In the wake of the ongoing Miley Cyrus chatter, and Blurred Lines being (rightly) banned in yet more student unions across the UK, Lily Allen’s return to music has brought us something fresh, intelligent and surprisingly honest. Her music video for Hard Out Here takes a tongue in cheek yet brutal look at the sexism in the music industry. Whether you think Miley twerking with Robin Thicke was a sign of misogyny or empowerment, there is little doubt that the music industry forces women to use their bodies and sexuality in order to attract attention. No doubt it also does this to men to, I dread to think the kind of meetings One Direction go through where their every sexual encounter is either publicised or hidden as appropriate. However, it is women who bear the brunt of this sexism, and this is what Lily Allen is attempting to address. Lest we forget, however; that it was ultimately down to her label what she recorded, released and filmed, so is it ever going to be a truly honest portrayal of women in the industry?
The chorus line “it’s hard out here for a bitch” summarises wholly the general attitude toward women. Women are still expected to overcome the fact that they are a woman, and still find themselves consistently referred to in derogatory terms. (David Guetta – Sexy Bitch ft. Akon, I’m looking at you). Lily Allen goes some way to identifying that as a problem, embracing it and perhaps even reclaiming the word as something positive. The unreasonable expectations of body and image for women, the sexualisation of almost every aspect of their careers is all a focal point in the video and lyrics of the song. It is admirable that Lily Allen has taken on the intimidating task of addressing something so relevant and important, but yet almost impossibly broad. In many ways the entire track is an attempt at identifying what Allen sees as wrong in the music industry – the heavy auto tune and limited harmonic and melodic interest mean the music itself comes second to the video and image. Arguably this is just as happens in the career every other mainstream artist.
Where Lily Allen starts to head toward shaky ground is the line between shaming the patriarchy and judging other women. The Mileys’ of the world seem to also be the butt of Allen’s joke – the girls who are perhaps manipulated by the expectation of the older white man telling them what to do. Or is Allen missing the point, as Miley recently said on BBC Radio 1 “For me, it’s not even that I’m a feminist, I’m for everybody for anything.” I suppose it is an entirely different question as to whether Miley is encouraging female empowerment or further bending to the whims of the patriarchy.
The opening scene of Hard Out Here shows Allen being fixed up, ready for her come-back, the whole surgical process being overseen by an older man, insisting that women really don’t look after themselves. Allen protests she has had two kids, but still the process continues. Throughout the video there is a slightly uncomfortable edge that instead of addressing the problem, she is insulting the symptom. Part of me would like a female artist revolution in which they all just come on stage make up free wearing trackie bottoms and baggy t shirts, sing their heart out and see what happens. It is unfair, and even silly, to attack other women, when you’re all ultimately fighting for the same cause. There are very few people out there, women or men, that wouldn’t call themselves a feminist and they all are, in their own way.
Some further debate centres around whether ANY of Hard Out Here is feminist, or if it’s just further reinforcement of misogynistic attitudes throughout the music industry, and not even just misogyny but issues of race and class as well. Is Lily Allen reinforcing stereotypes? More and more questions are raised the more you try and analyse something like this. Ultimately she can never win, in an attempt to critique misogyny in the industry, she has opened herself up to further critique of ‘how to be a feminist’. It’s enough to make anyone give up on the whole idea.