First the good news: Lily Allen just released a new song that is most likely the most hard-hitting feminist anthem to come out since Helen Reddy's "I am woman, hear me roar."
Now the bad, bad, very bad news: In the video for the song, Lily is seen dancing, fully clothed, among a gaggle of very thin, very underdressed twerking women of color.
See, the video starts out pretty okay. Lily is on the operating table getting fat sucked out of her body while a manager/producer/record exec type looks on shaking his head, "Jesus, how can someone let themselves get like this?"
While she's lying there, she looks over at a TV screen in the operating room on which a video is playing with a number of women of color, dancing suggestively.
Lily starts singing from the operating table, calling out sexism ("you'll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen"), sexual objectification("I don't need to shake my ass for you cause i've got a brain"), sexual double standard ("If i told you bout my sex life, you'd call me a slut. When boys be talkin bout their bitches no one's making a fuss"), the wage gap ("there's a glass ceiling to break/there's money to make"), and even the feminist movement ("and now it's time to speed it up/cause I can't move at this pace."). So far, so good. Great, in fact.
Then Lily is no longer on the operating table, and instead she's dressed head to toe in black on a stage, delivering the most clever lines of the song:"Sometimes its hard to find the words to say/I'll go on and say them anyway/forget your balls and get a pair of tits/ its hard, its hard, its hard out here for a bitch."
While she's singing that, a group of dancers -- the same women of color from the video in the operating room (okay, and one white chick, who's hard to spot) -- surround her, and everyone starts dancing. Only thing is, Lily is the only one who is completley covered up and clothed. The dancers are all wearing barely-there bathings suits, and are dancing super suggestively.
In fact, soon everyone starts twerking and the camera is ogling them: we get lots of close ups of the WOCs' booties, both in fast motion and in exceedingly slow-motion. Lily herself is not subject to any of that kind of "male gaze" cinematography, although she does try her hand at a bit of lame-ass (literally) twerking.
But hang on Lily. You just told us "I don't need to shake my ass for you cause i've got a brain," but then you have all these women shaking their asses for us, and for you? Is it only you who has a brain? Only white women who do? Or do these women of color somehow not come under your umbrella of who needs to be brought along when feminism "speeds it up"?
I'm trying to think of what Allen's narrative idea was for including these women, because it hardly makes sense to record a feminist anthem that then objectifies and commodifies your female back up dancers. And there are lots of other women who have pointed out the same, only more eloquently.
What it looks like to me is a video for "it's hard out here for us white women, fuck black women". Now I know that may sound harsh. But you know what else is harsh? Having to see white women constantly use the bodies of women of colour to achieve their goals.
The lyrics of the song are all about rejecting objectification and yet, here she is, objectifying women of colour. It's not lost on me that throughout the video, Allen and her two white dancers are wearing far more clothing than all of the black women who are present.
The black women in this video are all relegated to the background, shaking their asses for dear life, while Lily croons on about how much better she is than all that because she's above the need to sexualize herself. We get close up shots of jiggling asses and black women licking money all while Lily is fully clothed, professing her superiority.
In fact, the video has raised so many questions and critique that Lily recently took to Twitter to explain herself:
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.
If I could dance like the ladies can, it would have been my arse on your screens; I actually rehearsed for two weeks trying to perfect my twerk, but failed miserably. If I was a little braver, I would have been wearing a bikini too, but I do not and I have chronic cellulite, which nobody wants to see. What I’m trying to say is that me being covered up has nothing to do with me wanting to disassociate myself from the girls, it has more to do with my own insecurities and I just wanted to feel as comfortable as possible on the shoot day.
But the thing is, Lily, we don't need you to twerk. I mean, while Miley Cyrus was roundly criticized for culturally misappropriating twerking in her VMA performance, at least you left the twerking to the twerkers. And about those tights-- you should stick by your guns and go ahead and make a video where you DON'T have to dress sexy, objectify yourself, or shake your ass. Cause the fact is, you DO have a brain. But so do all your back-up dancers.
Truth is, I believe that Allen's intention here was irony, or sarcasm. I really do. But unfortuntaely, it just doesn't work. We've posted tons of Robin Thicke parody videos here, and not a single one of them goes there. They don't satirize a video that objectifies women by objectifying women themselves. And you can't critique Miley Cyrus' usage of black women as props by using black women as props. You can't make a video that critiques the position of women in music by using women of color in music the same way. Because otherwise you're just critiquing the situation of white women in the music industry.
In fact, Lily most likely thought that her dancing with these women while singing about her concerns about the sexual objectification of women in the music industry would make it clear that she was on their side, singing for and with them, that they were all women, that it was all fun. Kinda like Pat Benatar, and the hookers she was dance-fighting with the pimp for.
But unfortunately, the way the women are filmed undoes whatever her intention was. They may not be dancing for her, like backup dancers often do for the male singer, but they still are dancing for the viewers. In fact, maybe the music execs thought that a feminist anthem wouldn't go over so well, and that it needed a good helping of T & A to lure the boys in to watch the video.
You know what? I'm kind of afraid it was the latter. I mean, the video's already gotten 1,000,000 views. And I don't think it's because of the song's feminist message.