Yesterday I came home to the news that Lily Allen had put out a video for her new single Hard Out Here, and that apparently the internet had a lot of feelings about it. Before I’d even made it to the chorus she’d mentioned the glass ceiling and something akin to grumble-grumble-not-in-the-kitchen, so I knew it was only a matter of time before the white feminist mafia began falling over themselves to out-liberal one another by talking about how incisive and right-on it was. There are lots of reasons why the song’s lyrical content and video qualifies Lily to become our latest Weekly Wanker; check it out for yourself above and get your (theoretically) weekly dose of floral malice below.
Can we start with the chorus? The ‘it’s hard out here for a bitch’ refrain will no doubt go unnoticed by the same white feminists who took Beyoncé to task over her use of the word ‘bitch’ on Bow Down. But something else about it bothers me, too. It’s surely a play on It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp, the Three 6 Mafia classic, no? Which, like, whatever, but consider the stills below:
In them, Lily very much adopts the pimp persona. She stands in front of a Rolls Royce in a fur coat and makes it rain on her dancers. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, and we’re obviously supposed to marvel at the uninspired pastiche (what some have hailed as ‘scathing pop culture commentary‘). But appropriating the aesthetics that pimp rap was founded on while denigrating it with a wry holier-than-thou smile leaves me with nothing but a sour taste in my mouth.
Then there’s the line ‘I won’t be bragging about my cars, or talking about my chains/I don’t need to shake my arse for you cos I’ve got a brain’. Aside from the fact that implying that people who shake their arse for a living (or for fun) don’t have brains is on some high school shit, there’s an insidious racial aspect to it. Lily joins Macklemore and Lorde in the arena of white artists in 2013 who’ve written songs that denounce and/or parody materialism in hip-hop as though they have any right to. I touched on this before in a previous post:
“Anyone who flirts with communism is of course aware that owning more things and having more money doesn’t make you a better person. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a good ‘I’m rich as fuck’ bar in a rap song! If you’re white like me you also wanna consider the implications of condemning materialism in hip-hop. Our ancestors considered black people their property and denied them agency in all walks of life – socially, politically and economically. Boasts about Bugattis and Audemars are so common in rap because black folks accumulating mass wealth under white supremacist capitalism is a subversive act. That’s why it’s particularly dangerous when white rappers like Macklemore are lauded for having written a song that, even jokingly, criticises consumerism (nobody cares that you shop at Goodwill instead of Gucci bro).”
Like, there are legitimate historical reasons as to why lots of rap music (but not all, duh) revels in opulent wealth. Ignoring that so you can get on your soapbox about consumerism and conspicuous consumption is hella short-sighted and implies that people of colour haven’t had to overcome centuries of racial oppression just to enjoy the freedoms that white people have always had. Gimme goofy, endlessly loveable 2 Chainz snarling ‘BOUGHT A NEW CRIB JUST TO FUCK YOU IN‘ over Hard Out Here’s bratty puritanical shite any day.
“But it’s a parody!” I hear you cry. With the video’s silver LILY ALLEN HAS A BAGGY PUSSY balloons and the ‘have you thought about your butt, who’s gonna tear it in two’ lyric (a reference to a line in T.I.’s guest verse), Hard Out Here is obviously firing more than a few shots at Blurred Lines, the Robin Thicke behemoth that made number 1 in the US 12 weeks straight and caught a whole lot of flack for its questionable framing of consent and for its even more questionable video. There’s also a couple of subtler digs at Miley Cyrus – a dancer suggestively licks a Beats Pill speaker (á la Wrecking Ball) and there’s the use of her (mostly black) back-up dancers as accessories, reminiscent of Miley’s similar transgressions at this year’s VMAs and in her We Can’t Stop video.
But here’s the thing: if the only way you can parody music videos where black women are used as props is by using black women as props, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Citing metatextuality or irony does not mean Lily can disregard the power dynamics that allow white women to throw black women under the bus in the name of feminism. As @Jodelka summarised on twitter: “hiring half naked black dancers bc you foolishly think you’re celebrating that culture = 1 thing… hiring half naked black dancers to illustrate your contempt for that culture = another”.
And finally, it feels like a lot of the choreography explicitly mirrors (and thus derides) Rihanna’s Pour It Up video. Just like Rihanna, Lily acts as ringleader amongst her troupe of dancers, who bend and writhe in startlingly familiar positions. But where Lily’s dancers are filmed through a malevolent lens, Rihanna’s were filmed through a benevolent one. In The Hairpin’s recent roundtable on the Pour It Up video, Sarah Nicole Prickett wrote: “I feel like Rihanna has solidarity. I felt like she had a basic respect for bitches who get their own. It wasn’t look at them; it was look at us.” Susan Elizabeth Shepherd agreed, adding: “Rihanna aligning herself with the strippers instead of the customers is a pretty powerful image.” Lily offers her dancers no such solidarity – as viewers we are invited to leer and sneer along with Lily as she casts a judgemental eye over the women she’s showering with cash.
So on the one hand we have Pour It Up, where the dancers were able to exhibit their athleticism without catering to or titillating the male gaze and came out looking like boss bitches (seriously, read this Fader interview and watch the ‘Making Of’ video). And on the other hand we have Hard Out Here, filled with voyeuristic shots of the dancers twerking (did someone say #zeitgeist?) while a Generic Old White Dude gives pointers. If Lily wanted to do satire correctly, she could have made him the object of ridicule – the archetypal sleazy director eager to exploit young women – but she didn’t. It’s instead the black women in the video who are made a mockery of.
Lily’s Hard Out Here video comes just months after she told Hello! magazine that her new album would be “empowering – there’s some feminist vibes going on“. It feels a lot like when Kate Nash decided her new marketing ploy was to be totes all about feminism, which would be an admirable feat if she hadn’t been simultaneously writing songs like ‘I’m a Feminist, You’re Still a Whore’ and trotting about in a bindi. Lily and Kate’s feminisms are one and the same – self-centred and white-centric. On Hard Out Here, Lily can’t resist engaging in I’m Not Like Other Girls fuckery and disguising misogynoir as wink-wink satire. Hardly surprising though, when following a Twitter argument with Azealia Banks, she tweeted a photo of her husband’s cock blacked up to look like a golliwog. I wish I was fucking kidding. Is it any surprise that women of colour are turning their backs on feminism when this is the best we have to offer them?
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