LILY ALLEN

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TAKE - LOUISE BRU­TON

Go­ing from MyS­pace to no place to hide in just over 10 years is some­thing Lily Allen prob­a­bly didn’t fore­see when she was a wannabe pop star in 2005. It wasn’t that she didn’t have ex­pe­ri­ence of the show­biz life­style, ei­ther – her fa­ther is Keith Allen, a co­me­dian and ac­tor who had close con­nec­tions with the world of UK al­ter­na­tive entertainment in the 1980s and 1990s. Her film pro­ducer mother, Al­i­son Owen, mean­while, had many as­so­ci­a­tions in the movie in­dus­try. A life out­side such di­verse and cre­ative ar­eas didn’t seem likely for young Lily, and so it proved when at the age of 11 she was over­heard in a school play­ground singing the Oa­sis song Won­der­wall.

Although Allen’s teenage years were frac­tious (she dropped out of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion at 15, hav­ing pre­vi­ously been ex­pelled from a few schools for drink­ing and smok­ing; she dealt drugs in Ibiza in the af­ter­math of a fam­ily hol­i­day), by the time she turned 20 she had signed to Re­gal Record­ings, an im­print of EMI. It was at this point (late 2005) that Allen cre­ated a MyS­pace ac­count, and up­loaded demo songs that at­tracted tens of thou­sands of lis­ten­ers.

By mid-2006 she was ap­pear­ing on magazine cov­ers and had re­leased her de­but al­bum, Al­right, Still. The record dis­played Allen’s con­ver­sa­tional sense of hu­mour and was laced with acer­bic asides and barely con­cealed in­sults. Such an au­da­cious stance for a fe­male pop star to take was viewed pos­i­tively (“the ic­ing on the cake is that bru­tally barbed tongue,” noted the Ob­server), yet per­haps pushed Allen into a cor­ner from which it was dif­fi­cult to es­cape.

Within four years – which in­cluded the re­lease in 2009 of her fol­low-up al­bum, It’s Not Me, It’s You (“A real per­son telling us the most in­ti­mate de­tails of her real life, only with bet­ter hooks”, re­marked the Daily Tele­graph), Allen took a leave of ab­sence from record­ing, not re­turn­ing with an­other al­bum un­til 2014, with Sheezus.

An­other record, an­other con­tro­versy. The video for the al­bum’s first sin­gle, Hard Out Here – in­tended as ca­sual com­men­tary on the ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women in con­tem­po­rary pop mu­sic – was ac­cused of be­ing racist for its pre­dom­i­nant use of mostly black and Asian dancers. Allen later apol­o­gised for cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion: “I def­i­nitely wanted to make a fem­i­nist state­ment,” she said in an in­ter­view with An­nie Mac, “but I was guilty of as­sum­ing that there was a one-size-fits-all where fem­i­nism is con­cerned.”

Fol­low­ing an­other pe­riod of time off the cul­tural radar, Allen re­turned ear­lier this year with a new al­bum, No Shame, a su­perb warts’n’all of­fer­ing that helped her process per­sonal mat­ters such as tabloid ex­po­sure, par­ent­ing, mar­i­tal dif­fi­cul­ties and sub­stance abuse. Soon after, her mem­oir, My Thoughts Ex­actly, was pub­lished. Like her doggedly hon­est songs, the mem­oir con­firmed her sta­tus as a self­less, con­fes­sional writer con­fi­dent enough to briskly ad­mit flaws and virtues. A song­writer with prickly thorns as well as a nat­u­ral dis­po­si­tion for cute pop melodies? We’ll be hav­ing some of that, thanks.

Lily Allen plays the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on Tues­day

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