Words: Sarah O’Neill,
Original Article: Here.
In Response to The Quietus Article by Alex MacPherson
Lily Allen – hardly a name that you would instantly associate with controversy or social commentary, but the release of her new song and video for ‘Hard Out Here’ stirs up a myriad of topics that reach far wider than even she alludes to when describing this as part of a ‘feminist’ tinted album. If this first track from the album is anything to go by than ‘feminism’ has come a long way from where it started, and certainly not to its profit. But the criticism of it also raises a number of issues.
This new video is a flimsy and disingenuously satirical portrayal of the music industry and the participants in it – from the hyper-sexualized dancers, to the clipboard carrying male patriarch and the more demurely covered up ‘star’ of the video – Allen herself – as the protagonist of the ‘feminist journey’. But you know what – none of this is particularly innovative, surprising or even vastly removed from every other female led, faux hip hop, pop song of the last few years. And to be fair, its says less about Lily Allen and her questionable motives than it does about societal expectations of women in the music industry and about how we, as critics and viewers of these videos, both demand, and simultaneously condemn these videos when they appear.
The criticism of this video is somewhat mislaid by critics that want to suggest that Ms Allen is the problem here, and by disregarding the fact that the hyper-sexualization of women in our culture is a known truth – that is simply highlighted in the music industry, where scantily clad back up dancers has become rote, and the sexualization of the artists is demanded by the audience – examples of this seen in Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj. In fact, when artists actively step away from fulfilling this uber sexual role they are often slated just as much or, worse still in an industry that accelerates forward on hype, controversy and ‘click ratings’ – not talked about at all, and dismisses them with titles such as frumpy, frigid or irrelevant.
As a society – we have set women in the music industry in a no-win predicament – and heres why. Allen has been criticized from almost every part of this video – from her derisory eye roll at the traditional rap video playing on the screen, to the not-diverse-enough racial make up of the dancers, to her demure-in-comparison outfit choice. But REVERSE it all – and I assure you, the criticism would be just as scathing.
Change the race of all the back up dancers – make them white – and she would be accused of superimposing a white face on black culture – misappropriating it and claiming it to the exclusion of its heritage. It would be seen as a caucasian-centric, supremacist take on hip hop culture. The fact that the girls – which, for the record, are a mix of black, white and mixed ethnicity – are of varied heritage does little to alleviate critics opinion that the camera lingers too long on black skin – but surely, the color of the skin should matter less than the fact that a ‘feminist’ video features so much skin in such a commodified, meat-in-the-window type fashion.
Clothe the girls while they all gyrate, cover them from head to toe in dresses or Britney-esque catsuits, and she would have been accused of pretending that sex does not sell, and that the role of the dancers in and of itself is not objectification and the commodification of sex to sell music. Apologies for pointing it out, but the lowest-common-denominator society that we live in sells sex at the highest premium. Just look at any perfume commercials, video game or indeed, music video – and the common theme will always be naked female skin. We prize it, and yet, when a woman presents it to us, we deride her for it. If this was a video by Flosstradamus, there surely would have been less than half an eyebrow raised.
Undress herself, appear in her video scantily clad, on a par with her dancers to show ‘solidarity’ and her two-babies-in body – which for the record, could not be more than a size 12 – would have been ridiculed, torn to shreds because it possibly does not match up to the feminine ideal that our new warped sense of beauty demands.
Replace Allen herself, transpose a male frontman into the frame of this song and video, would it then be more acceptable? Why is our moral barometer for women so much higher then for men? We are ALL losing every time a woman is taking off her clothes to sell an album, every time a man decorates his set with gyrating over-sexualized ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’. We are all losing, when men describe women as ‘bitches’ and woman do likewise, as if saying the word themselves gives them ‘power’ and removes the derogatory inference.
Change it all around and you would still end up in the same place. The music industry is a difficult place to be a woman because it demands that they be all things – a sex kitten, a feminist, a voice, a body, a set of morals and a set of tits. It demands that our vocalists both pander to the male eye and also denounce it. Women are being put in an impossible situation, where we demand of them conflicting and mutually exclusive ideals. The hyper-sexualization of women and artists, the pandering to the lowest common dominator societal expectations of sex as commodity, the faux-embracing and cheapening of feminist culture is all bullshit. Nothing is powerful about this video except the conversation that it is sparking. but the conversation should not be ‘fuck Lily Allen and her fake feminist morals’, the conversation should be ‘what the hell is wrong with us, that this is even remotely normal?’