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.”