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Lily Allen

Lily-Allen---pic-1-Mar14

Lily Allen knows exactly what it takes to be a pop star. And she’s not interested in doing it anymore, as she tells CHRIS MARTIN.

Lily Allen first two albums, Alright, Still and It’s Not Me, It’s You, crowned her as both the darling of the British pop media and the queen of the sales charts, but her return this year with Sheezus brought with it a shock backlash of criticism in the mainstream press and on social media. 

Not that it stopped her from topping the charts once again. If Allen’s taken the harsh words to heart, she’s not showing it.

“Listen, maybe I’m just not the radio pop star anymore,” Allen says from her London flat, where she’s just sent her daughters to bed. “Maybe I just make the music that I want to make, and fuck ’em all,” she laughs.

“I’m not going to water my music down and start singing, ‘Oh baby you make me crazy/Can I be your lady baby?’ and play some crappy EDM and hope that it’s liked, because that’s just not what I do.”

The outspoken Allen stepped away from the spotlight in 2010 after touring It’s Not Me, It’s You, and has spent the ensuing years raising her children Ethel Mary (now two-years-old) and Marnie Rose (17 months). While she says her return to the studio for Sheezus felt natural – “I’m not the first person to go back to work after having kids” – she admits to being caught off guard by what came next, and by her record label Parlophone’s changing definition of ‘pop’.

“I suppose I was a little bit, because I just wrote music the way that I’ve always written music, and then once I delivered everything and it came to picking singles and sending stuff off to radio, it seemed like everyone had a completely different hat on to the one when I’d started. I feel like a lot of the songs that I would’ve assumed would’ve been the singles, and the ones that would’ve sold the album and been songs at radio, weren’t, really, and not really everywhere else in the world but in the UK.

“I don’t know what’s happened. I feel like things have got a little bit more saturated, or watered down, and the radio people, the record company were like, ‘Oh no, we can’t have that, this radio station won’t play it, and that radio station won’t play it, because it’s too controversial or too sexy’.

“And you’re just like, ‘Wait a second, people are posing naked on the front of magazine covers and still get their songs played on the radio’, but I guess because their songs don’t really say anything – I don’t know. I’m not really saying anything particularly offensive, I’m actually just taking ownership of my sexuality and feminism, and people find that offensive – which I find astonishing, because I think if I’d have released these same songs when I first started 10 years ago there wouldn’t have been a problem, but now there is, which is amazing to me. It feels like going backwards.”

Case in point – the new record’s title track, Sheezus. Allen told Rolling Stone she would’ve liked to see as a single, but people got offended by the word ‘period’ in its lyrics. On Twitter, ahead of the album’s release, she agreed with a fan who called her new singles, ‘docile pop rubbish’.

‘What you’ve heard so far yes’, she wrote. ‘The labels and the radio stations won’t play the better stuff’.

Ultimately, the auto-tune-heavy Hard Out Here was the first taste of Allen’s new material – and its video created an online uproar. Suddenly, the armchair experts had not only decided what Allen’s artistic intentions were on her behalf, but launched into rambling think-pieces about why that made her an objectifier of women (for her dancers twerking in skimpy black outfits) or a racist (said dancers were all of black or Asian descent). Somehow, the satire of the clip was lost on some commentators, despite the song’s lyrics, and the words spelled out in giant silver balloons: ‘Lily Allen Has a Baggy Pussy’.

Did it frustrate Allen that people jumped to criticise her intentions without actually asking what they’d been?

“I’m sure that people did ask, but I don’t really feel like I have to explain,” she says. “People always say, ‘What was your intention behind this song?’ or ‘What did you mean by that?’ and it’s like, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter,’ because it’s ethereal – once you’ve let something go and put it out into a public arena, it doesn’t matter what I intended; it matters how people interpret’. If I do one interview explaining what my meaning was behind a song, not everybody who’s heard the song is going to have read that interview, so it doesn’t really matter. I just have to make sure that when I’m writing my songs, that I stand by them at the end.

“And of course, I’m not going to forensically analyse each one of my lyrics of my songs and think, ‘Has this contradicted anything that I’ve ever said before in an interview, or in a song?’ Songwriting is artistry, and that sounds really earnest, but things are just meant to exist; you put them out there and that’s what they are.”

Allen’s not shying away from her willingness to cause a ruckus. Her next video will be the single URL Badman, itself written in response to online trolls. The song begins with sounds of a teenage boy masturbating in his bedroom – ‘Alexander, your dinner’s on the table!’ ‘Yeah alright Mum, I said I’m coming!’ – and while Allen’s not sure that sequence will make the final cut, the track is one she’s “proud of”.

It seems that not being pop is working out for Allen just fine. And she is better placed than most to judge whether the golden age of the pop star even still exists.

“I’m sure it can, if you play the game,” Allen says. “But I don’t want to play the game.”

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