“Inequality promises that it’s here to stay/ Always trust the injustice, ‘cause it’s not going away.”
'A sad if, alas, only too true disclosure. For examples of an abiding dearth of musical industry-wide gender inequality – here; there; everywhere, ad nauseam – have been plentiful, and in need of little further explication in recent times. Explanation on behalf of the perpetrators is what is instead necessary. And thus it feels as though the ever-forthright figure of Lily Allen – an inimitable popstrel, who’s arguably better recollected as a celebrity than she is a singer these days – perhaps couldn’t have returned to songwriting at a more pertinent moment. For aside from revising Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know for John Lewis’ now-annual blockbusting, if totally noncommittal Christmas ad campaign, the cover an odds-on favourite for the prized numero uno spot come December 23rd, she here returns with the somewhat more, shall we say conflictual Hard Out Here.
Gone is the nightingale soothe of said festive single, replaced instead by an Auto-Tuned missive slathered atop a purposefully trashy bubblegum-pop gunk. Brumal keys? Nothing of the sort snowed under here, for in keeping with the track’s confrontational subject matter, this one’s composed of the tawdry synths that made up her superlatively elementary '06 début, Alright, Still. Mercifully, it sounds as though Allen is no longer herself alright when it comes to this particular topic, her creative spark reignited, or rather incensed by what she rightfully perceives an enduring imbalance that should doubtless weigh that bit heavier on a collected societal conscience than it currently does. And so, with it being “hard out here for a bitch”, we begin.
Inverting the age-old stereotypes that, fusty as the ideologies of those to so illogically uphold them, have somehow continued to plague 21st century culture, Lily decorates the poppy romp with invigorating lyrics such as: “If you’re not a size 6, and you’re not good looking/ Well, you’d better be rich, or real good at cooking”, and: “You should probably lose some weight, 'cause we can’t see your bones/ You should probably fix your face, or you’ll end up on your own.”
But it’s her surreptitious targeting of contemporary pop culture that, a flagrant savaging of her peers’ excessively sexualised modi operandi, may best resonate with a younger, more impressionable generation. Of course, whether or not the irrevocable damage has already been done by the likes of Yeezus (“Hey, ayo, we made it, Thanksgiving/ So hey, maybe we can make it to Christmas?/ She asked me what I wished for on my wishlist/ Have you ever asked your bitch for other bitches?”, Bound 2) and Eminem’s latest (“Yeah, I’m rich as a bitch/ But bitches ain’t shit, I’d rather leave a bitch in a ditch/ Bitch you complain when you listen to this/ But you still throw yourself at me/ That’s what I call pitchin’ a bitch”, So Much Better) remains to be seen. But in parodying her contemporaries, we can at least cling to Allen in remote hope of some form of attitudinal shift…
First, when seen in the song’s promotional video splayed out across an operating table in what may not be the most readily sexualised scene seen in a recent pop visual, Allen’s ridiculed for having “let go” having given birth to both Ethel Mary and Marnie Rose. The act of conception being one women are encumbered with, who might deride her? Why, men of course – all top surgeons are virile, if apparently virulent males, don’t you know? But in the background, seen on LTV, we catch a glimpse of the frivolously titillating music video Allen will later brazenly enter into. Then seen propping herself up against the sort of cuboid car Ludacris would likely bounce about inside in another of his wholly inessential, self-aggrandising videos, derrières are spanked, illicit substances smoked and champagne goes spilt down said rears. But, perhaps most pertinently, its aureate backdrop and initial chinking quietly recall Chris Robinson’s envisaging of Amerie’s 1 Thing – that video then employed to add a little more lascivious allure to the D.C. songstress.
And then, most applicably, the lyric: “Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?/ Have you thought about your butt – who’s gonna tear it in two?” I think it’s fair to suppose this a scything condemnation of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, but again, that one’s in need of no further dissection having already been done if not quite to death, then to dreariness.
But for all the think pieces and tanks we’ve bathed in so far this year, the waters warm with this same ongoing discussion – and Allen has arguably bashed another open right here – in her own terms: "Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say/ I’ll go ahead, and say them anyway.“ And it’s for this very reason that, irrespective of the sociopolitical overtones at play, it’s fantastic to have her back. Should her much-anticipated comeback so explicitly concern the foibles of other pop musicians and the grand puppeteers that manipulate them so? Arguably not, although the song itself smashes at least sixty shades of necessarily mettlesome grey into everything from Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, to (the again, all-male) Grady Hall and Mark Kudsi pairing’s eventual visual rendering of Katy Perry’s Roar.
"If I told you 'bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut/ Them boys [Kanye? Marshall?] be talking 'bout their 'bitches’, no one’s making a fuss” Lily reckons, and it’s impossible not to agree, really. And while the song will, I would imagine, fire a further ire in some, few have previously spoken out in such cogent fashion. For “if you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’re misunderstood.”’