Lily Allen is a feminist despite her new “Hard Out Here” video

November 15, 2013

British singer Lily Allen is the latest artist in the feminist spotlight for her recently released single “Hard Out Here.” Employing her signature combination of mockery and charm, Allen spins a Three 6 Mafia’s lyric about pimps to thumb her nose at the music industry. In the accompanying video, she parodies Miley Cyrus’ obsession with twerking and Robin Thicke’s narcissism.

Though “Hard Out Here” is well intentioned, the jab at Miley Cyrus and the prolific use of twerking black women has commentators wondering if the video is feminist at all.

“…while [Allen] tries to point her finger at exactly how ridiculous and troubling it is when, say, Miley Cyrus, surrounds herself with black back-up dancers to sexualize herself and seem more exotic, it doesn’t ever seem like Allen really practices the sort of solidarity she preaches,” said The Atlantic’s Nolan Feeney.

As this is Allen’s first single since 2009, it’s clear she wants to make a splash after her split with EMI and a four-year hiatus. Her video has some puzzling moments, but in her previous work and current reentry into the music industry, Allen has always voiced her support of women. “Hard Out Here” might not be a perfect feminist anthem, but with critics focusing on all the parts that are not feminist instead of highlighting what is, such an anthem seems almost unachievable. This doesn’t mean a rallying single is impossible or that artists should stop striving for one. But it does point to a gap in cultural criticism where it’s easier to talk about all the ways a woman has let us down as a feminist instead of praising her for the ways she’s being brave.

“Perhaps the most helpful response we feminists can have to Lily Allen’s video is not to tear it down because of its flaws (although they should be addressed), but to look at feminism itself and discuss how to realise its potential as a political movement,” said The Guardian‘s Ellie Mae O’Hagan.

To continue the largely positive reviews of “Hard Out Here,” here are three Lily Allen songs that also carry a feminist message.

(Soraya N. McDonald has a different take on Allen’s video.)

Smile (2006)

When you first left me
I didnt know what to say
I’ve never been on my own that way
Just sat by myself all day …

I was so lost back then
But with a little help from my friends
I found the light in the tunnel at the end

The Fear (2008)

And I’ll take my clothes off and it will be shameless
‘Cause everyone knows that’s how you get famous
I’ll look at the sun and I’ll look in the mirror
I’m on the right track, yeah I’m on to a winner

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear?
‘Cause I’m being taken over by the Fear

22 (2009)

When she was 22 her future looked bright
But she’s nearly 30 now and she’s out every night
I see that look in her face, she’s got that look in her eye
She’s thinking how did I get here and wondering why

It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over
There’s nothing to do and there’s nothing to say
‘Til the man of her dreams comes along
Picks her up and puts her over his shoulder
It seems so unlikely in this day and age

Ruth Tam is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @ruthetam.
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