Lily Allen is a newly minted British pop star, a MySpace hero with 57,000 virtual friends, and the symbol of a new, swaggeringly confident young woman. But that doesn't mean that this 21-year-old gets any special treatment at home, where she lives with her mom and a baby brother she has immortalized in song as a stoner wastrel in a "stupid fitted cap."
"I was doing international phoners this morning, and my mum kept clomping around in her big black shoes," Allen complained. "I was like, `Mom -- I'm on Australian radio, leave me alone!,' and she didn't even care." Last week Allen's ska-inflected, sharply written and hilariously bratty debut album, Alright, Still, entered the British pop chart at No. 2, with a healthy 73,000 copies sold. (It has since gone gold, with more than 100,000 sold.)
The album followed a No. 1 single, Smile, a lilting reggae confection that sounds so sunny on first listen that it is shocking to realize that it is a vengeful goodbye to a contrite cheater. "At first when I see you cry/Yeah, it makes me smile," Allen sings in her bright, innocent soprano. In the video she hires thugs to beat up the lad, trash his apartment and -- horror of horrors -- scratch his vinyl records. When he becomes a sniveling mess, she tenderly consoles him. Then she doses him with laxatives.
Compared with other characters on the album, he gets off easy. Woe is the man who inspired Not Big, a slam against a lover who is "rubbish in bed." Allen has apparently mined a lot of material from what she calls "two major relationships and one not-so-major relationship."
"No boy's ever done anything that crazy to me," she said, speaking via cell phone as she rode to a hotel in Belgium. "I think I do all the crazy things, and that's why they end up leaving me." She giggled hysterically.
Allen is one of the oddest female artists to emerge in years. She is obsessed with black music, from rock-steady to Jay-Z, but she seems blithely unconcerned with issues of authenticity and appropriation. She sings of shoving girls around at clubs, but has pictures of cute puppies on her blog. She is a pretty, petite woman whose trademark outfit -- a vintage evening dress accessorized with flashy sneakers, a 1960s updo, heavy eyeliner, door-knocker earrings and gold chains -- recalls Gwen Stefani in the way it stylishly synthesizes a dizzying array of influences. She looks so traditionally feminine that her foul mouth and bellicose nature are amusing surprises.
Like a cross between Oasis in its trash-talking heyday and a beef-starting American rapper, she loves to needle bigger stars. She saves most of her vitriol for male rockers, who cannot fire back without looking like lass-bashing bullies. She recently raised hackles by declaring guitar rock boring, and mocks old ladies in Nan, You're a Window Shopper, a reggae spoof of a 50 Cent song.
"I just can't keep my mouth shut," she said. "I don't really mean to offend anyone. I think I say things that, if I weren't in the public eye, no one would bat an eyelash at." During the interview she seemed shy and unconfrontational, bursting into nervous laughter at innocuous questions like "Why are you in Belgium?"
Her feud-mongering has generated loads of news media coverage, which has helped spur her success in the UK. Now Capitol Records has announced that it will release her album in the US this February. "Lily is compelling on so many levels," said Andy Slater, the label's president and chief executive. "She clearly has a point of view, and she's the first artist I've seen this year that offers a sort of rally cry for women under 25."