On Tuesday (November 12) Lily Allen sent the music world into a frenzy when she returned with ‘Hard Out Here’. While, the song takes on everything from glass ceilings to “grow[ing] a pair of tits”, it’s the video that’s got people talking. In it she sends up Robin Thicke’s controversial clip for ‘Blurred Lines’, as well as Miley Cyrus, all while tackling the sexualised nature of music videos in general. Of course, Lily’s delivers it all with her tongue firmly in cheek. We rounded up the five most headline grabbing highlights, but we also tracked down director Christopher Sweeney (who has previously worked with artists including Lana Del Rey and Foals) immediately after it went online to ask him a few questions:
NME: ‘Hard Out Here’ has really struck a chord with people. The whole internet’s raving about it.
C: Yeah, it’s quite overwhelming. I knew the song would get a lot of people talking because obviously everyone’s excited that Lily’s back and it’s a great song. But that the video has caused a stir too, that’s fantastic to hear. I had hoped it would.
NME: How awkward was it explaining to whatever florist you used for the balloons that you wanted ‘LILY ALLEN HAS A BAGGY PUSSY’ spelt in massive letters?
C: Hahaha! Thankfully we were able to order the balloons by the letter, “four Ls please,” that kinda thing, so the people we ordered it from weren’t to know. If they’d have put the letters in an anagram machine online they’d have figured it out and probably been quite confused.
NME: It’s quite a statement, both the song and video. Did you know it’d have such an impact and cause such a splash?
C: Yeah, well the inspiration for the video was the lyrics. The lyrics are really blatant so when I sent a pitch in to do it, I wanted to encapsulate the that idea of music industry sexism and poke fun at it. I didn’t mean it to be a statement as much as a bit of fun. I think the music video clichés we make nods to in the video are part of a culture we’re all complicit in. So, our video’s not attacking those things as much as addressing them and having a bit of fun with them. That culture is something we’re all complicit in – we all sit and watch those videos with twerking and champagne spilling over gyrating naked women and all that on MTV all the time, so to really rally against them would be hypocritical. It’s much more effective and much funnier to kinda have a bit of fun with those things instead of making any kind of angry statement against them in the video. It’s just a bit of fun.
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NME: So it’s not a takedown of Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ video? I think a lot of people have read it as a reaction to that.
C: Of course we nod towards that, it’s a touchstone and the whole balloons thing is an obvious response to his whole fronty-ness. It’s pretty absurd, when you think about what they’re actually doing in that video. It’s all front. But I wanted it to be able to be seen again in two or three years and not feel dated, you know?
NME: You didn’t want it to feel too zeitgeisty?
C: Precisely. So I didn’t pack it too full of “oh look, a Miley reference!”, that sort of thing. It’s supposed to be quite subtle. And the things Lily talks about in the song are universal, so I wanted it to comment universally on this idea of what women are supposed to be, in the eyes of society. Which is why there’s the scenes in the kitchen and so on. But yeah, the idea for the video did come from us thinking, what’s the most ridiculous, clichéd, horrific video setting Lily could be dropped into? Gold room, mirror balls, those kinda dance routines…
NME: I’m with you. But there’s not a real ideology behind it?
C: Nah, not so much. Just a bit of fun with hopefully a message behind it – all the familiar imagery of pop videos, how absurd it all is. People can read it however they like, I’m just glad they’re reacting to it.
NME: So were you a fan of Lily’s before?
C: A huge fan. She’s always so honest in her music, and that’s no different here. She’s amazing to work with. We hadn’t met before but we met up before the shoot to talk about what we were going to do, then worked for about two and a half weeks on the video, from choreography to the final product. She had loads of input. The whole shoot was really fun. What I hope comes across in the video is how much of a sisterly vibe there was. It wasn’t like the girls she’s surrounded by in the video were people we were taking the piss out of, or anything – they were in on it. In fact, it was their idea to spray the champagne over each other, like in a Nelly video. They totally got that what we were saying with the video: everything here is imagery we’re all familiar with, but why are we familiar with it? I mean, it’s ridiculous and so over the top and not even really sexy in the slightest, so why? We had a lot of fun on set making that point. It’s way more effective to take the piss slightly – to acknowledge that ridiculousness.
NME: Have you ever come up against the sort of ridiculous music industry figures like in the video? Have you seen your pitches turned down ‘cos you haven’t had enough twerking or gratuitous nudity?
C: Ha, not yet, not outright anyways. But it definitely happens. Charlotte Church was on BBC Radio 4 only the other day talking about the same sort of thing, how she’s always getting encouraged to be more sexy. It definitely goes on.