There hasn’t been a time in Lily Allen’s career when she wasn’t controversial. From her three, snark-ridden albums to her public persona that has included quite a few beefs with a diverse array of fellow stars, Allen has never shied away from saying and doing whatever the fuck she wants. After a break to start a family and take some time away from the spotlight, Allen’s latest is no different than her earlier ones in terms of her ability to raise eyebrows and stir up some trouble.
We spoke over the phone with Sheezus as she prepared for the Met Gala about pressures to both leave and return to music, her feelings about the record business, and of course many of her very recent controversies.
I read that your Highline Ballroom show is apparently your first in NYC since 2009. Is that correct?
I couldn’t tell you that. I’m not sure because my memory…but yeah I think so.
Looking back on that era for you, what do you think will be some of the biggest differences in your show for your audience?
I know what they’ll be, the visual stuff. I don’t know what the reaction will be, but you know what, I don’t want to spoil it for people! [Laughs]
In a lot of your recent interviews, and also on the album, you speak a lot about marriage and motherhood as a catalyst in terms of both taking a break from music and also returning to it. Did you feel like the pressure to do either came more from yourself or everyone else?
Well I suppose I initially felt it was everyone else and that sort of became pressure on myself. That reaction, that feeling judged, I guess. It’s both. I think it would be weird not to think about that stuff.
Are you happy that you returned to music?
Oh yeah! I couldn’t be happier. Right now, I’m sitting in a lovely hotel room, getting my nails did. I’m going to get a fancy dress on and go to the Met Gala later. Then I’m going home to see my kids then I’m coming back to do some shows. I’m living the dream. It’s amazing.
Starting with your last album, you’ve used your music as a critique of celebrity culture and the current landscape of pop music, especially for women, and poke a lot of fun at it. I’m curious as to whether you genuinely find it all humorous or if you find it intimidating?
It’s not really about the pop landscape, it’s more about media and the effect that it has on people, especially young people, and how it shapes the world. It’s kind of pop-aganda, so to speak. We live in a culture now that’s fabulous in lots of ways but it’s also very vacuous and fake. It’s just one of those things that fascinates me, and that’s why I write about it.
You recently noted in an interview that you want to get out of your record deal and owe your label two more albums. Do you feel like you’re kind of over the major label structure and the business? Has the media had an effect on you in those terms?
No, no, no! The people I’ve worked with at my record company are the people I’ve worked with since the beginning. I love them. Some of them are really close friends of mine that I hang out with on the weekends. It doesn’t mean they’re not facing huge amounts of pressure. It’s really tough in music right now to make money and to sell records, which is what they do. It’s what they decided when they left college; they were going to go and work in an industry that’s deteriorated and that’s really really sad and makes all of our jobs a lot harder. I don’t know if the model works anymore. I love them and I appreciate them because it’s really difficult. It’s bad.
On Sheezus you have a song called “URL Badman,” which is super critical of internet culture, something you’ve expressed a lot of ill will towards as of late. As an artist, you came up during the MySpace age, so I’m wondering how you see things have changed?
I think it’s just evolved, hasn’t it? It’s on its journey. I do find there’s definitely a sort of vicious culture, toxic almost. In the beginning, when I was on MySpace, the idea of going on someone’s page and calling them a “slut”…that just didn’t happen then! It’s something that I guess people have become more comfortable with doing. Maybe it’s the anonymity thing, but it’s just different. It’s a different landscape.
Did “URL Badman” come after the initial response to your video for “Hard Out Here”?
It was written after “Hard Out Here” came out. It was the last song I had written for the album. That song isn’t really about me and people trolling me. It’s more just about the internet, especially that hipster male blogger…that boys’ club shit.
So you start the album with “Sheezus,” a song about women being pitted against each other in the industry and you list a lot of the big names who fall victim to that. I was wondering why you chose to go that route lyrically and mention them in the song?
I think it’s interesting that you ask me that but then we were just speaking about “URL Badman” and not one person has asked me why I name A$AP Rocky or Kanye West or the xx. People don’t find it interesting. What they do find interesting is the idea that maybe a woman is writing off another woman in this song, which I’m not doing at all. But people would love to jump to that conclusion as if it were the truth because it could be a story. Because it’s juicy. I guess that was the idea behind it.
That’s a good point about pointing out the uses of names in both “Sheezus” and “URL Badman” but the latter is a song so much, as you mention, about this boys’ club of critique in media. Yet when you were critiqued for [the music video for] “Hard Out Here” it was coming from a lot more women, specifically women of color. Can you talk a little bit on your decision to not engage any further with that conversation?
I didn’t do anything wrong, so I’m not going to apologize. That’s really it.
Do you think that contradicts what you’re fighting against, in some ways, with a song like “Hard Out Here,” which presents this type of solidarity for women in music
The video is a direct parody of how women are being used in music videos. It is what it is. Some people interpreted it differently, and that’s fine. I don’t agree with it. I know what my intentions were.
This is sort of just a random question, but there was a roundtable for SPIN magazine last summer right after YEEZUS came out called “Sheezus Talks” and I was wondering if you had encountered that roundtable before you named your album?
I did not know that! I’ll check it out!
Finally, what’s next planned for you? Do you see a new album coming sooner rather than later or is still kind of early to tell?
You know what, it’s exactly that time, but they never work out the way you want them to. I don’t know, I’ll just write songs and when I feel like an album’s ready, I’ll put it out.
Lily Allen plays Highline Ballroom tonight, 5/14. Showtime is 8:00 p.m. tickets are $25 in advance/$30 day of show.