Lily Allen on Sheezus and Kanye West: "What I Love Is He's Not a Careerist; He's an Artist"
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
Google Lily Allen's name and the first news clippings that pop up are British tabloids discussing her weight and "erratic" behavior. The headlines read "Lily Allen flashes a hint of toned stomach" and "Lily Allen's behaviour 'worries pals.'"
When she launched her music career in 2006 with debut album, Still Alright, the 24-hour gossip cycle of celebrity-centric blogs and social media was still in its infancy. But now, on the heels of her latest release, the cleverly titled and perhaps opportunistically so, Sheezus, Allen finds her every move (and every pound gained or lost) monitored and often misreported by nearly every media outlet in the wired world.
But when pointing out the tabloid headlines and the press' criticism of famous women's bodies to Allen, she just shrugs it all off as part of culture we live in today. "It's not my responsibility to change that," she says. "I just write songs. That's all I do."
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It's not that Allen doesn't care what is written about her. In fact, she's a self-professed loudmouth who says whatever is on her mind. But she understands that tabloids are looking to sell papers.
"I can tell when people write articles that they know the way they are reporting something that came of my mouth is not representative of what I meant at the time. That can be really upsetting. But they got their job to do, which is to sell newspapers, and I've got my job. It is what it is."
Still, Allen fights back in the best way that she knows how. On her first single off Sheezus, "Hard Out Here," she sings: "If you're not a size six, then you're not good looking/Well, you better be rich or be real good at cooking/You should probably lose some weight 'cause we can't see your bones."
Over the course of four minutes and 22 seconds, "Hard Out Here" mocks, critiques, and sarcastically slams our image-conscious culture, cheekily riffing on Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," declaring instead that it's "bitches" who have it hardest.
"We live in a world where people are obsessed with the way everybody looks," Allen says. "It's just the way it is. Instagram is huge, even bigger than Twitter these days, and that's because people want to look at pictures of other people. It's fucking weird that we're all doing it."
The brash, tongue-n-cheek nature of Allen's latest hit song isn't surprising to anyone familiar with her work. She's built a career on being playfully blunt and tackling topics like homophobia and racism ("Fuck You"), bad sex ("Not Fair"), and her brother's weed use ("Alfie"). However, this time around, she seems more focused on a single theme: the joys and pains of being a woman in the spotlight.
Another Sheezus single, "URL Badman," calls out bloggers and commenters who cut her down while hiding behind the Internet's cloak of anonymity. "I don't like you, I think you're worthless," Allen sneers, imitating her critics. "I wrote a long piece about it up on my WordPress."
Then there is also "L8 CMMR," which celebrates finding a good man after dating so many duds. And of course, it wouldn't be an Allen track if it didn't have a double-meaning; one could read the title and its lyrics as referring to "late comer" in love or as "late cummer" in bed.
Unquestionably, though, the most talked-about song on the album has been the title track, which wryly dissects today's pop diva scene: "Ri-Ri isn't scared of Katy Perry's roaring/Queen B's going back to the drawing ... We're all watching Gaga, L-O-L-O, haha/Dying for the art, so really she's a martyr."
There's been both backlash against and applause for Allen's assessment of her contemporaries. And naturally, the acerbic Brit star is amused by these bipolar reactions.
"It was kind of funny to me, because if I would Google search myself when Sheezus came out, it was literally 50-50," she says. "'Lily Allen slams every woman in music.' And the next one was 'Lily Allen praises every woman in music.'"
Even now, if you're looking for Allen to clear up the song's meaning -- sorry, she's not divulging.
"I wrote it with that intention that it could be open to interpretation. I know what my intentions were, but I find it amusing when you leave it to the listener and the way they interpret it says more about the listener than it does about me."
On the song, Allen also declares herself "Sheezus" -- a riff on Kanye West anointing himself "Yeezus." And while Kanye is often derided for being humorless, Allen wasn't worried that he wouldn't get the joke.
"We have a lot mutual friends, and I kind of put out the feelers towards them to pass along the message that I wasn't taking the piss out of him at all. There's a humorous element to calling my album Sheezus after Yeezus, but it was more of an homage to him than anything else.
"What I love about [Kanye] is that he really doesn't compromise the way that he talks publicly. He's not a careerist; he's an artist. He says what he thinks and he lives by that. That's commendable and admirable."
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
Meanwhile, on a personal level, Sheezus marks Allen's return to music after an almost three-year hiatus. During this break, she and husband, Sam Cooper, welcomed two children into their family. And while motherhood has been challenging, she won't use her kids as a pretense for bailing on professional responsibilities.
"I actually had to cancel a bunch of European dates," Allen says. "It was because of poor ticket sales, not because I wanted to spend some more time with my family. But my PR people were saying, 'That's the way we should play it, and say that you want to be with your kids.' But it's not true.
"I mean, I do want to be with my kids, but I would never use them as an excuse to cancel shows. It is tough, but once you've made a commitment and people have started buying tickets to your show, I couldn't just cancel a week before a gig. That would be grossly unfair."
While Allen admits the separation from children during tours hurts, it "brings up some raw emotions that I'll be able to use when I'm writing.
"I can't complain," she insists. "I'm really happy."
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Lily Allen. With Mr. Little Jeans. Tuesday, September 9. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $29.50 to $35 plus fees via livenation.com. All ages. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.
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