Lily Allen has never been one to shy away from biting sarcasm or explicit frankness. In some songs the British pop starlet disses by way of thinly veiled compliments, and in others she straightforwardly tells you exactly what is stuck in her craw.
Allen’s latest single, Not Fair, is delightfully blunt as it tells the story of a man who is perfect — until she gets him between the sheets. As Allen laments her lover’s horizontal inabilities in childlike awe, the star — who writes all of her lyrics and co-writes the music — reveals why she is such a special enigma in pop music.
“There’s just one thing that’s getting in the way/When we go up to bed you’re just no good — it’s such a shame ... It’s not fair, and I think you’re really mean.”
Allen could have related those sentiments a million ways. But she tells him he’s mean instead of pulling an Alanis Morissette and hanging him out to dry. She’s verbally wicked without being cruel, and she writes an entire song about sex while staying smart and very coy relative to the kind of lyrics often heard on the radio these days — and that’s not an easy charge.
“It’s not that sexually explicit,” Allen said last week via telephone from England. “She’s just talking frankly. Guys are more explicit in hip-hop about the goings-on in the bedroom. Some people say, ‘But it’s too graphic’ — well it’s not really, compared to other music out there.”
Allen sees it as a double standard. “It’s important in this day and age for women to take control and ownership of their sexuality,” Allen said, “and that’s what I’m doing here.”
At 23, Allen is wise beyond her years — something often credited to her showbiz upbringing, her dad is an actor/musician and her mom is a film producer. And while that no doubt contributes to her knowing approach to celebrity, it’s clear Allen is as smart as she is sassy.
Allen’s second record, It’s Not Me, It’s You, was released in February with the meandering, plainspoken pop brilliance of lead single The Fear. Allen was writing about being incredibly famous, sure. But whereas her first record positioned her as this cocky starlet, her sophomore effort mixes a real vulnerability with her British assuredness.
How do we know it’s real? Because unlike Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls, Allen’s name appears on the writing credits for each of her songs.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t my songs,” Allen said flatly. “I wouldn’t have any interest in it. When I’m onstage, I need to believe what I’m singing. And if somebody else has written the song, I wouldn’t be able to carry it off with any conviction.”
Many artists echo that opinion, but Allen might be fiery enough to actually believe it. She is Lily Allen, hear her roar.
“People always talk to me about American Idol and Pop Idol, “ Allen said, “but they’ve got nothing to do with music. It’s TV, and that mainstream manufactured pop music, it’s made for a certain purpose. But it’s not the same thing that I do or Kate Nash does or MIA does. It’s a different thing.”
Can Allen, a mainstream pop star, get away with ridiculing mainstream manufactured pop stars? Apparently.
And she does it by rattling off some of the hottest female musical exports from the UK in the past decade. Nash, who has been called Allenesque, has her own quirky way of weaving a story — often about men, relationships and self-examination. MIA isn’t as lyrically dynamic as Nash or Allen, but her ability to create beat-based soundscapes with carefully chosen producers is right up there with Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z.