Wednesday 15 March 2023

My Thoughts Exactly


Continuing the book review catch-up. I fucking love Lily Allen. 

I was enjoying Stranger Things and heard that she got engaged to David Harbour (the guys who plays Hopper), which was intriguing. Then fell down an absolute bottomless hole of nostalgia, rediscovering all of her big hits on YouTube, along with some of the lesser known ones (or probably only lesser-known to me because I was already out of the country by then), like Our Time and URL Badman. Plus catchy oldies, like Driving Me Wild... is that SmartArt?

Then I stumbled across the stalker interview on BBC Three, which was disturbing, especially the MET response at the end. Really not an acceptable approach for them to take, it sounds like she had every right to be dissatisfied at that point. 

Anyway, I saw she had a biography out and decided to get the audiobook, narrated by her. I have to admit, I hadn't listened to her music in years, but then I don't really listen to anyone much, not having a radio or keeping up with western pop culture. I occasionally pull up NPR Tiny Desk concerts on YouTube, but my own music collection hasn't been updated in about fifteen years. 

That said, she was a constant backdrop to my mid-twenties. I was 25 when LDN dropped, and The Fear and Not Fair released the year after I left the UK, so I guess I was doing my MA. But it's weird, she's one of those artists who time shifts. I associate her with college. I was at the BRIT school when it first started up, so a few years before Adel, Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash, so unfortunately never met them, but Lily Allen's songs just remind me of a sunny London afternoon. She kind of evokes the spirit of that time in my life, even though she started releasing long after I'd left and moved to Cardiff. I remember really liking all of those songs, and I remember a lot of my female friends laughing when Not Fair came out. It was like every woman had had a relationship like that and thought she was bolshy for having the guts to say it. I think it led to a lot of uncomfortable conversations.

Looking back, nothing she said was that shocking by today's standards, but she was ahead of the curve. It's hard to overstate how hideous British lad culture was in the 90s and early naughties, egos bruised very easily and she had a knack for finding the fragile ones. As a result, the tabloid media absolutely went for her. Every other week it seemed they published a picture of her leaving a party in a bad state. That intensified after the Elton exchange

It was exhausting. Nothing I was saying was particularly controversial or out of the ordinary. But I was a young woman in an industry that preferred its females compliant and subservient, hungry – and preferably a bit cold and shivery on account of not wearing enough clothes. Vulnerable, in other words, and therefore more pliable and easier to get in line, that line being that what sells is youth, sex appeal and a lean bod, with no unsightly flabby female bits: not of body and not of mind. I wanted to rail against all that, but I was also a needy young adult learning how to process everything I was learning. I insisted on not being objectified, and yet, oh God, I minded that I wasn’t being objectified enough. I hated that young female singers were being reduced to objects of desire, and yet I longed to be intensely desired myself. I was twenty-one years old with not much experience under my belt. I was messy, needy, narcissistic, fearful. I was outraged, outspoken, fearless. I was defensive one minute, didn’t give a shit the next.


I don’t think that the men who run the tabloids and who berate me on Twitter like women much. Not just women, either. I think they’re scared of anyone who isn’t like them, who isn’t white and middle class and male. Because those men who run things, they aren’t necessarily cleverer or better than everyone else, but for some reason they’ve managed to make all the rules for hundreds and hundreds of years. No wonder they’re resentful and defensive when the rest of us are angry and have decided that we want a bit of what they’ve got. So it’s like, ‘NO. You can’t have a piece. You’re disgusting, you’ve got a vagina. No, you’re not having any of it, either, because you’re black and you’re a criminal. And you? You’re Asian, you’ve probably got a bomb under there, so you’re not allowed any of it, either. You’re all threatening to me so I’m going to vilify and bully you as much as I can to silence and shame you.’

I don’t want to be silent. Women have been silenced for millennia, and I’m not going to be part of that. I want to speak up, and if that means I sometimes get it wrong, then I should be able to correct myself, apologise, move on and still carry on speaking up. As a woman, I’m not meant to be an angel or a saint or a martyr or to have faultless encyclopaedic answers all the time. I’m a woman only, and, like all women, I don’t ask for special treatment. Like all women, I just ask not to be repressed or silenced.

I’ve never been saintly. I know I’m a narcissist. I can behave badly. I’m capable of self-sabotage and self-destruction. I have a history of mental illness, drug abuse and addictive behaviour. I can be petulant and spoilt, short-tempered and stubborn. But even when I’m deep in foggy, cloudy behaviour, numbing myself with whatever I can, some part of me remains self-aware. I’m hyper hyper self-aware. It’s what has kept me from going under. I’ve sometimes felt like I’ve been drowning and lost and as if I’ve disappeared, but I’ve always stopped myself, even if it’s in a destructive way with drugs, or hospitalisation, from losing it completely.

It was really good to hear what happened in her own words. A lot of women can relate to what she's saying, and she puts it across really eloquently. There was always an honesty in her music, so it makes sense that translates to the page, and people connect with it. 

She went through some really difficult life experiences, and I think that's maybe why people have gone so gooey-eyed over the recent wedding, because she does seem happy and settled. You want good things for someone who has been so persecuted for being feisty. You want them to have a strong base to continue mouthing off, because we like listening to her. She doesn't hold back, and that's inspirational. I think she's always had a lot more love from the British public, and especially women, than the tabloids would have ever let you know. She was well ahead of her time with her music. 

Great biography, worth a read.

[PS, Game of Thrones trivia. Her brother is Alfi Allen who played Theon Greyjoy. Early on she made a song about him and apparently he's never forgiven her!]

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