It’s frustrating that Lily Allen has “quit music” – which, lest we take her too seriously, is something she’s threatened many times before – just as she was reminding us all what a unique and intriguing pop star she could sometimes be.
Her campaign against illegal file-sharing demonstrated, to those who’d maybe forgotten of late, that Lily is that rare thing: an opinionated and thoughtful musician who hasn’t had all the spirit and personality vacuumed out of her by media training.
Lily Allen at Glastonbury 2008
It’s also ironic that Allen has “ended” her musical career by critiquing the online world – and given the tsunami of misogynistic abuse she’s received since starting the file-sharing blog, who can blame her? – because in many ways she is/was the first true pop star of the blog age. Initially promoting herself via Myspace (or so the media cliché ran; EMI’s marketing budget also helped), she maintained a closeness with her fans thanks to a self-deprecating blog in which she listed her failings in language that mimicked her straight-talking lyrics (“fat, ugly and shitter than Winehouse”).
Indeed, following Lily on Twitter hardly felt like following a pop star at all. She even commented on the fate of The Observer. Who will we turn to now for catty insults and acid remarks? The Saturdays? I quite like The Veronicas – but let’s face it, neither of them is likely ever to call a fellow performer a “stupid bitch”, or hymn the praises of “gak”.
And perhaps that’s a clue to her reason for (supposedly) quitting music. Modern pop is an arid world to inhabit, and she probably feels she has more to offer the world than can be conveyed in an endless round of Marie Claire interviews and identical, early-evening singalong festival appearances.
And I think she’s making the right decision. Let’s be honest: it’s hardly The Beatles splitting up. It’s not even Noel quitting Oasis. Lily’s second album was less good than her debut, and her debut only had a few good tracks on it anyway. In ten years time, will mystic-minded stoners sit around and say of Lily, as they do of Jimi Hendrix: “Woah, just imagine, what kind of music would she be making now…”?
No they won’t, because Lily Allen’s music is profoundly of its time: her songs delineate a distinctly noughties world of Heat magazine, mild drug use, easy swearing and emotional over-disclosure.
The fact Lily did a chat show after just one album – the ill-starred ‘Lily Allen And Friends’ on BBC3 – was a clue that her ambitions lay outside music. It’s often said of Robbie Williams that he’s a pop star who exhibits no interest in pop whatsoever. Lily’s the same: I don’t recall her ever enthusing over any other bands, or displaying any genuine passion for music itself, as opposed to celebrity.
The world is, on balance, a brighter, snarkier, funnier place with Lily Allen in it. But if the profession on her passport reads “media figure” rather than “musician”, I don’t think we’ll be missing much.