Lily Allen, Britain’s greatest pop star, is back. Her new song and video ‘Hard Out Here’ is a controversial and scathing satire on sexism in the music industry that takes zero prisoners and has got everyone talking. Here’s a look back at her astonishing career.
Lily Allen started her career in 2005 by posting demos on Myspace (remember that?) and putting out mixtapes, a long time before it was the norm. She was signed to Regal Records who also looked after Gorillaz and Coldplay at the time.
‘Smile’ was the track that catapulted her into commercial success and fame. Wry, autobiographical lyrics mixed with a rocksteady beat, a sample from The Soul Brothers’ ‘Free Soul’ and a soaring chorus took the song to number one in the UK charts. It was also certified gold in the US.
Allen’s debut album, ‘Alright, Still’, was produced by Mark Ronson and Greg Kurstin. When it was released in July 2006, NME’s Priya Elan gave it 7/10, praising the “salty songbird whose gung-ho girl-about-town ska-pop tunes spun millions of keyboard clickers into a downloading frenzy.”
Allen’s father is actor Keith Allen (Trainspotting, Black Books), and her mother is film producer Alison Owen (Proof, Elizabeth, Shaun Of The Dead).
‘Alright, Still’ was critically acclaimed and has sold over 6 million copies globally. The album earned a nomination for Best Alternative Music Album at the 50th Grammy Awards and Producer Of The Year for Mark Ronson’s work on ‘Littlest Things’.
Allen performed at Glastonbury Festival in 2008 alongside producer Mark Ronson. She dedicated the performance of ‘Littlest Things’ to her grandmother who had died the night before.
The same year Allen had a short-lived career as a TV presenter with the BBC 3 production Lily Allen And Friends. Guests included Robert Webb, Alesha Dixon, Danny Dyer and Annie Mac.
Allen was a rebellious teenager, expelled from a few of the 13 schools she attended in total for smoking and drinking.
The follow-up to ‘Alright, Still’ was released in 2009 after delayed releases. Ex-NME Editor Krissi Murison gave ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ 8/10 and observed it was a “comment on her celebrity lifestyle and… Broken Britain’’s head-in-the-sand attitude to drug culture.”
Greg Kurstin had worked with Kylie, Beck, Flaming Lips, Jane’s Addiction before but, as Murison wrote, “it doesn’t matter how many Cathy Dennises, Xenomanias, Pharrell Williams and Alex Turners you’ve got writing for you, there’s only one person who can deliver a line like “I’m feeling pretty damn hard done by/I’ve spent ages giving head” and still qualify for national institution status.”
‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ went to number one in the UK, Canada, and Australia and number 5 in the US Billboard chart. The album was recorded in LA and had more of an expansive, bigger, electropop feel compared to the cockney-ska of her debut.
Allen has collaborated with artists such as Kaiser Chiefs, P!nk, Keane and Professor Green.
In September 2009 Allen announced she would make no more music, which was a bit of a shocker.
However in the summer of 2012, Allen tweeted that she was in the studio working with Greg Kurstin on new music, whetting considerable appetites for more music. She gave birth to a daughter in 2011 and had her second child in January 2013.
Lily’s comeback track ‘Hard Out Here’ went online on November 12. A new album hasn’t been announced yet but it seems likely. The track departs even further from her introspective debut and uses auto-tune and shiny, clever production. Allen has said she cringes when she listens to ‘Alright, Still’ describing it as listening to a “sort of over-excitable teenager who desperately wanted attention”.
The video for ‘Hard Out Here’ has been criticised as “racist” for its use of black dancers. Allen responded writing, “The message is clear. Whilst I don’t want to offend anyone. I do strive to provoke thought and conversation. The video is meant to be a lighthearted satirical video that deals with objectification of women within modern pop culture. It has nothing to do with race, at all.”