Is Lily Allen Really Britain’s Best Songwriter?

The Ivor Novello awards is a noble British institution – like Springwatch, or Joanna Lumley. It’s the kindly old uncle of award ceremonies, rising above glamour, record sales and trends to honour what really matters: pure songwriting talent.

Since they’re not on TV, the Novellos are less concerned than other bashes with looking slick and making the tabloid gossip pages. Consequently, there’s often something endearingly wonky about the nominations.

You’ve got to love a ceremony that honours both Dizzee Rascal and Sir Tim Rice in the same year, and has seen fit to nominate The Leisure Society’s Nick Hemming – a bloke who works in a fabric workshop by day, and who literally no-one else gives a thundering toss about – not once, but twice.

All of which makes this year’s outcome weirdly disappointing. They’ve given the most prestigious award – Best Song Musically And Lyrically – to Lily Allen’s ‘The Fear’.

Now, I don’t want this to turn into one of those “let’s all slag Lily off” rants that the internet loves so much – seriously, she gets enough of that. I just want to make a sober, reasonable point: this was neither the most elegant tune, nor the best-written lyric, of 2009. Here’s why.

1. It’s about being famous
Instantly: who cares? Loads of critics have singled out the line, “I’ll look in The Sun and I’ll look in The Mirror” as evidence of Lily’s media-savviness. Rock hacks are always inordinately impressed when singers refer to the press (cf. Lady Gaga) even though it’s the most predictable and boring thing a pop star can do. Singing about being papped is the pop equivalent of a rock band whinging about what a drag it is being on the road. It’s impossible to relate: Lily might as well be yodeling about credit default swaps.

2. It’s patronising
Clearly the song is a commentary on the shallowness of sleb-crazy consumer capitalism. Fine. But there’s a finger-wagging moralism to it that just doesn’t ring true. “I want loads of clothes and I want loads of diamonds” – who is she referring to here? WAGs? X Factor hopefuls? Fellow pop stars? Why should any of them take a lecture on materialism from someone who wears a “viciously expensive” Prada hat made of fox fur?

3. It’s vague
The trouble with the “biting social statement” argument is that Lily doesn’t come down on either side. She can’t quite bring herself to damn the celebrity world, because she’s complicit in it – so the chorus dissolves in a vapour of unanswered questions: “I don’t know… And I don’t know… And when do you think…”? That’s not a hook, that’s a shrug.

4. The melody’s tissue-thin
What are you supposed to do to this song, exactly? It doesn’t make you want to dance, or sing along, or get fired up. The best music alters your body chemistry in a split second. ‘The Fear’ just puffs out a vague mental waft of, ‘Yeah, stuff… celebs… pfft, what can you do?”

Sooo… which song should have won instead? Surely, if they stand for anything, the Novellos should honour tunes that are lyrically distinctive and inventive. I’d say – to pick a few that stick in my memory from 2009 – Jamie T’s ‘Sticks And Stones’, Wild Beasts’ ‘Hooting And Howling’, and Friendly Fires’ ‘Paris’ all fit that description better than ‘The Fear’.

Which tracks would you suggest?