13/06/2014
We chat to Lily Allen ahead of her Australia tour Splendour in the Grass headline appearance

Words by

Chris Martin

Lily Allen knows exactly what it takes to be a pop star. And she’s not interested in doing it anymore – not one bit. Her 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 ten 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 thinkpieces 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”. Next, she comes our way to headline Splendour in the Grass, as well as sideshows in Melbourne and Sydney.

“I’m just really excited to come back there; I haven’t been to Australia for so long, and it used to be one of my strongest territories. On my last album, I came out there and did a big promo trip before the record came out, and that worked really well, and I haven’t been able to do that this time ’round, so I feel like I’ve been neglecting my Australian fans somewhat. I can’t wait to get over there and have a presence and show them my show, which I’m really proud of, and I think is brilliant – and we’re doing some sideshows as well, and hopefully another tour at the beginning of next year or the end of this year.”

In fact, Splendour will be one of the highest-profile shows in Allen’s entire career thus far. “I don’t think I’ve ever headlined a night at a festival before, ever, so I’ll have to pull out some extra tricks – throw in an extra costume change,” she laughs.

It seems that not being pop is working out for Allen just fine. How aware is she, now, of the very idea of the pop star as a media and cultural construct?

“I find it kind of fascinating,” she says. “I think it’s maybe growing up in this sort of – not growing up, but having witnessed this X-Factor obsession and dream-of-stardom lifestyle that kids aspire to in this day and age, I find it all a bit depressing in a lot of ways. So I feel like I have a responsibility to burst the bubble and to tell people that maybe it shouldn’t be top of the list of things to do.

“I mean, I do love my job and I’m really happy to do it, and it’s an amazing gift that I’ve been given, but I do very well out of it – I write all my own songs and I’ve got a very good record deal. And those people that go into those talent shows and think that their lives are going to be sorted when they get there – they’re just wrong, because on the whole, they’ve got really shitty deals, they don’t write, they don’t make any money that way, and they just get chased by paparazzi and made to look like idiots the whole time. So I kind of feel like I want to be honest about things and smash the smoke and mirrors a little bit.”

Allen is better placed than most to judge whether the golden age of the pop star even still exists. She thinks for a moment.

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

 

LILY ALLEN plays Splendour in the Grass alongside Outkast, Two Door Cinema, Childish Gambino and more at the North Byron Parklands from Friday July 25 – Sunday July 27. She plays a sideshow at Festival Hall on Thursday July 24. - See more at: http://www.beat.com.au/music/lily-allen#sthash.uzaI15hN.dpuf
LILY ALLEN plays Splendour in the Grass alongside Outkast, Two Door Cinema, Childish Gambino and more at the North Byron Parklands from Friday July 25 – Sunday July 27. She plays a sideshow at Festival Hall on Thursday July 24. - See more at: http://www.beat.com.au/music/lily-allen#sthash.uzaI15hN.dpuf

LILY ALLEN plays Splendour in the Grass alongside Outkast, Two Door Cinema, Childish Gambino and more at the North Byron Parklands from Friday July 25 – Sunday July 27.

Leave a comment

Related

A fat bunch of hits does not an album make.
An all-out glam rock album.
There's a certain charm about this album.
Musicians are advised to back up their music.
On band mates, women in music and overcoming stage fright.
A glimmering record full of love and heartbreak.
Talking touring, Netflix and time spent at home.
Easygoing and atmospheric.
Is it wrong to want more?
A debut album four years in the making.
Frankly, not their best work.
A voice for the angry.
The little electro band that could.
Home hangs with Emma and Alice.
We hang at home with the two best friends.
The first single off her forthcoming album.
In an unannounced Australian capital city.
Is it still relevant to rap about gangsta shit?
*By a person who didn't really know her music until now
No fashion week should be without a good hair director.
Talkin nail polish, EPs and the possibility of a Killing Heidi Reunion.
A little West Coast act doing big things.
The self-awareness sets her apart.
Inspired by the not-so-nice stuff about being a woman.
Strangely underwhelming.
Clearly a very personal album for frontman, Kele.
I didn't want this to be a hate letter....
That Rihanna reign just don't let up.
There's still nobody out there with a voice like this.
Meet the label prioritising social responsibility.
A lush and detailed listen.
Confident and charismatic.
And other handy job application tips.
An in-depth look at the woman behind the label.
The best week of Melbourne's music year is on the horizon.
We heard everything...
We get to know one of Melbourne's busiest musicians.
Talking The First Wives Club and GarageBand.
Madonna will bring her Rebel Heart tour to Australia next year.
What it’s really like growing up in a cosmetics empire.
Sweden, you’ve done it again.
Australian musicians are taking centre stage.
An album that is somehow both loud and indescribably quiet at the same time.
Talking M&M’s in ice-cream and Skittles in vodka.
With all in- app purchases going to charity.
"The mid-song break down on the title track is still one of my favourite musical moments from recent memory."
"Oh, this is what feel good music is."
Dreamy pop tunes coming to you live.
Hoooooooooboy. Get ready to start planning your trip to Byron, the lineup for Splendour In The Grass 2015 is finally here.
One of the smoothest voices in Melbourne.
Returns to Australia for Vivid Live.
The hauntingly beautiful sounds of London Grammar hit Festival Hall.
It may not be groundbreaking, but this is definitely emotional enough.
It's like it's 2012 all over again and in a very good way.
Comfortingly few muscle tees.
It's actually not that hard out here for a b*tch.
Get ready for your next fave artist Australia.
Take those early high school years and turn them into a bratty pop record.
The Backstreet Boys are coming back, awright.
Fascinated and a little intrigued, we quizzed the duo behind the Spanish label.
The singer/songwriter gears up to grace our shores.
Mim and Liv NERVO have taken the world by storm.
Melbourne's fun new jewellery label tells us what's up.
Client Liaison are hitting the ground running in 2015.
Because pun-derpants are the best idea.
2014 has been a pretty ripper year for music, seeing the emergence of new (and incredible) artists, the continuing domination of...
Like we needed another reason to <3 her.
Taylor Swift tells ASOS Magazine the life lessons she’s learnt.
Is there anything more 'Melbourne' than a laneway party?
Absence must make the heart grow fonder, as Chet Faker announces an Australian Tour after a year of worldly adventure
Zoe Kravitz to hit Topshop Sydney this Friday
Nostalgia for the ‘80s and an appreciation of Aussie culture— Client Liaison evoke a corporate narrative, to the point where I...
If you’ve spent time on any fashion website during the last five years – which is pretty likely – then you have encountered Julia...
"THE SCHEDULE HAS CHANGED. I'VE GOT COURTNEY LOVE ON HOLD. CAN YOU SPEAK TO HER IN 30 SECONDS?"
Gorman is in a constant state of flux - but in a good way.
Actual great vintage tees without the hassle.
We hit up Joey and Rob from ELEVEN Australia for some insider tips, nifty tricks and picked their brains on how they made it in...
When you hear the words ‘Swedish folk music’ the first image that jumps to mind is probably men in tiny green overalls yodelling...
We chatted to Kelis about her line of sauces, the Kelis food truck at SXSW, what she loves most about fashion and of course her...
Everyone the world over just amped up their squat regime.
We love the internet, especially the endless hours of shopping fun it provides us.
How can one person have so many talents? I mean, really.
LA born BANKS has been capturing global attention. We caught up with her to chat songwriting, messages from the universe, and why...
Stevie Dance’s story is pretty much a fashion industry fairytale.
After bursting onto the scene with hit Smile back in 2006 via debut album Alright, Still and consolidating her reputation as pop...
Desert Designs might just be the most inter­est­ing design col­lab­o­ra­tion going around.