Lily Allen released a video yesterday, “Hard Out Here,” and it’s a great pop-y feminist anthem about female objectification. The lyrics are a little on the nose but I expect nothing less from a pop song, so I am down to party with Lily. The entire video and song is satire.
Understanding satire is important otherwise we would all have thought Jonathan Swift was serious about feeding poor children to the rich as a way to solve hunger in A Modest Proposal. I want to be clear that my opinions on race, just because I happen to Black, aren’t the end all and be all about race, so I urge you to consider the arguments made on the other side of this issue.
Here’s what people are upset about, Lily Allen features Black women twerking in her music video and, like, Miley Cyrus she is being accused of using Black women/people as accessories. Miley’s use of marginalized people is completely different than Lily’s. Miley uses little people and people of color as accessories to make herself seem more outrageous, weird, outlandish and mischievous, thus insinuating that those groups of people are outsiders. Many people feel like Miley is doing one of those, “Look, I have a Black friend! I’m so cool! Look there’s a little person too, what a freak show! I’m so strange!” Whether you agree with that or not is an entirely different issue but that’s what the ladybloggers are saying.
Lily Allen on the other hand has written and is performing a song about the expectations of women in pop music and satirizing the rather ridiculous things people do to live up to those expectations. One of them is twerking and being overtly sexual. She is merely pointing out how that behavior is incorrect and ridiculous. There is even a scene where her manager and the Black dancers are teaching her to twerk and she can’t do it. Lily is showing how sexualized dancing is not only forced upon pop stars by record executives but how it is wholly stupid.
There’s a scene where a Black woman rubs her crotch then licks her hand, the blogger BlackinAsia suggests that Lily is denigrating Black bodies. I am suggesting she is showing how absurd it looks when women’s bodies are used as sexual objects. Lily is doing the same dance right with them so how is she condemning them while elevating herself? Furthermore there are three white women and four of color participating on screen, so how did this scene become wholly about Black women when they are all behaving in outlandish ways? She even said the only reason most of her dancers are of color is because they happened to be the best dancers.I mean just look at how ridiculous this scene is! You’re not laughing at this Black woman, you’re laughing at the idea that this is supposed to be cool and sexy.
Others are pointing to Lily’s lyrics to support their argument but again are failing to see the point.
These lyrics, “I won’t be braggin’ ’bout my cars, or talkin’ ’bout my chains / Don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cuz I got a brain.” For some any talk of “chains” and “cars” is a red flag as racism because well, a lot of rappers like to talk about those things and a lot of rappers are Black. Since when was boasting about all the things you have exclusive to rap music and not to mainstream musicians who live off of endorsement deals? I think people are completely overlooking the fact that boasting about fame, fortune and expensive cars is pivotal to female pop stars as well. I mean, have they not heard Britney Spears‘ lyrics about Bugattis, Maseratis and Lamborghinis in “Work Bitch”? Are they not privy to the product placements for headphones, jewelry, perfumes, cars and cellphones that run rampant in all female pop stars videos?
The most problematic lyric issue I see with the song is, “Don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cuz I got a brain,” because it is slut shaming and claims that having a brain and shaking your rump is mutually exclusive. But you know what? It is a pop song meant for mainstream consumption so I am not really going to anticipate a dynamic, poetic, nuanced conversation from a four minute radio friendly jam. I also know better than to take art literally. Especially, when I obviously know she is suggesting that we shouldn’t let our sexuality overshadow our talents, which is precisely what Miley Cyrus is tactically (and quite masterfully) doing for fame.
There is simply no indication to me that this is what Lily Allen thinks of Black women so much as this is how she sees women being portrayed and objectified. If she is calling out negative behaviors in her song and video, why would this be the one behavior she is promoting? It doesn’t add up. Does the image seem slightly racist if taken out of its context? Yes, but parody has always reproduced the thing it is intending to critique in its most extreme form, hence the crotch licking. And since when are we not supposed to critique art and culture in its context?