Lily Allen - not the retiring type, always a highlight
When it comes to providing this year's not-to-be-missed spectacle at the Electric Picnic, Lily Allen is a safe bet.
Like any decent pop princess, she's realised that providing bang for one's buck onstage is a sure-fire way to get noticed. Sure enough, the mum-of-two flashed a pair of blue metallic knickers last week at a recent US gig. A week previously, Allen suffered that most time-honoured of headline grabbers - the wardrobe malfunction - at a New York gig as her breast escaped from a silver skin-tight catsuit.
By neat coincidence, Allen was performing both gigs in support to Miley Cyrus on her Bangerz tour; herself no stranger to flashing the flesh. Still, it's plain to see that despite Allen's lengthy hiatus - and after giving birth to her two young daughters - the same feisty firebrand remains.
The world has long known that Allen (29) is a canny, very self-aware artist. Almost immediately, Allen put paid to the 'daughter of Keith Allen' label with an arsenal of astute, wry pop ditties. This is the woman, after all, whose comeback single 'Hard Out Here', released last November, was a damning indictment on the demands placed by the pop industry on female singers.
Taking a pot-shot at sexism in pop and the pressure on female artists to be all-singing, all-dancing skinny sex dolls, the song includes the lyrics: "I suppose I should tell you what 'this bitch' is thinking/You'll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen/I won't be bragging 'bout my cars or talking 'bout my chains/No need to shake my ass for you cause I've got a brain." Curiously the accompanying 'parody' video - replete with crotch shots and close-ups of twerking butts - featured just that. But that appears to be Allen's way: refusing to kowtow to expectations and play by the rules.
In the kaleidoscope world of pop, where careers have the longevity of your average mayfly, four years is several lifetimes. In the years since Allen announced her retirement from pop in 2009, the industry has shape-shifted beyond recognition.
While Allen raised her two young daughters and started a clothing store with her sister Sarah, a new raft of young gunslingers - Cyrus, Lorde, Solange Knowles, Nicki Minaj, Lana Del Rey - have set up shop and changed the game. Given that each artist has their own distinct USP - Lorde is the enchanting weirdo, Del Rey is the technicolor throwback - it's safe to assume that Allen is struggling to find her feet in this new world order. It's harder than ever to be distinct and distinguished; being a pop powerhouse at the same time is harder still.
Initially, the signs that Allen's comeback had been a success were healthy. In March, her album - entitled Sheezus, no doubt a nod to Kanye West's Yeezus album - debuted to the top of the Irish charts, repeating the success of her 2009 album It's Not Me, It's You.
Despite announcing her retirement to the world in 2009 to concentrate on motherhood (her daughters, Ethel and Marnie, are now two-and-a-half and 19 months), Allen then announced that being a full-time mum wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
"I wasn't good at staying home all day, it didn't suit me," she told Glamour magazine. "I'm creative, it's just who I am. . . I missed the positive feedback about my music from my fans. "I missed the rush of performing. I missed the free clothes and handbags and the good tables in posh restaurants. I did!"
Despite initial success, her euphoric comeback was short-lived as Sheezus started its inexorable slide back down the charts. 'Hard Out Here', stitched together with Allen's trademark swearing, got little to no radio airplay, and this proved detrimental to the album's lasting power. Adding insult to injury, her new single 'URL Batman' made little impact on singles charts around the globe.
Last month, Allen seemed in rather philosophical a mood about the supposed sub-par sticking power of her album, saying: "Maybe the songs aren't good enough this time, who knows? I just know I can't wait to get back into the studio. I put my trust in other people, which I don't usually do. I usually go with my own gut feeling, but maybe I wasn't feeling as confident as I have in the past because of all the hormones."
Currently jet-setting across the globe on tour and with the recording studio frustratingly out of reach, no-one knows just what the future holds for Allen. The smart money, however says that she'll continue to speak her mind. By her own admission, she isn't the world's strongest vocalist; rather, her strengths lie in telling it like it is.
"The only thing I can do, really, is write lyrics," she reflected recently. "And the only way I know how to do that is by being honest and doing it with integrity, because, otherwise, there's no point."
As she struggles to find her place among the new guard of pop princesses, one thing's for sure: pop will always need a clever, gobby, opinionated girl. Her latest single may have failed to set the charts alight, but let's be fair. . . the industry is a far more interesting place with her in it.
Lily Allen plays the Electric Picnic, Stradbally Co Laois from August 29-31. See www.electricpicnic.ie for details