Fetters: I’m glad you bring up the Miley Cyrus thing, actually, because obviously a huge part of that conversation was the race appropriation. Do you feel weird about the racial aspect of this Lily Allen video? I feel not-so-vaguely icky about it. Most of these bodies getting ogled at and over-the-top objectified are black women’s bodies, and the woman rejecting that, presenting herself as the exception, is white.
Feeney: I definitely noticed it. Considering so much of this video is a parody—and the song itself is, too, given the Auto-Tune, I think—I hope that what you identified is Allen failing to make her point about black women in videos as effectively as she could have, not completely missing the point altogether. Her intent to call out people like Miley Cyrus is obvious, even if there’s not a total rejection of what her villainous manager would like to see happen on set.
It’s also worth bringing up Lorde here, too. One critique of “Royals”—and to a similar degree, Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop,” with all the crusades against materialism—is that it, in the words of Spin, “invade[s] rap and R&B playlists while simultaneously lecturing black artists.” (Emphasis their own.) In Lily’s case, it’s hard for me to accept her call to stand up against industry forces that celebrate material excess and limited expressions of sexuality when there’s a little bit of a holier-than-thou attitude coming through.
Which I guess brings me back to my first reaction to the video: It seems to echo something Rashida Jones said on Twitter last month. Jones called out celebrities for “acting like whores” and showing too much skin, and, while I love Rashida Jones, it made me cringe a little. The critiques of her comments that captured my feelings best were the ones that quoted Tina Fey from Mean Girls: "[Women] have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”
And, ultimately, Lily acknowledges the problem is the skeezeball industry gatekeepers who get to ask questions like, “How does somebody let themselves get like this?" in reference to pregnancy weight. But I didn’t get the impression she’s refrained from judging women who choose to shake their butt or show some skin.
Fetters: Yeah. Totally. “I don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cause I’ve got a brain” is unnecessarily either/or, right? That’s just one more oppressively one-dimensional idea that women have to behave one certain way. There’s no law of physics preventing a woman who thinks from shaking her ass, as long as she wants to!
That’s another part of why I feel like the rap-video girls joining in with Allen and dropping the act at the end could have been helpful—it would have been nice to see that, yes, even the women who are behaving according to this industry standard are people with another dimension outside of what they perform. At the end of the video, it would have been great to know that while many of the women in this video do, indeed, shake their asses with impunity, they, too, are real people with thoughts and sore feet and maybe depleted patience.
So, maybe it's fair to say that this is proof that every music video director should consult with a team of sociologists and gender studies professors before proceeding with a shoot. Kidding—but what I would say is that the takeaway here is great intention, flawed execution.
Feeney: Yup. The other takeaway: Thank goodness Lily Allen is making music again. We could use her perspective more often.