in the midst of them, completely isolated, struggling through or against the others while not able to feel the common predicament as a common predicament, despite the commonality that her song itself is pointing out.

Anthony Miccio: At first I wished Allen would suggest the young-old maid might find a reason to live outside of romantic companionship, but by not tacking sisterly advice to the portait, the bittersweet bounciness of the track is harder to write off. Now I just wish she wrote meatier descriptions than “I see that look on her face/ she’s got that look in her eye.”

Additional Scores

Hillary Brown: [6]
Iain Mew: [6]
Ian Mathers: [5]
Fergal O’Reilly: [7]
Alfred Soto: [5]

37 Responses to “Lily Allen – 22”

  1. I don’t hear “22” as scolding or condemnatory because surely Lily is including herself in the Everywoman subject of the song? She sings “she” but it seems obvious – particularly given the video – that she means “we”.

    No one’s fault, but I’m disappointed that more girls didn’t write about this, especially as it deals explicitly with a specifically female experience.

    Still, I might have to hold off on coming round to her just yet: just listened to “Fuck You” and JESUS CHRIST those lyrics are bad, how did she possibly think they were acceptable as anything other than half-formed thoughts doodled in a notebook at the age of 14?

  2. I sort of agree with every comment here. It’s hard not to dislike Lily Allen – very much – at times, but it’s also hard to not like her, and her catchy songs, and the fact that she really _tries_.

  3. I’ll agree with lex on this – this never seemed condescending to me at all – but then again i always thought “the fear” was at least partially about lily’s own tendencies (the “everything’s cool as long as i’m getting thinner” surely hits too close to home for her not to include herself. In the video to “22” at least she seems to explicitly be grouping herself with these women, since she’s no longer 22 (like when she started her career) the longing for a man to solve all things seems more helpless and a symptom than a cure-all…

  4. if you write out the lyrics on a sheet of lined paper, giving each line break a space and then submit this to Sassy magazine, it wouldn’t be printable. It is not subtle or vindictive or illuminating; in fact most 22 year olds I know would find these sentiments condescending in the extreme. Maybe it’s different in Britain.

  5. In the It’s Not Me, It’s You tracklisting, “22” is followed immediately by “I Could Say”, whose first verse contains an explicit call-back:

    but I’ve got a life ahead of me; I’m only 22

    Obviously needing context from another song to crystallize this song’s meaning is a bit of a dirty trick to play in a song released as a single, but I do think that linkage is enough to answer any questions of intent regarding Lily’s lyrics here.

  6. droll music-hall instrumental the Beatles inexplicably decided was emblematic of everything great about being British

    I’ve always heard these as their saying music-hall was emblematic of everything British about being British.

  7. Now that Lex mentions it, I actually think part of what I might miss on the new album is Lily’s “Cockney street urchin bullshit.” Never really understood class-conscious Brits’ objections to it in the first place, and it gave her more vocal character. Pretty sure I miss the ska, too — though I still haven’t yet precisely calibrated the two albums back-to-back to determine out whether there’s actually less of it (and more music-hallish showtune schtick) on the new one, or whether it just seems that way.

  8. I hate admitting to ‘identifying’ with popstars because it feels like falling into their trap, but on Lily’s first album I really did get the impression she had similar attitudes (if not experiences) to myself. On the new album she’s trying to do the same thing as before – writing about her life – but the change in attitude is massive. Instead of a funny, flippant young lass who is trying to figure out how she fits into the world, I now hear an isolated celebrity who is wrapped up in her own problems/close circle of friends & family, has realised this and to make up for it by trying to create more generic characters out of thin air. That’s fine, but the pictures Lily is painting just don’t ring true – ‘shes got an alright job but it’s not a career’. What does she mean by ‘alright’? If the career is not a priority for this mythical girl then why is it even being mentioned? If it is a priority then why hasn’t she done something about it? I’m sure there are women in this situation but I don’t have any sympathy for them and I certainly don’t want to hear pop music based around a subset of the human race whose main hobby is whingeing – unless it is has a much better tune (emo!).

  9. My two cents is that a lot of Lily’s stuff isn’t about the Truth but about the Fear, so not about actual possibilities and limitations but about feelings of limitation that have been burnt in. LDN’s a bright day that turns around and hits you, and Lily’s a fresh young pop star who at any unexpected second suddenly feels she doesn’t have it. Wish I’d known that Erika wasn’t going to show, so that I could bite her ideas: “the truth is the society, if it fucks you up, fucks you up in a deeply personal way.” So no, the protagonist’s potential shutdown isn’t every woman’s shutdown, or the shutdown of every woman of her type, if there is such a thing, but it’s a potential for shutdown that a lot of people can feel, even if it takes different forms for different people. (So the commonality I mentioned in my blurb isn’t that all women pushing thirty believe their goose is cooked, just that lots of people are instantly susceptible to an equivalent belief.)

  10. Chuck, I’m about even on the two albums; the second is more of a piece, the first is more scattershot but some of the shots are the ones that hit best – well “LDN” anyway. First has more energy but the second gives us more consistent beauty.

  11. Disclaimer: I am a real life Cockney Street Urchin.

  12. Kat, you’re being crazy harsh: “an alright job but it’s not a career” is an absolutely conventional complaint, especially from people who don’t really have career as a priority. It’s the kind of thing you can say without thinking, when you’re aware that your job is just a little bit lacking, when you want to express appropriate ennui: it’s okay, you know, it’s not exactly a career, it pays the bills.

    This is what Lallen does best. No-one else presents the conventional statement of affairs the way she can. She’s hugely normative: in my opinion, she’s taken TashBed’s position as the prime chicklit-pop writer. Thinking your life is over at 30 cos all anyone cares about is 22 year-olds is mad, and I don’t know anyone who’s 30 or near 30 or 22 or near 22 who believes it (or, i dunno, i guess if you’re a model this is true). But, like Kogan says, it represents an equivalent belief. It’s the exaggerated form of a gripe that tons of women come out with, and they come out with it without even thinking about it, probably even without believing it except when in the grip of utter stinking malaise. She breaks a heel and she breaks a nail and she breaks your bag straps and she feels humiliated in the middle of the city she lives in and this is all because [example of how she has failed at being a woman] and the reason why [example of how she has failed at being a woman]. People do this all the time!

    So “in this day and aaaaage” is a sort of pre-emptive defence, a framing device that says “yes blaming society is conventional and hackneyed, it is as conventional and hackneyed as the phrase ‘in this day and age’ that i just used– but nevertheless it is still true.”

    er um mind you
    “pop music based around a subset of the human race whose main hobby is whingeing”
    is also pretty much exactly spot on.

  13. Well, this wouldn’t be the first time in my rock-critical life I opted for energy over beauty (not to mention opted for high-peaking scattershot over consistent of-a-piece ). So maybe that explains it (not that I’ve really been hearing the beauty or consistency here myself, but I’ll take Frank’s word for it).

  14. I don’t hear the condescension. The song is called 22 – and as the video confirms – it’s more about the attitude of the 22 yr old to a projection of her own life at 30, if it were to continue the way it’s going now. As people have pointed out, the chorus is a patchwork of cliches, the dead language of the media: not just ‘this day and age’, but also ‘sad but true’, ‘nothing to do nothing to say’, ‘man of her dreams’. ‘Society says’ is as dumb as what she sees society saying. So this is a lament for a lack of imagination amongst the young, rather than an attack on the slightly less young (and surely the slightness of the gap to 30 is itself telling?). Everything here is false: being out every night at 22 as much as at 30, expecting a prince to sweep you off your feet at any age. ‘I see that look in her face /eye’ is a moment of recognition: both have the same look. The struggle (and this is Lily’s challenge as the songwriter) is to break free from the mundanity of the language and the lifestyle she’s been presented with or taken on herself. This is a pop song which tries to pit reality against dreams but discovers that that means pitting itself against the culture industry itself as fantasy machine – this seems to be the tension with regard to the jaunty backing as well. I don’t know that I feel it wholly succeeds, but then I’m neither 22 nor 30.

  15. Andreas; I’m pretty sure she would have been 22, or only just 23, when this song was actually written. She was 24 this May, but the album was released before that (while she was 23) and considering the typical lag from studio to shops… well.

    Certainly I feel Lily’s nowhere near the “nearly 30” of the person who’s the subject of the song. If Lily identifies with her it’s false consciousness, and sits extremely oddly with the strongly teenage-or-just-past-it character of songs like “Smile”.

  16. What it does sit with, I guess, is the general cultural anxiety better expressed in “The Fear” – Lily perhaps fears becoming the subject of the song – but even then, it’s not like Lily hasn’t found he own career.

    Wikipedia does have a quote claiming it was once about a specific (i.e not-Lily) person.

  17. Matos: Either way, they obviously figure it’s something to celebrate, a grevious error.
    Lex: I don’t hear “22? as scolding or condemnatory because surely Lily is including herself in the Everywoman subject of the song? She sings “she” but it seems obvious – particularly given the video – that she means “we”.
    The insult comes from Allen’s assumption that “she” is “we.” Like Chuck says, there are plenty of women perfectly happy being thirty and unmarried; the proposition that such a state is undesirable comes only from Allen.
    That’s not to say that there are not women who feel that way; there are. But Allen mistakes her strawman for an actual societal prejudice, and since she has neither the talent, the sensitivity, or the empathy to make her subject anything more than a caricature, “22” only endorses the strawman by creating it.
    I was a little horrified by Chuck’s Liz Phair reference, because Phair is the exact opposite of Allen, particularly in a song like “Fuck and Run.” Where Allen creates set pieces to drive home her really quite dull opinions (see also “LDN”), Phair imbues her narrative with real emotion, and seemingly shows little concern for anything as crude as a moral.

  18. I never even considered that Lily is trying to express judgment on a “class”; unlike “Fuck You,” this and other songs are expressly and, I thought, self-evidently personal. The extent to which they relate to other people depends on that person’s own experiences. For my part I understand the angst she’s conveying in this song pretty well, as much as I can given my own societal pressures and/or comparative lack thereof (being expected to be Prince Charming isn’t exactly realistic or healthy either). Anyway, I basically sang this song to myself for a year while I was temping. “What if this is actually my life?” How come when David Byrne does it (couching existential dread in the face of banality in record-skipping cliches) it’s brilliant?

  19. Jonathan, I’m surprised you think this song has a moral. As far as I can tell, there’s no resolution whatsoever — and what’s more, this is the whole point of the song. She’s in a position that her specific perspective gives her no room to actually reflect, so she grabs at a few cliches and thrashes around. And she sounds, even less than Liz Phair (in “Fuck and Run,” anyway), like she’s figured something out when we can tell that it’s all still a mess for her. (I thought the Phair comparison was dead-on, actually. If you don’t see “22” as “imbued with real emotion,” then I’ll just have to disagree, but it definitely doesn’t have a “moral.”)

  20. Frank wants me over here, so here’s something I said about “22” a while back:

    The video underlines what this song – and the whole album, really – is all about, and what Lily’s critics are missing when they accuse her of ham-fisted political commentary or blaming society for her flaws: we talk about “society” and how it’s a “bad influence” on “young women” as if society and girls are faceless behemoths, collectives moving together like giant silvery schools of fish, cast into shadow as nonspecific negativity rolls across the sky and blots out the sun. But the truth is that society, if it fucks you up, fucks you up in a deeply personal way. The others don’t look any better or worse in their reflections than they do in real life; Lily’s character is either especially tormented, especially insecure, especially disappointed – or just imagines that she is.

    You’re making a mistake if you think Lily casting herself as an Everywoman means Lily is casting herself as every woman.

  21. byebyepride hit on something interesting and crucial there, I think – as Cis says, what Allen’s singing about isn’t so much a state of mind as a moment of fatigue with the way your life is going, and you find yourself fulfilling some cliché or other, and you realise that this entire clichéd narrative is there waiting for you to fall into it, and it’d be so easy – and as byebyepride says, trying to fight against it when you’re already feeling worn down feels like trying to fight against some sort of societal machine which may or may not only exist in your head.

    I get the impression that Allen is smart enough to know this – in the video, it seems like the beautiful reflections of all the girls are berating the real, messy girls for falling prey to this – not in a condescending way, just in a “snap out of it” way. But she’s not smart enough to attack it: observing with acuity is still a form of defence for her. Really, I don’t see how “22” is an attack on anyone or anything.

    This is what strikes me about the second album vis-à-vis the first: it’s a lot wearier and depressed, as if the insouciant Lily of the debut has been forced to grow up very suddenly. Which she has! We all know, from the tabloids, what she’s gone through. She’s still insouciant but it feels more like a defense mechanism, and of course this feeds into the question of age – on her second album, no longer the hot young thing, having been run through the tabloid mill, looking at new female pop stars emerging all the time, I bet Lily Allen feels totally old beyond her years.

  22. but but but it isn’t about being “thirty and unmarried” at all. the failure the woman’s feeling isn’t not being married yet: the failure is being faced with the period in between graduating/getting-yourself-a-job and getting married, when you are a heterosexual middle-class woman who is fairly sure she is going to get married.

    Listen: If you think of your life in terms of milestones, or indeed in terms of “100 things to do before you die” style lists, there are not a lot of big obvious cultural milestones between 22 and 30. Leaving university: that’s a milestone. “Going travelling” for four months: that’s a milestone, but the second time you do it doesn’t count as a milestone, and you feel like you can’t do it after 25 cos your job won’t give you the time off. Getting a solid full-time paying-off-the-student-loan job: that’s a milestone, the first time round. Not the second. If all you can see are the milestones, then the next things ahead of you are getting a mortgage and getting married, and you know you’ve got unreasonably expectations about what marriage entails.

    You have passed all the milestones that sounded interesting, except the milestone that you know won’t match up to fantasy. There is not much to do, there is nothing to say. Your life is already over! you say, and think about joining the dancefloor when you’ve finished this drink.

  23. As Erika says, this is Everywoman but it’s not every woman – it certainly isn’t, e.g., me. But it’s neither a strawman or a caricature, it’s what Kat called it, generic.

    still don’t much like the song.


  24. ^^Agree – also, it’s not even necessarily about getting married. You may be 22 or 30 and happily or unhappily married or single; but those are the years where everyone will get that moment where you notice the 19-20-year-olds coming up in whatever field of endeavour you’re in, and you think “OH GOD I AM OLD” and you think “I HAVEN’T DONE ANYTHING WITH MY LIFE YET” and then you think about just downing the rest of the drink. This applies even if you’re very happy with your actual life, and in a way it’s sort of comforting to be part of that narrative.

  25. This is actually a big part of why I shy away from Lily Allen these days, really – every song comes with such a big load of argument and discourse and discussion about it (what it means, what she means, how sincere she is, etc etc etc ad nauseum) that it makes me want to take a nap. I mean, I have no problems with those kinds of conversation in general, but since I find her music and lyrics neither interesting nor offensive, she just doesn’t seem able to bear the weight of all this thinking about her work.

  26. Yes times a million to Lex and Cis.

    I am a bit puzzled by the comments that nobody at 22 or 30 (the protagonist isn’t even 30 yet, though! this is a song about your late twenties!) really believes that 30 is the end of the road, or that there’s no difference between “an alright job” and “a career,” or that there are plenty of woman who are happy being unmarried so what is Lily whining on about. Of course nobody believes that they’re going to cease to exist after a certain age, or that there is only one path through adulthood — but it is easy to believe, at 26, that you’ve missed your shot at whatever it is you could have been, and now you’re out of choices. Because — and that’s the point — at 22 you could have been anything, but at 26 you now are something. And something is a lot more limited than anything. It’s right there in the song: when she was 22, the future looked bright.

    And of course it isn’t like you don’t actually have time to change at 26, or 36, or 46, or like an alright job might one day lead to a career — but it can feel that way, because while every year the Next Big Thing in writing (or acting, or politics, or music) is 22 (or 20, or 18, or fucking nine) every year you get farther and farther from that age. Like, when you started reading Gawker, you were 20 years old, and the authors and the whiz kids that everybody was buzzing about were a few years older than you, you looked at them and you thought, psh, you could write a novel as good as that in the next few years. You’d have them beat. And at 22 you were still reading Gawker, and the ones everyone was buzzing about where the same age as you, and suddenly, mixed in with the confidence that you could write a novel as good as that was this bitterness about how you hadn’t, because you know what, some people have to work for a living, and their dads can’t get them an internship at a publishing company, and whatever, these kids aren’t actually that amazing for being so talented so young, because there are plenty of people who are so talented so young, these kids are just fucking lucky. And as time passes, 22 starts to look like the border of your ability to accomplish something, and be special for it, and you know you’ve crossed that border and are walking farther and farther away every day, and if you don’t have an amazing career by now then what is there left to do? What is there left to look forward to? Maybe you can still fall in love. Maybe you can still get married. Maybe you need to go out and meet as many people as you can. (Okay, I’ve never been particularly relationship-oriented, and I’ve never actually thought that last bit — but I have friends for whom that is the goal, and I can understand why it would be. It’s certainly more reasonable than my goal of waiting till I’m 45 to write my first novel, and then getting lots of buzz about how I’m old instead of young.)

  27. Thank U, Erika. RIGHT ON

  28. Argh my last couple of sentences about the career didn’t really get across what I was trying to say (was typing in a hurry as had to leave the office and get to Poptimism!). I will have another listen to the song and try and pick a better example of how Lily’s selling herself short & could do much better – that was the only line I could remember that I didn’t like.

  29. It’s sort of funny that she’s the new Chanel girl.

    Looks great.

  30. Right, I’ve had another listen. Weirdly, on an enjoyment level I prefer the banal cliches in the chorus because they scan better and don’t really interfere with the melody (not because they compliment it but because there’s hardly anything there to do the interfering!). The verse lyrics just seem really clumsy and obtrusive though – ‘she gets one night stands’ is probably the worst culprit here. I dunno if that jarring effect is intentional, but in this case it’s made me aware of a crap lyric I might have otherwise ignored (I am v forgiving of banal lyrics if they blend into the song well). This problem crops up all over It’s Not Me It’s You – ‘Everyone’s At It’ could be a brilliant piece of snark-pop but it’s spoiled by massive stand-out clangers like ‘but kids are in danger!’. Fvck’s sake dude, this isn’t Torchwood.

    The lyrics to ‘The Fear’ on the other hand (which I love) are just right: ‘i heard people die while they’re trying to find ’em’ fits in so well with the tune that it steers clear of any potentially dodgy ground. Plus the general theme of bewildered paranoia matches the murky synth bibble brilliantly. Alas ’22’ has more of a Suggs B-side vibe which is not really the ideal background for any sort of social commentary.

  31. It seems like an odd choice for a single, not bad (except for the lyrics, which are a bit embarrassing) but not nearly as good “Chinese” or even “Everyone’s At It” either.

  32. “but it is easy to believe, at 26, that you’ve missed your shot at whatever it is you could have been, and now you’re out of choices. Because — and that’s the point — at 22 you could have been anything, but at 26 you now are something.”

    This. Erika, is as always, so fucking on point. Except these days it’s not even 26. I’m turning 22 in one month exactly, having just graduated college, and this existential malaise is vaguely present in most people I know. ‘The Fear’ of growing older and the future and closing doors and what it all means is very real, and very universal, I think, even if how it manifests itself in Lily/her portrayed character doesn’t necessarily scan for everyone.

  33. I think Kat is onto something here – I don’t mind bad lyrics, but Lily has such a tendency to jar, and to someone predisposed to uncharitable assumptions about her, it really can seem like she stuffs things in because she thinks they are VERY CLEVER (rhyming “tesco” with “al fresco”) or EDGY IN SOME WAY (lots of “Alfie”, “Fuck You”, that horrid one where she rhymes “New Labour” with “neighbour”) without any concern of whether it works with the melody, which can often torpedo her genuine gift for earworming. Unless you’re in the Courtney Love/Neil Tennant echelon of skilled lyricists, you should first seek to do no harm. But Lily does harm, and I agree with Jonathan’s blurb that her characterisations are shallow, and here it’s annoying that she manages to wring a little bit of an interesting narrative and then just goes back to being glib before you can blink. If Lily Allen were a man, she would not get acclaimed as a clever writer. Her stylistic tics get in the way of her really getting to the heart of the points she’s trying to make. I know lyrics are supposed to be read in different ways, but sometimes I get the feeling that people are reading things into Lily’s scrawlings that aren’t there – she’s not as clever as you want her to be! As I said in my “Not Fair” blurb, she’s not even wittier than Mike Skinner these days.

    To me, the only times she’s ever succeeded fully melodically are “Knock ‘Em Out”, and also her cover of “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, neither of which suffered from her petty crimes against scansion and general good sense. “The Fear” was close but suffered from the “talking about/saying NOTHING” problem she can’t fight her way out of. I can really imagine liking “22” but there are too many clunkers getting in the way of the slight but appealing melody.

  34. A bunch of comments (mostly about comments):

    1. I don’t get what the people who think Lily’s “still not saying anything” think she’s supposed to be saying instead.

    2. The person I used to be married to, reviewing Liz Phair’s “Fuck and Run” in the fanzine Radio On in the early ’90s, criticised it for seeming too moralistic.

    3. I’ll concede there are no doubt young women and under 30s and 22-year-olds (not to mention non-young men and over 30s and 44-year-olds) who share certain worries with the character in this song. But I’m still bugged by the line about “It’s sad but true how society says her life is already over,” since (as others have more or less pointed out above) “society” says no such thing, in this day and age of all days and ages. Lily might as well have said “dominant culture,” for God’s sake. (But right, that doesn’t mean some random individual might not believe society says that, to pass the buck over to society if nothing else. And just ’cause the character believes it doesn’t mean Lily does.)

    4. We don’t “all” know from the tabloids what Lily Allen has been going though, since some of us don’t read the tabloids.

    5. I don’t get Dave’s complaint about “How come when David Byrne does it (couching existential dread in the face of banality in record-skipping cliches) it’s brilliant?” Who the heck thinks David Byrne is brilliant anymore? Lily Allen does better in critics’ polls now than Byrne does. (I was setting Byrne up as a strawman against Boston at least uh 22 years ago, but at least then he was still placing high in Pazz & Jop.)

    6. I think it’s funny how Eduardo thinks “If Lily Allen were a man, she would not get acclaimed as a clever writer,” but Erika (on Frank’s blog page) says the reason David Byrne supposedly gets a free ride that Allen doesn’t is “because he’s a BOY.” I’m not convinced either theory is right, though. (Randy Newman and Axl Rose are both the same gender, but critics used to be way more willing to read a distance into Newman’s lyrics about race than Axl’s. The difference, as far as I could tell back then, was one of class or genre. And that may well have changed since then, and maybe Axl didn’t deserve to have people read irony or detachment into his lyrics about race. But I’m not sure whether that is remotely comparable to the issues being raised here, or not.)

  35. I just noticed a connection to “Once in a Lifetime” and ran with it, really. (And what people may think of that song’s brilliance doesn’t have much bearing on what they think of Byrne now; for the most part he’s settled into his middle-class comfort character’s shoes.) Anyway, I was basically just trolling there, and Erika’s response was, I hope, just winkingly playing into trollbait.

    Still, there is something about gender going on here, I just don’t know what it is. It’s not really a class thing (which may have been the UK trump card when she was pretending to be an “urchin” or whatever; I never heard that myself), and it’s definitely not a genre thing.


  37. First time in this whole thing that I’ve wanted to take Lily’s side, there.