Sunday, August 30, 2009

#123. 'I want lots of clothes and f---loads of diamonds'

Lily Allen "The Fear"

Part of me wanted Lily Allen to be nothing more than gimmick. If she was just your basic pop singer who happened to have a facility with cusses it would have been much easier to just pretend she'd never come up. If it was just the casually tossed off reference to her ex 'fucking some girl next door' that made "Smile" stand out among the pop landscape in 2006 there'd be nothing much to speak of with regards to Ms. Allen...and yet there was more. The fact that barely two lines into her first single she was dropping the f-bomb without any hesitation was ear-catching and the chorus' reveling in how good it feels to completely emasculate an ex was a few miles removed from most post-breakup odes to empowerment but underneath that mild sensationalism there was a rather nice tune. Most of Alright, Still, with the notable exception of the slightly devastating "Littlest Things," follwed a similar pattern: come for the casually vulgar and mean-spirited lyrics, stay for the fact that Allen and her producers knew their way around an impeccable pop song. It's not a transcendent album, but it's much more consistent than a pop album should be.

I haven't heard her follow up, It's Not Me, It's You yet, but based on the two singles it's spawned I have a feeling that my reaction will be along the same lines. The mean-spiritedness is gone form the lyrics on those two, or at least it's not as close to the surface, but they've both got their share of lyrics you'd never expect to hear in a pop single, whether it's "Not Fair"'s 'I've spent ages giving head' or "The Fear"'s casual to the point of insensitivity 'I want lots of clothes and fuckloads of diamonds/I heard people die when they're trying to find 'em,' the real reason either one sticks with me is because they've got a solid base, "Not Fair"'s retro-country approximation especially. Oddly enough though, the reason I'm putting "The Fear" on this list isn't for it's production but for its lyrics.

I've been toying with the idea of "The Fear" as satire since I heard it back in January. On the surface it's a pretty vapid song about what fame is all about today, single minded focus on all things material and perception by tabloid junkies, but the way Allen sings it is more 'can you believe that this is how people actually think?' than 'fame! yay!' Allen's clearly winking at the camera, as it were, when she's spouting stuff like the 'fuckloads of diamonds' bit I mentioned earlier, feigning the wide-eyed naïveté of the newest tabloid celebrity while inwardly rolling her eyes at the inanity of it.

By the time the chorus comes in it's hard to tell if we're still hearing the famewhore persona Allen's adopted/mocked in the verses or Allen herself editorializing on just how bad our tabloid culture has gotten. I prefer to hear it as the latter, mainly because it works better in conjunction with the more-clever-than-it-thinks-it-is Sun/Mirror lead in to the chorus, and the former interpreation puts the chorus at cross purposes with the verses by painting a more complex and somewhat sympathetic picture of the otherwise one-dimensional target of Allen's snideness. The ambiguity is nice to have though.

Coming up tomorrow: Literary references done right.

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