Lily Allen – check your privilege

Rob Lyons
Columnist

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Ooh, that Lily Allen, eh? She really sticks it to the man in the video for her new track, ‘Hard Out Here’. It’s a satire, see, on the sexist music industry and the way it demands that young women prostitute themselves, their skinny scantily clad (if clad at all) bodies writhing around for the titillation of the white, middle-aged male moguls that hold the purse strings. Radical stuff, girlfriend.

Actually, it’s about as radical as tofu. Nowadays, everyone’s crowing on about how pop is overly sexualised. In the past few months, we’ve had Miley Cyrus’s video for ‘Wrecking Ball’, where she swings about naked on a, er, wrecking ball, not to mention her jawdropping, bum-waggling, tongue-protruding performance at the MTV Video Music Awards that made ‘twerking’ the word of the year. We’ve also had Robin Thicke’s much-banned-by-students ‘Blurred Lines’ video, featuring topless women being drooled over by the oily singer and his chums. All in a long line of pop crudity that stretches back via Britney, Xtina and the rest.

So, Lily isn’t really telling it like it is – she’s telling it like everyone else says it is.

But the whole thing has now come back to bite Lily in her I’ve-had-two-kids, too-big-for-pop ass. The trouble is that she has wandered into the minefield known as modern, liberal-left politics, where everybody is playing Top Trumps over how oppressed they are. So while being lauded for how ‘brave’ she is on the one hand, others are questioning her right to have a go at Miley, Rihanna, Gaga and the rest. It’s okay to slag off the grey-suited industry bosses; it’s another thing to criticise apparently oppressed (but stinkingly rich and successful) young women.

And if it’s not her lack of solidarity with her singing sisters, Lily is also accused of being a closet racist. ‘Here’s a white lady, singing about how she resents having to lose weight and generally be treated as a sex object. And she’s dancing with a number of comparatively voiceless and nameless black women. Their feelings about the situation they find themselves in are neither highlighted nor even explored’, says one writer.

Okay, there are plenty of times when I’ve watched a pop video and thought ‘For god’s sake, put it away!’. You don’t have to be a prude to think that accompanying a pop song with something borderline gynaecological is a bit much. Nonetheless, treating the participants as helpless victims in this process is utterly patronising and historically ignorant. Sex, both male and female, has been flogging records since Elvis the Pelvis.

Still, if Allen has achieved anything, it is highlighting the depressing consequences of the diversity-obsessed, check-your-privilege politics that passes for edgy these days, a politics in which it is actually impossible to show solidarity for anyone since no one can understand your specific combination of oppressions but you. For anyone trying to change the world for the better, this splintering political outlook certainly makes it ‘hard out here’.

Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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