Lily Allen is back! And this time she’s bringing a bear and a rabbit with her. That’s right, the annual yuletide John Lewis advert is upon us, and this year the retail behemoth has gone to town, not only using animation but securing the services of one of the UK’s finest pop stars.
It’s great news that she’s returning, but why bring the corny sideshow? Or worse still, why be the sideshow? Allen has covered Keane’s insipid ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ for the soundtrack, which is hardly a radical way to relaunch her career. She told the Telegraph the move was a “way of stepping back into the marketplace”, which might be true, but it feels cynical. Lily Allen is not an artist who needs to gingerly put her toe back into the water, so why subject herself to this Puppet Show and Spinal Tap fiasco?
But then again, a lot has changed since she peddled into our hearts on a BMX with ‘Alright, Still’ in 2006. Her USP was pop music, with spark. Extra odd then to hear Lily appearing on a track with little to zero spark. But, then again, maybe she got an unlimited supply of Waitrose vouchers for doing it, and where Lily’s at in her life now, that’s no bad thing. Frustratingly, it’s really no indicator on what to expect from her full musical return in 2014, which despite this, we’re still anticipating.
But what of the John Lewis Christmas advert-effect itself?
You can pretty much set fire to the telly now, because ubiquity is guaranteed. Leave the country or suffer the oncoming bore-a-thon around the office watercooler about the inevitable claims to lachrymosity the two-minute movie will elicit. How have John Lewis monopolised Christmas? People who analyse this nonsense believe that you believe John Lewis is your friend, your upmarket, pissed-on-sherry, tweedy, benevolent chum, dependable and full of sound, salutary advice, and generous too with huggy partnership payment schemes for employees. It’s a store so synonymous with Englishness that a worse writer than I might feel the need to throw in the word ‘quintessentially’ as a prefix for good measure.
And so it was that the John Lewis Partnership commissioned a Christmas campaign to slay all others, a formula so successful that they can trot out a different tale each year with the same treacly template. In a short space of time this eagerly-awaited “event” has become an essential part of the festive season, as in-expendable as Furbies, The X Factor, champagne breakfasts and heaving all over your onesie.
Previously the criteria involved finding someone as devoid of personality as a Hollyoaks extra – say Fyfe Dangerfield, Gabrielle Aplin or Ellie Goulding – and make them emote over a song moneybags 40-somethings will recognise from the 80s. Interestingly this plum job is now of such high value to artists that there appear to be auditions for it, with Allen just nosing out Annie Lennox this year. The all-but-guaranteed number one chart placing could be a sign that an unknown like Slow Moving Millie (the actress Amelia Warner who performed last year’s ‘Please Let Me Get What I Want’) will be eschewed for bigger artists on the comeback trail in future.
We expected more from Lily Allen – but, more worryingly, how sad that our collective spiritual experience at yuletide now comes via a two minute clip pimping this commercial behemoth?