Saturday, November 16th, 2013

Lily Allen – Hard Out Here

Lily would like to speak on the thinkpiecer’s plight…


David Turner: “We Can’t Stop” is a fine song, but it isn’t for me. Earlier this fall at a party that was winding down, someone put on Miley’s hit and seemingly every girl jumped on a piece of furniture to SCREAM along with the song. Any questionable themes from the song/video couldn’t have run through my mind right then. I witnessing an empowerment anthem at full force. “Hard Out Here” might not achieve that ubiquity, especially in the United States, but again it’s an Anthem. An anthem — similar to “Thrift Shop” and “Royals” — that shows rap music can be consumed by white people sans the political complications of its original artists being black. Whites don’t need black people for their musical anthems; I’d like to call this a shame. But again I don’t need these smug fists of white power. 

Madeleine Lee: The flip side of “Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?” is “Don’t you want to be the person who objectifies somebody else?” (Or some other body, if you will). The lyrics pose the original question to men who don’t get it, but in the video it might as well be posed to women, who already get it. It’d be nice to see the video as a celebration of women’s bodies by women — as far as I can guess, this is the intent — but the close-ups of asses still read as the same images that have been created by men for consumption by men, and I see nothing revolutionary in that. The song actually does a better job of satire on its own, using the conventions of contemporary pop (synths, Auto-Tune, other people’s choruses) to deliver Allen’s Feminism 101 jabs at the status quo, which are sometimes trite but still truthful. Indeed, Allen is very charming when she’s representing herself; it’s when she represents others that the problems arise.

Anthony Easton: You cannot avoid reviewing the video here — where she writes her white middle class feminism on black female bodies, in a way that is so retrograde and pretty offensive. It isn’t like the rest of this track isn’t facile and self-serving, like she has ignored or avoided that it’s entirely possible and has been proven for the last half decade that shaking your ass and having a brain are mutually reinforcing thoughts, or that big girls are ruling the world. Someone should make her a mix tape, so she doesn’t become the Ichabod Crane of straw-woman feminism. 

Alfred Soto: I’m reviewing the song, not the video. The verses are tight: one of the few times I remember Allen verses instead of choruses. And the voice is assured in its petulance, with or without Auto-Tune, although I suppose she thinks this is an acceptable enhancement like breast jobs and liposuction aren’t. But this artist praised for her wit wants a pass for assuming that shaking your ass and having a brain are mutually exclusive, then asks listeners to applaud her courage (“I’ll go ahead and say them anyway”) like Mark Levin and Sarah Palin and Tom De Lay for predicting the predictable. “Hard Out Here” doesn’t even tickle Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” the way Roxanne Shanté did UTFO in ’84. Beyoncé and Missy Elliott and Miley Cyrus broke the glass ceiling with their asses and brains already.

Katherine St Asaph: Everything there is to say about the video has been said (although “skewering” requires more than watching “All the Small Things,” “Bad Romance,” and an MK Ultra screed, and although a fun game is to catch websites praising the GIF-worthiness of the video 30 minutes after it hit VEVO, then running a racism post once the thinkpieces caught spark). Everything there is to say about the music isn’t much: same ol’ flyweight Lily Allen track, cool Hitchcock violins, winsome voice, and pretty Auto-Tune puree that Allen demonstrates better elsewhere, Greg Kurstin credit because there’s money to make, can’t even speed up when it scoffs it will, even though that genuinely would improve the track. I guess I’m stuck on the chorus: “(forget your balls and) grow a pair of tits.” 10-4, will get right on that, although if 20+ years didn’t do the job then Lily Allen’s po-faced plaint certainly won’t, and if your rallying cry resembles the same body-policing you’re supposedly critiquing then something is amiss. Everything’s amiss, really: “you’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen” (how dare working women have the temerity to feed their families instead of having the brains to become major recording artists), “you should probably lose some weight, ’cause we can’t see your bones” (the charitable explanation is she’s being vague to avoid further spreading the hyperspecific insults women really hear, but see above; the reality is that it’s a lazy straw man) being the umpteenth crusader to lambaste gold chains as ground zero of ostentatious wealth — the real problem is even more visible, in cotillion Instagrams or university pedigrees or gated communities or cornering the goddamn aluminum market (or, yes, Prada T-shirts — bitchy???), but mentioning those would require really being against conspicuous consumption, right? Allen can’t even respect the girls in her audience enough to detect obvious sarcasm, or that objectifying women plus sarcasm still equals objectifying women, or that the whole track’s really just a means to say “bitch” a lot as a hook. Sometimes it’s easy to find a word to say.

Will Adams: The most appalling thing about “Hard Out Here” (after its video) is how Lily Allen thinks that she’s being funny, likable, or groundbreaking. On “The Fear,” her self-congratulatory affect only made sense, given the song is all about her. Here, her sneer only aggravates, especially on that Auto-Tuned bridge she probably thinks is ironic. “If you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’re misunderstood,” she deadpans at the end of the second verse. Of course I detected it, seeing as this message was conveyed far better ten years ago and without a video that in protesting one double standard completely exemplifies another.

Patrick St. Michel: What’s with that Auto-Tune? When that technology isn’t being used as a subtle vocal correcter but rather as a splashed-on, obvious effect, it demands attention, a studio tool built to cover mistakes switched around to make everything sound like a mistake. Kanye and Future have used it to heighten emotions, while T-Pain relied on it to develop a character. Lily Allen seems to be using it as a gag. “Hard Out Here,” when divorced from the video, is the latest installment in this year’s “good intentions gone wrong” contest, a stab at zeroing in on the inequality women face in the world that misses the mark because she doesn’t sound convicted enough about this. It’s pretty clear Allen is being sarcastic here…but that doesn’t stop her from straight-up telling us we would be wrong if we thought this wasn’t sarcastic. She’s given herself the right backdrop if she wanted to convey something interesting — the melody here is bouncy but simple, basically the best sonic parts of “Rock The Casbah” repeated over and over again — but she’s too flippant. And that dumb Auto-Tune emphasizes it — she’s treating it like a joke, a half-assed commentary on pop music that’s not only outdated but takes away from whatever she’s trying to say.

Edward Okulicz: “Hard Out Here” is as weedy a take on dance pop as any other genre Lily Allen has slummed it in for a lark, and true to form, she also throws in a “naughty” word to get attention (“bitch,” see also “fuck you” and “giving head”) amid all the painfully obvious (and questionable) lyrics and her sounding too bored to bother. Also there is Auto-Tune for seemingly no reason than “lol Auto-tune.” Overall, the song is just a third-rate Xerox of “Oh No!” by Marina & The Diamonds. The video is just a visual version of Allen’s general MO, refashioning something “bad” or crass with an ironic wink, getting the benefit of its ideas without having to come up with her own, all the while acting as if she’s above her sources’ dubiousness or uncoolness and she’s just having a laugh because she’s better than that. Well she’s not. Satire is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for bullshit. The outrage, as such, is just people waking up to her wanting to eat her cake and have it too — make crappy, underwritten pop from declasse building blocks, but be considered a Thoughtful Intelligent Pop Star. But she’s such a cheeky chapette and probably fun to hang out with, right?

Jonathan Bradley: If you’re wondering, Allen’s reedy mewl is improved by neither disco nor racism. Nothing about “Hard Out Here” should surprise: This is a wealthy private school–educated woman who adopts a working class accent for her singing voice, one whose lyrics have always consisted of self-consciously precious observations that never succeed in being clever (rhyming “Tesco” with “al fresco”), someone who delivers those lyrics in a deliberately amateurish sing-song because singing well would actually require talent and career commitment. Is it any surprise that when she addresses rap tropes she does so condescendingly and when she tries to engage with gender issues she does so with the sophistication of a Dove campaign?

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: I’ve simply never seen eye-to-eye with Allen’s appeal as a smarty-pants Morgendorffer-incarnate. I had already learnt enough about this song to know what it’s been accused of and what makes up its elements — cynical vocals, Auto-Tune-as-gag, annoyed tone, semi-confrontational title. (“Confrontational” as in a Tumblr frownin’, reblog shame fight in ALL CAPS.) But I wasn’t quite expecting to hear what “Hard Out Here” sounds like. There is a hyperactively clattering intro descending into pink-plonk verses into been-there chorus buildup; manic counter-melodies fluttering above the melodies; drum hits straight out of 1984; a triple-voiced bridge of Tourettic stuttering. It is LOUD, dear Lord — it is gutsy, thank the Lord — it is better than I expected from this week’s Immediate Post-Release Twitter Implosion. I just don’t need to hear it again. It sure is something else to hear a song once and be exhausted by its sheer need to be stirring the pot, its sheer glee at thinking the plot is being masterfully stirred, the fact the performer hasn’t approached singing any differently since she was wearing hoop earrings.

Mallory O’Donnell: 100 per cent behind the sentiment, but shouldn’t it be angrier, meaner… funnier? The tune and Lily’s vocal production likewise seem a weak compromise with the pop music of three years ago, not a bitchy rejoinder to that of today.

Brad Shoup: What bums me out is that inequality tag. It seems clear she was trying to create a net good, something that repped for feminism while staying fun. Thus the jacking of Three 6 in the chorus, and “Super Freak” in the piano line. But all that comes across is Lily Allen annoyed that she’s not more famous: as unforgivable in song as explaining your sarcasm. Just as unforgivable is the hip-hop subtweeting. It’s been eviscerated elsewhere (and so has Allen’s history of trigger-finger shittiness) but here’s my tiny request, pop music: stop dumping on rims and grills and asses and champagne. You sound like you’re 500,000 years old. It’s one of the more lazy, flat forms of misplaced — and usually white — rage. Entertainment’s hard in general. Get to it.

Crystal Leww: Everything that needs to be said about this has already been said by far smarter people than me. Lily Allen said that “It has nothing to do with race, at all,” but the problem with that is that it has everything to do with race, and she isn’t allowed to decide whether or not it is because she’s not the one who gets hurt.

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9 Responses to “Lily Allen – Hard Out Here”

  1. I’m also noticing that it is way easier to get away with casual sexism than with casual racism.


  3. That is unfortunately a terrible article about the video. I like her and the song, but it’s pretty obviously a racist video. Ironic racism is not actually thing, as per

    The article’s “but, but, Dizzee Rascal” line of defense is especially feeble.

  4. David Turner – you’re not aware We Can’t Stop is very much a song made by black people, produced and written by black people. So yes, you DO “need black people for our anthems”

  5. pretty sure he’s written at least three things on mike will but cool story

  6. What’s the general consensus here on “The Fear”? I thought that song was brilliant, which leaves me all the more baffled by what a complete trainwreck this is.

  7. “This is a wealthy private school–educated woman who adopts a working class accent for her singing voice”

    I think it’s reasonable to assume that her parents may have had some degree of influence on her diction and accent from the outset. And I dunno what her mum sounds like, but…

    (This song is terrible obv.)

  8. Kit: perhaps, but maybe I wouldn’t so get the sense she’s slumming it if she hadn’t spent one of her earliest singles tittering at victims of poverty and crime.

  9. I really wish got LJK’s comment so I could properly respond to it. Appreciate the response though!