It's hard to be on song about sexism
Published 14/11/2013 | 21:30
The latest antidote to Miley Cyrus comes in the unlikely guise of singer Lily Allen, best known for her hit 'It's Not Fair' – which was not, sadly, a critique of gender inequality, race relations or the gap between rich and poor, but rather a song about disappointing lovers who promise much but deliver little between the sheets.
After a four-year hiatus, which Allen spent mainly having two children and being subjected to headlines about her weight gain, the singer is back and she's angry.
The video for new single 'Hard Out Here' opens with Lily on the operating table as surgeons extract as much fat as possible from her body via liposuction tubes. Meanwhile, a smarmy industry manager-type mutters disdainfully about women who 'let themselves go', while Lily drily responds that she's had two babies.
The remainder of the video is taken up with Lily's cheeky lyrics – mostly unprintable in a family newspaper – and the singer larking around while surrounded by dancers vigorously twerking in an ironic, post-Miley fashion. Smarmy Exec eventually reappears, encouraging Allen to fellate a banana.
Reaction to the video is firmly divided. Is Ms Allen a feminist champion, bravely battling the middle-aged misogynists who guide young starlets to fame and fortune by encouraging them to get their kit off?
Or is her video itself sexist, and racist to boot? After all, there are a lot of barely-dressed women in it, and most of them are black.
"I think it's really disappointing," says Maureen Considine, online editor at web collective Cork Feminista. "She started out with great intentions, and the lyrics are funny and satirical. But the video falls into the same trap as what she's complaining about; you still have sexualised bodies on display.
"As for the twerking, I don't understand how we didn't learn anything from Miley Cyrus. Lily must have genuinely thought she was satirising the industry, but what you actually get is a poignant example of someone kowtowing to it."
Perhaps that's not a surprise. While Allen has undoubtedly stirred the debate about the media's manipulation of young female stars, she's still in the business of selling records. And sex sells.
"For some disgusting reason, young sex sells even more," actress Jennifer Lawrence complained to Newsnight earlier this week. At 23, Lawrence is herself a newcomer, but industry stalwarts will attest to the fact that it was ever thus.
Sinead O'Connor's well-meant letter to Cyrus advising her to watch out for herself was the voice of bitter experience. Charlotte Church recently revealed how uncomfortable she felt as a young performer when executives old enough to be her father advised her to wear fewer clothes.
In a way, female performers who see themselves as feisty feminists, as Allen clearly does, can't win. In liberal western democracies, we are proud that women are free to wear what they want and behave as they choose, whether that's in the privacy of our own homes or onstage at the Video Music Awards.
Yet that pride co-exists with a real discomfort when young women in the public eye act out fantasies of middle-aged male executives with an eye on the bottom line. In those far-from-ideal circumstances, Lily Allen's riposte is probably as revolutionary as it gets.