Lily Allen 2014

First off, whatever Lily Allen might tweet at you, “Hard Out Here” is not rubbish. “Air Balloon” and “L8 CMMR,” sure, if “pleasantly inconsequential” passes for rubbish these days. “Our Time,” maybe, in that it lacks Allen’s usual punch. But “Hard Out Here,” the first song Allen released from the album we later learned would be called Sheezus, the one that spawned one of those racism controversies that have become all too common lately, is a delight. Lyrics-wise, it hits a bunch of your basic feminist talking points cleverly enough to remind you that, yes, sexism still exists and yes, so does Lily Allen. It was exactly the sort of sassy, self-aware pop song Allen made her name on, infused with flashes of hip-hop and dance-pop and buoyed by whispery melodies that stick with you longer than the punchlines. Allen is the most hyperliteral pop star of her generation, always one to project her opinions brazenly and playfully. Even when she’s being sardonic, as on 2009′s “The Fear,” there’s no mistaking her intentions. On “Hard Out Here,” she even spelled that much out: “And if you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’ve misunderstood.”

But Allen has been misunderstood a lot lately, mostly for reasons she could have prevented. She drew lots of fire for “Hard Out Here,” which she should have anticipated as a white woman surrounding herself with exclusively black dancers in the post-Miley era. Then she caught shit for agreeing with a Twitter commenter that her recent run of singles was “rubbish” and suggesting that her label was forcing her to release weaker material, which, again, was a reasonable cause for ridicule; why would she admit she didn’t like her own songs? I even understand why some people responded negatively to “Sheezus,” her new album’s fascinating DJ Dahi-produced title track and opening number. In the video Allen, looking not unlike Rebecca Romijn as Mystique thanks to digital effects, carries on at length about the menstrual cycle and names off all the pop stars she’d like to rule over. It’s the Kendrick Lamar “Control” verse of insecure aspirational pop star anthems. I enjoy the song, but I also sympathize when Grantland’s Emily Yoshida laments, “Why does she ’wanna’ be Sheezus? Shouldn’t she already be declaring herself Sheezus? C’mon, Lily, own it, dammit!”

All of that criticism at least seemed fair, if a little overblown. Allen has fumbled her way through the promotion for Sheezus — promotion that, if you believe the lyrics on album tracks such as “Insincerely Yours” and “Take My Place,” she doesn’t really want to do. Allen seems to be saying she’d be happier at home with her husband and the two kids they’ve had since Allen’s last album, 2009′s It’s Not Me, It’s You. For whatever reason, she put herself out there again after several years of private life, so now she has to deal with the scrutiny that comes with being a celebrity — particularly a big-mouthed celebrity. That’s fair game. It’s what she signed up for. But when the internet made an uproar about Allen dressing up like Beyoncé and doing a killer impression during a lip-synced performance of “Drunk In Love,” it became clear that mocking Allen has become a sport and people will take any opportunity to pile on. Call me crazy Patrick Stickles if you must, but I think Allen’s getting more shit than she deserves, and I suspect it’s about to continue when the reviews for Sheezus start rolling in next week.

I say that because Sheezus is a puzzling piece of work, but also because I think it’s brilliant in its own way. Allen spends extensive portions of the run time singing about surfing the internet. On “URL Badman,” she names off numerous media outlets and wages war on online commenters over zany dubstep drops, while “Life For Me” is basically just about watching TV and checking Facebook after caring for her kids. The aforementioned “Insincerely Yours” and “Take My Place” are all about how Allen wishes she could be at home away from this pop-star business. “L8 CMMR” is about her husband’s prowess in bed; yet another ode to her spouse is the crude, country-inflected Miley-Cyrus-style monogenre rave-up called “As Long As I’ve Got You.” That’s followed by “Close Your Eyes,” an R&B pop song that takes me back to Brandy and Monica’s heyday, on which Allen tells her lover, “Tonight you’re my Hova.”

The resulting composite is a strikingly realistic portrayal of the modern life’s mundanity and its simple pleasures. Parts of it come off as banal, but that’s reality for many people in 2014: a pleasant but unremarkable home life spiced up by online drama, celebrity worship, constant connection to technology, and maybe a girls’ or boys’ night here and there. Call her a basic bitch if you must, but Allen has essentially delivered her own contribution to the domestic pop genre that’s been flourishing since The 20/20 Experience and carried on through BEYONCÉ. Like Real Estate’s, Allen’s version of married life is far less glamorous than what Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé presented, and more so than any of them, hers admits that occasionally some confusion creeps in amongst the contentment. Despite her claim that she wants to be pop’s top diva, everything about the album suggests that she’d rather be at home commenting on the likes of RiRi, Gaga and Lorde than out here competing with them. (It’s hard out here, after all.) Whether she meant to or not, Allen has assembled a meaningful portrait of modern life. In that case, come to think of it, of course it seems like rubbish.


The latest winner of the Finishing Second To Frozen sweepstakes is Future, whose Honest beat out Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic by the narrowest of margins — less than 1,000 copies! — for the #2 spot on the Billboard 200 this week. Future moved about 53,000 copies of that dope compared to about 52,000 in sales for Azalea. (As Billboard notes, Future handily outsold Azalea in terms of physical CDs, whereas .) They make an intriguing pair, don’t they? How long until they inevitably duet? Other top 10 debuts include Neon Trees’ Pop Psychology (#6, 19,000 copies) and two live albums: the Nashville cast’s Nashville: On The Record (#8, 18,000) and Christian worship band Bethel Music’s You Make Me Brave: Live At The Civic (#10, 14,000). Pharrell (#4), August Alsina (#5), Luke Bryan (#7), and Lorde (#9) are in there too.

The Frozen soundtrack, meanwhile, continues cruising unchallenged at #1 with 115,000 copies sold — more than double what any other album sold last week. It’s now topped the charts for 12 nonconsecutive weeks — only the eighth album to stay #1 that long since the SoundScan era began in 1991. It ascends to 2.5 million in total sales and is the first album to sell 2 million copies in 2014; no other release has even made it to 1 million yet.

Azalea is also making a strong showing on the Hot 100 singles chart with her Charli XCX duet “Fancy.” The song rises to #7 this week, which Billboard tells us marks the first time a female rapper made it to the top 10 with her first Hot 100 single since M.I.A. went to #4 with “Paper Planes” in 2008. “Fancy” is also the first time a lady MC has been in the top 10 at all since Nicki Minaj’s Justin Bieber duet “Beauty And A Beat” went to #5 in January 2013. Azalea will likely have a second song in the top 10 next week when “Problem,” her song with Ariana Grande, enters the chart.

The top of the singles chart, though, remains in Pharrell’s stranglehold. “Happy” finishes at #1 for the tenth straight week, followed by John Legend’s “All Of Me” and a trio of tunes featuring Atlanta rappers: Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse,” Jason Derulo and 2 Chainz’s “Talk Dirty,” and DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What.” Idina Menzel’s Frozen stunner “Let It Go” is at #6, and the rest of the top 10 includes Bastille, Justin Timberlake, and Chris Brown.


Ariana Grande – “Problem” (Feat. Iggy Azalea)
Saucy sax hooks coming back in a big way post “Thrift Shop”! First it was Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty,” then the digital equivalent in “Turn Down For What.” Now this new Ariana Grande/Iggy Azalea single has adopted the freewheeling brass blast as its weapon of choice. Also: This song will be huge. If anybody in the current landscape is going to unseat Pharrell’s “Happy” atop the singles chart, it’s this.

DJ Snake & Lil Jon – “Turn Down For What (Remix)” (Feat. Juicy J, 2 Chainz, & French Montana)
Speaking of “Turn Down For What,” this all-star remix was inevitable, but these other guys can’t match the intensity that made this such a great comeback vehicle for Lil Jon in the first place. Still always fun to pile a bunch of A-list rappers onto a popular beat, though.

MKTO – “American Dream”
Musically, “American Dream” is cloying post-Fray emotive piano pop crossed with faceless post-Flo Rida pop-rap — so, not that appealing. Conceptually, though, I like the idea of these fresh-faced kids bemoaning the hollowness of the American myths they learned from all these classic songs, from “Born To Run” to “Jack & Diane” to (yes!) Phantom Planet’s “California.”

Christina Grimmie – “Hold On, We’re Going Home”
Grimmie is a contestant on The Voice this season, and her cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” which sounds every bit like a reality singing competition cover but also (pleasingly) a little like Paramore, went to #3 on the iTunes singles chart.


  • The Beyoncé-like release strategy Mariah Carey hinted at for her next album is not happening. (And frankly, if you tell people about it beforehand, it’s not a Beyoncé-like release strategy.) [Billboard]
  • Ed Sheeran is working on a collaborative double-album with… the Game? [MTV]
  • The Today show released the schedule for its summer concert series. [Popjustice]
  • Is Adam Lambert really worthy of a greatest hits collection? [PopCrush]
  • A former bodyguard is suing Rihanna for defamation. [TMZ]
  • Robbie Williams won’t take part in the Take That reunion. (Take that, Take That!) [The Mirror]
  • LeAnn Rimes underwent surgery for a “seriously painful hangnail.” [Just Jared]


Comments (57)
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  2. Man, “The Fear” was such a fucking cool song, but I have not connected with any of Lily Allen’s music since then. The signal-to-noise ratio in the latest material and it’s promotion has been really skewed. I feel like she’s saying *something* incredibly loud but I have no idea what it is (sort of how I felt about Gaga in the run-up to ARTPOP). I don’t think you’re far off the mark when you compare “Sheezus” to “Control”, but the difference is that when Kendrick did his epic diss verse he had just spent the last year PROVING he was that good, whereas Lilly is sort of a B-list diva in the UK and more like C-list in the US (that duet she did with Pink was by far the least successful single off of Pink’s latest). So yeah, big meh for me as far as she’s concerned. I’m not an official hater, but I’d be happy if she just packed it in.

    I also like “Problems” a lot, but I’m not sure if it’s a chart-topper. I think I’m the one person on earth who doesn’t care that much for “Happy” (it’s just like the crappier “Hey Ya”, right? And it needs to be faster, right?) and I would LOVE if we could get something fresh in the Top 10.

    • I’ve never understood the appeal of Lily Allen. She’s not terrible by any means, but I’ve never personally seen a reason for her to be deserving of so much analysis and occasional acclaim. I’m with you on “Happy” too; it’s pleasant and catchy, but I don’t get how it’s become so huge.

      • The reason for “Happy”‘s success is simple; Pharrell is now a Hollywood crony and the single would’ve been huge (read: forced down everyone’s throat) even if it was Pip farting on a snare drum.

      • she’s a pawn for people to bitch about. Any time she does anything, it just opens the floodgates for people to criticize her.

  3. “Problem” will be inescapable, I won’t be surprised if goes to #1. I don’t think Max Martin will be surprised either.

    • Maybe so. Obviously Martin has produced a fuckton of #1 singles, but he produces a lot of songs every year and it’s hardly a guarantee of a hit. I thought “Baby I” and “Right There” would be huge but they barely hit the charts, even “The Way” was a modest hit. I do think the new song sounds more current and less… “Disney” which is what may have been off-putting about her last run of singles.

    • You’d think so but “The Way” only got to #9 and the amazingly awesome Lil Kim sampling, “Right There” only got to #84! Both songs are great and like “Problems” have Top 40, buzzy rappers on them so I’m not really sure how “Problems” gets to #1

    • It deserves to be huge, I’ve had it on repeat for about the last 24 hours straight, it’s a “Teenage Dream” level jam. Unlike “Thrift Shop” or “Talk Dirty” it’s sax loop isn’t the only thing it’s got going for it, far from it, but it makes just as much of an impact as in those two tracks.

    • I feel like I’m the only person in the world who has a problem with “Problem.” I just can’t get past the shoplifting of the “Thrift Shop” sax bounce and I guess I just always hated Mariah, so a mini version of her is the last thing I need. As far as purely shellacked mainstream radio pop goes, this song can’t hold a candle to anything off Red (by Max Martin standards) nor is it on the level of “Super Bass,” “Call Me Maybe” or “Since U Been Gone” in terms of repeat worthiness.

      And in five years, Iggy Azalea will be but a forgettable footnote in a long string of overhyped white foreign female rappers in the same way Lady Sovereign has fallen off the face of the earth.

      • Ariana Grande isn’t original but when she cops something she does it well. She obviously shoplifted with “The Way” and “Right There” (Big Pun and Lil Kim) but she did it so well that it’s more in the homage territory. I’m pretty sure no one is gonna call theft copping Macklemore. And “Problems” is certainly better than “Super Bass” aka that song that turned Nicki Minaj into a joke

        • Oh, please. “Superbass” isn’t about Nicki Minaj, it’s about the near-perfect production and beat — all original-sounding — where as “Problem” is a reductive of three or four other pop songs — hardly original-sounding.

          Nothing about a pop song is about the actual artist — It’s about who they finagled into writing and producing for them. If Ariana Grande is lucky, she’ll eventually go from being this year’s hot ticket to playing it safe and traveling down the just-okay radio hit route a la Pink, Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson.

          • If she’s working with Martin she’s already on that route – he’s produced Pink and Kelly’s biggest hits and basically all of Katy Perry’s hits.

            And “Super Bass” fucking ruled summer ’11, and it still rules.

          • True, but the Max Martin songs tend to be the peak of all those artists’ material and from there on out, they coast the airwaves with hits that are mediocre washes of those songs without Martin’s sig next to them. And so it’s to say, appreciate this version of Ariana Grande goodness now because while it may be the song to blast her into big pop star territory, Max Martin moves on. I’m sure he isn’t returning Avril’s calls these days…

          • I totally get what you’re saying, but it’s not really relevant to the song IMO. I think any discerning music fan who appreciates pop knows about the people who are really responsible for the songs behind the scenes, but it doesn’t depreciate from the song. In five years time we may all have forgotten about Iggy Azealia, and Ariana Grande may be a boring pop footnote, but “Problem” will still fucking rule (as may the latest track Max Martin will have come up with).

          • Max Martin will go where the money is at. If “Problem” goes to #1 why would he move on from her? Avril didn’t call up Max Martin bc Chad Kroeger wouldn’t let her.

          • I think you’re missing the points here, sd. Not saying it’s a one-and-done album / hit deal with Ariana, as his track record with Katy Perry has demonstrated, and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t give another assist to T. Swift on her next album as well, but the main takeaway is that yes, he goes where the money is and therefore, who cares about Ariana Grande — Max Martin is the true artist behind these songs.

          • Definitely agree with you’re last point there michael_. Whenever anyone asks how I can listen to tracks where the artist has had very little input beyond singing, I just point out that it’s the real talent behind the scenes that I’m supporting and appreciating.

      • I don’t really care for it either. Gives off too much of a Mumbo number 5 vibe (M#5V), and that’s never good. I get why it could be a hit but I think we can do better for a song o’da summer.

        On another note I would love a weekly feature about songs various writers are listening to. Need guidance. Pls, help donny,

  4. Lily Allan, big mouth, blunt, cystic lyrics and all is fine by me. That she rises to the bait maybe underlies the fact that as a satirist she is not as self-aware as she is makes out.

  5. Gretchen, stop trying to make ‘monogenre’ happen! It’s not going to happen.

  6. Did anybody else see the ‘Let it Go’ mashup of A$AP Ferg and Frozen? The execution isnt great, I think, but the concept alone makes it amazing….

    • So is Let It Go supposed to be the most grating song ever? Does it work better in the context of the movie? I’m sorry but how do people find that singer’s voice pleasant?

  7. Thank you Chris for nailing my feelings about Sheezus.

  8. Just watched that video for the first time and there’s clearly a couple white dancers (besides her). So either I’ve actually become that perfect person who can’t see race (fingers crossed!) or, more likely, I just don’t see what the fuck this whole controversy’s about.

  9. Also, apart from Mariah Carey abandoning the Beyoncé-like release (which, as you said, loses it’s Beyoncé-esqueness by foreshadowing it), the album is called, “Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse.”

    Let me repeat that

    “Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse”
    “Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse”

    I like Mariah (at least her older stuff), but I think she was always one of the few pop stars that succeeded purely on talent, not on, you know, being a magnetic figure.

  10. I figured Future was bigger than only 50k albums. He seems doomed to be in 2 Chainz territory: well known with good hits but never able to hit the A-list on his own. Even YG sold more than Future.

  11. Drunk in Love is the slam dunk #1 for PFork’s top songs of 10-14 when that comes out in November. SLAM DUNK.
    BEYONCE is most likely #2 behind MBDTF on their top albums of 2010-14. Possibly #1 depending on the development of Kanye’s narrative in these next 6 months. If he does something scummy that sets his narrative off course, I can see BEYONCE reigning supreme.

    Unreal that Lily Allen questioned her. There has never been a musician with as much power as (insert brand new Twitter-driven nickname that I don’t have the time nor inclination to learn or understand). NEVER.

    • No way will Beyonce be in their top 10 albums of the first half of the decade. It might make top 50 at best.

    • Well, it’s hard to call at this point.

      On the one hand, P4k has had nothing but effusive praise for BEYONCÉ—the album itself was named BNM and “XO” was named BNT.

      On the other hand, P4k completely ignored it in the consideration for Best Albums and Best Songs of 2013, even though by no stretch of the imagination is BEYONCÉ a 2014 album so much as a hold-over from 2013 (best case scenario, it’s in limbo between ’13 and ’14). Ordinarily I wouldn’t say this matters, but they included Burial’s Rival Dealers TWICE in the Best Songs and Overlooked of 2013 (IIRC), which had a similar, last-possible-moment, universally praised release.

      So who knows.

    • Mark “Drunk in Love” down as another track I just don’t get. It sounds like a bad remix.

    • sorry mate, Beyonce is not a musician. More like a corporate whore who uses her body to gain attention. She doesn’t have any “power” in terms of musical skill or artistic creativity, I think you should learn these facts.

  12. Surprised you guys didn’t link to that insane DJ Snake video.


  14. Don’t really feel like watching new Lily Allen videos or listening to new songs that are described as being all right, with so many qualifications. Don’t feel like I need to have an opinion. LDN was a great song all those years ago though.

    That being said, it is way too easy to start a “controversy” these days. Some guy doesn’t like something, grumbles about it on a social network, and voila, WHERE’S THE BEEF? But the in the original appropriated use of that question from a burger commercial in a political debate, the question was related to a candidate having no substance. Well, ditto for these stories about people criticizing pop acts.

    Used to be you had to actually show up and protest. Remember when people used to picket Marilyn Manson concerts? Now you just have to motivate people to tweet angrily. The bar is just way too low. Did the British equivalent of the NAACP issue a statement? Are her ticket sales down? Were they any real-world consequences for any of these nontroversies, at all? No. So why even bother mentioning them? Who cares?

    • Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles actually ripped @stereogum (technically Tom, the writer of the post in question he was upset about) this morning for making a huge deal about his recent string of pro-Lily Allen / anti-Courtney Love tweets and going a few steps further in editorializing the tweets by calling him “deeply troubled,” etc. I’m not holding out to read a “Where’s the Beef?” post, but it must have been rather meta for Stereogum to wake up to and it’s on Twitter if you want read it.

  15. Lily Allen was once asked on a quiz show “What was special about the release of Radiohead’s album In Rainbows?” to which she replied “Well it certainly wasn’t the music” and then went on a rant about their pay-what-you-like-fuck-the-record-labels release strategy which sounded like it could have been read verbatim from a major label PR release. Any chance she had of me becoming a fan were officially done there and then. If she’d released any great music since then I would have had a terrible dilemma. Luckily that quandary has never presented itself.

    • OH NO! she doesn’t like radiohead – slay her!

      • Well, it was actually the hypocrisy of her playing the rebel when she’s actually just a good little corporate whore, but now you mention it yes, the idea of Lily Allen criticising the music of Radiohead is hilarious. In short yes, I literally agree with what you’re saying despite your pathetic attempt at sarcasm.

  16. I am yet to decide if I have a passionate distaste for Iggy Azalea or if I am just O.K. with her.

  17. I love Lily Allen but I am not feeling her music this time around. She’s had a five-year break, but it hasn’t recharged her batteries. Like most female singer-songwriters types who become mothers (Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, etc.), she has lost a lot of her edge. Her sharp lyrics are still on point, but the music and songs themselves are just flat and boring. Nothing’s catchy enough. Greg Kurstin produced some of the best songs on It’s Not Me, It’s You, but he has not brought his A-game this time.

    • Sorry dude, but why are you targeting musicians that are mothers? You’re acting as though Sarah McLachlan , Sheryl Crow, and Jewel were astounding musicians before they had kids.

      What about people like Beyoncé, Kate Bush, Madonna, Joni Mitchell, Björk, etc. who continued to make great music — including, in some cases, their BEST — not only after becoming mothers, but ABOUT being mothers? It seems more like you’re taking affront with their femininity, not any actual trend regarding their music. Please reconsider that statement.

  18. Leave Lily Allen alone? as far as I know she had a one hit wonder 10 years ago and that was it, I will be leaving her well alone, unless you force me to hate her.

  19. Important: Take My Place isn’t about the music industry, it was actually a really personal song about her miscarriage.

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