Twerking, Auto-Tune, and the “Bitch”: Lily Allen’s Feminism

nick 15 November 2013 | Comments Off

Lily AllenLily Allen, the quirky artist based out of the UK is back after a long hiatus with a new single entitled “Hard Out Here” and she’s back with a vengeance. Allen’s new hit deals with the sexism and misogyny in mainstream media and isn’t afraid to take jabs at rising artists. Her satirical video alludes to Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s videos and performances, but does her satire justify her mimicking the sexist and racist acts of those artists?

The video begins with her on an operating table getting fat sucked out of her while explaining she’s had two kids since her return to the music scene. With her white male manager beside her directing her play-on video and showing her how to seductively wipe down rims, throw cash, deep-throat a banana, and of course twerk like Miley! She even seems to use “bitch” ironically, but possibly alludes to Britney Spear’s “Work, Bitch”.  Her lyrics explain,

I won’t be braggin’ ’bout my cars, or talkin’ ’bout my chains
Don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cuz I got a brain
If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut
When boys be talkin’ ’bout their bitches no one’s making a fuss
There’s a glass ceiling to break, uh huh there’s money to make
And now it’s time to speed it up ‘cuz I can’t move at this pace

She criticizes the media and the new direction pop culture has taken with its double standards, and what women have to do in videos to get views. I’m all about owning your sexuality and a positive one at that, but is Allen right in arguing that sassy lyrics and a sweet voice is what makes an artist, not twerking and auto-tune? Sex sells, but Allen is drawing the line.  She then writes,

Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?
Have you thought about your butt, who’s gonna tear it in two?
We’ve never had it so good, uh huh we’re out of the woods
And if you can’t detect the sarcasm you’re misunderstood

Not only alluding to Thicke’s explicit lyrics (also in her scene with the huge balloons), but acknowledging that the fight is far from over. She just follows a long line of female artists ranging from P!nk’s “Stupid Girls”, Beyonce’s “Run the World”, and even old-school TLC challenged beauty standards in “Unpretty.” This is not the first feminist anthem, and sure as hell won’t be the last.

However, we do need to talk about criticism of her new video. I personally take her entire video as a spoof and satirical re-presentation of other artists. Critics are saying she is just as guilty as Cyrus for appropriating black women and using them as props, but I would point out that there are white and an Asian dancer in her video as well.  I believe this was deliberate to still get the satire across, but not having to objectify a single race to do so.

Allen personally responds to the accusations with “the video is meant to be a lighthearted satirical video that deals with objectification of women within modern pop culture. It has nothing to do with race, at all.”

However, Allen needs to recognize people don’t fit into little labeled packages, so blatantly ignoring the race factor in her videos perpetuates Cyrus’ racist message. Her message is clear, she’s challenging sexism in the music industry, but  reusing Cyrus’ videography promotes the idea that Allen doesn’t recognize a problem with using black women as props in the first place. As a popular white female artist, addressing racism in her music videos might be the least of her concerns – and that is privilege by its very definition. Allen does deserve some acknowledgement for her attempt at critiquing sexism, but she also needs to realize that not all women look like her.

The representation of women in media has major ramifications. Even if it’s at the expense of selling more albums and more views on YouTube, these perceptions carry over into real-life situations and eventually trickle down into laws targeting women.  Allen’s video and single isn’t the perfect feminist anthem, but we should acknowledge and respect her attempts to challenge the glass ceiling she’s attempting to breakthrough.  So what do you think? Is this just a ploy for views and profits or is she using her status in media to create a message? Feminist or a faux-pas?

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