While Miley was twerking her way to the top of the charts and into the headlines, Lily Allen was brewing a controversial music video of her own, which dropped last Tuesday. Launched as part of her comeback, Allen’s video “Hard Out Here” attempts to bring up feminist themes including the glass ceiling, body image issues, and objectification. While I respect and appreciate her attempt, I think the video didn’t do nearly enough to warrant a pro-feminism label.
P.S. - if you haven’t seen the video, watch it, it’s important.
First of all, I need to say that the song itself is fantastic. The lyrics, characterized by Allen’s usual, honest sass, are awesome. I have no problem with her reference to women as “bitches,” because it’s clear from her tone and context that it is used as an effort to reclaim the term. But what makes it impossible for me to label the video for “Hard Out Here” as a feminist piece of art is the video itself.
Note - I’m not discussing the recent race issues that the video has brought up; I’m focusing entirely on its feminist aspect.
The video starts out with promise. Allen is presented to her audience in the middle of a stomach pumping procedure which is supervised by a man who we assume to be her manager. He says things like “let’s do a little more from the stomach and then we’ll start on the legs,” and “I just don’t understand how someone can let themselves get like this,” to which Allen responds “I had two babies…” Then the music starts. This is an appropriately shocking way to convey the message of the song. In her first few lyrics, Allen talks about the double standard between men and women with regard to their sex lives and the glass ceiling that some people still think doesn’t exist. Needless to say, I’m on board. Go Lily! She even glances over to a TV screen in the operating room which features a group of girls in Miley-esque revealing unitards who dance provocatively. At first, I thought this was another commentary on the nature of music videos nowadays, but once Allen gets up off the operating table and the first chorus starts, it becomes clear that these women are being used in her video itself.
The chorus transitions into a scene where Allen, standing in a gold room, dances alongside the group of twerking girls who lick their hands and thrust their hips like any other hyper-sexualized music video. There are flashes where we see that this is supposed to be the making of a music video that Allen doesn’t agree with (her manager comes on set and tries to teach her how to be even sexier and to twerk) but ultimately, she’s still using these scantily clad women to push her video along. In order for it to be a truly feminist statement, I think there needed to be less of that dancing and more of the mocking. Another segment features Allen washing hubcaps in the kitchen, which cleverly combines two male fantasies of women cooking and women women washing cars. It was both amusing and original, but still so intertwined with the other scene of the dancing girls that I was unable to focus on the feminist motive.
Another distracting scene featured the twerking girls and Allen dancing on and around the hood of a shiny new car, complete with hundred dollar bills that they fan themselves with and champagne that they pour over their practically naked bodies. This one had no interrupting scenes with the manager, so it was just a stereotypical pop music video scene.
Cut the dancing out entirely, Lily. We don’t need to see these girls twerking on a blinged out car or pouring champagne all over themselves to understand that you’re making fun of other videos. The not-so-subtle dig at Robin Thicke’s balloons after the second chorus gets your point across loud and clear, and so do your lyrics.
To me, it felt like Allen was almost there. She would have had me entirely if she hadn’t allowed the twerking and over-sexualized women to dominate so much of the video. I wanted more mocking scenes (like when her manager tries to teach her how to eat a banana seductively - which made me laugh out loud) and more scenes with just close ups of her, dressed in sexy, but not overly revealing clothes to carry the video. It felt like she was protesting the idea that sex sells, but at the same time, she used sex to sell this video.
I am not saying that I think the video is harmful to the contemporary feminist movement. In fact, I think its an incredibly important video and song and I’m glad that Allen put it out there. She says in her song, “sometimes its hard to find the words to say, I’ll go ahead and say them anyway.” So many people are afraid to talk about this issue, while Allen is and always has been brutally honest in her work. I love the fact that it’s getting people talking, and that finally some music executives decided to green light such a great message video that mocks their own industry. I just think it would have been a stronger statement if she had focused less on the asses of her background dancers and more on portraying the message behind her lyrics. After all, one of her first lines, and possibly my favorite one (although it is hard to choose just one) says: “Don’t need to shake my ass for you because I got a brain.” If this is true, Lily Allen, like I know it is, then show us more of your brain and a little less ass.
Megan Tripp is a senior Writing, Literature, and Publishing major at Emerson College. When she's not writing, she drinks copious anounts of coffee, watches Netflix, and thinks about what she wants to write next. Contact Megan on Twitter.