by Rachel Sedaker
Lily Allen’s latest video for new song “Hard Out Here” is causing a bit of a stir on the web. British pop artist Lily Allen is known for being outspoken, from taking on consumerism in “The Fear“, to blasting a certain conservative political figure in “F*** You“. Now, Allen is sharing her opinion on sexism in pop music in “Hard Out Here.”
The video begins with Lily Allen getting liposuction while a music executive asks how a woman could let herself go like that. We then see Lily Allen on set for the making of a music video, satirizing some of the the most recognizable features of some recent music videos, including Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” All the while, Allen sings about the expectations placed on women in the music industry, in particular, the way women are expected to present themselves as sexual objects for the gratification of men, and no more. All of this is done in Allen’s signature tongue-in-cheek manner.
But some viewers are not looking at Hard Out Here this way. Allen is being called racist for using black backup dancers, who are seen twerking and pouring champagne over their bodies. Some say that she is using these 4 women (out of 6 dancers) as props, for her own benefit.
I cannot speak to the race issue, but I would like to acknowledge the general role of a backup dancer, whatever his/her race. Backup dancers, if we want to get down to it, are in a sense props. They should not detract from the primary artist- the dancers are there to perform within the vision of the primary artist. Their role is similar to that of a company dancer in a ballet, or the chorus in a musical.
That said, the argument that these dancers are being used is troubling, because it belittles the career of a dancer. In this music video, the backup dancers make up part of the satire. We see one dancer slapping another dancer’s butt and it jiggles in slow motion, mocking the senselessly “sexual” way women’s bodies are used in male-driven pop music (and more specifically poking fun at Miley Cyrus’s recent antics). All the while, we see a male executive showing the dancers how to twerk. Without backup dancers, half the message of the song would be lost.
And that’s where I feel kind of sorry for Lily Allen. She is addressing the expectations of women in pop music, but her message is lost on some due to the specifics of her delivery. To expect Lily Allen to deliver the end-all-be-all feminist statement, one which is appealing to all women, is ludicrous. She is a twentysomething pop singer with plenty still to learn. But that should not mean that she cannot come out and express her frustrated view on sexism in the music industry. If feminism had rules and regulations on what to express and how, it would most certainly be exclusive of some women (and this is why many women don’t consider themselves feminist).
I find danger in attacking another woman’s expression of feminism. There needs to be room within feminism for differing views. There is room in feminism for all women, no matter race, religion, or class. Instead of picking apart one another’s expressions of feminism, we should be encouraging one another to speak out. Lily Allen got one thing right: she got us all talking about feminism.
Rachel Sedaker is a writer whose work can be found on the blog Tossing the Script. Her diverse background ranges from a Bachelor of Arts in French and a minor in Art History to a career spent processing data and crunching numbers. She believes in girl power and her heroine is Scarlet O’Hara. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.