Maybe Lily Allen's bracingly satirical new video is "everything pop music has been waiting for." Maybe it's a terrible and racist mess. Here is what we do know: it's really catchy, it aggressively skewers sexism and celebrity culture (and just about everything in between), and it took less than 24 hours for shock and praise to give way to a highly concentrated dose of backlash.
If Allen means to parody pop videos using women of color as oversexualized props, the question goes, does that really excuse Allen using women of color as oversexualized props? As historian Angus Johnston noted on Twitter, it's not long after Allen sings "Don't need to shake my ass for you 'cuz I've got a brain" that there's a whole lot of ass-shaking:
First WOC shaking her ass in Allen's video appears 9 seconds after she sings "Don't need to shake my ass for you 'cause I've got a brain."— Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) November 13, 2013
Perhaps the clearest articulation of this critique arrived on Noisey today by way of The New Inquiry's Ayesha A. Siddiqi, who picks apart Allen's "anti-black feminism" and its frustrating racial dynamics:
Instead of using black women as props to further her career, Allen blames them for its stagnation. In full-sleeved dresses Allen mocks her inability to twerk amidst women of color in body suits who launch into exaggerated dance moves, licking their hands and then rubbing their crotch. Her older white male manager tries to get to her to mimic them. Meanwhile she sings, “Don’t need to shake my ass for you/‘Cause I’ve got a brain.” Cut to black women shaking their ass, so much for sisterly solidarity.
The Root's Keli Goff was similarly unimpressed, eviscerating Allen for "attack[ing] sexism with a racist and sexist video," as was Salon's Prachi Gupta, who remarked that Allen basically just stuffed a bunch of sexist items in a box and, well, pointed at it:
Allen opted to just stuff some sexist shit into a box, wrap it in a bow that says, “The contents of this box are sexist, so fuck this box, but also, go ahead and open the box.” Lily Allen is smart enough and talented enough that she doesn’t need to repackage that shitty box. She can throw it out and make something better.
Allen has a response to this reaction, and probably well anticipated it. In a TwitLonger defense, the singer denied that she had requested ethnicities for the dancers, claimed that she tried to dance like them but simply can't, refused to apologize, and wrote that the video "has nothing to do with race, at all." Of course, that's not really true—such a pointed, willfully outrageous video can't possibly escape the specter of its own power dynamics, whether intended or not, but the gist of the defense is a familiar one: it's a joke. You know, it's making fun of all those gross, racist, visual tropes. Not participating in them.
Ironically, that was more or less the defense of "Blurred Lines" video director Diane Martel, who insisted the scantily clad models was entirely a satire and whose video Allen cheekily mocks in her own. But when the parody so closely imitates the thing it's parodying that it mimics those dynamics rather than upending them in any fashion, the statement falls to pieces.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.