“I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking
You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen
I won’t be bragging ’bout my cars or talking ’bout my chains
Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain”
Lily Allen croons in her trademark sardonic, sing-songy, style with a touch of British twang and Auto-Tune as a team of plastic surgeons go to work on her. The camera pans and we are squarely eye-to-crotch with a scantily clad, curvaceous, black dancer. Throughout the course of the video, 3 black dancers, out of a total of six dancers, the remaining 3 not being black, proceed to perform some of hip-hop’s most stereotypical, sexist, tropes. They twerk like the nobody’s watching; they seductively lick popsicles; they pour champagne down each other’s bodies. It seems that Lily Allen’s comeback is stuck in an early noughties time warp, a simpler, more innocent time when bling and bitches ruled the airwaves. Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana and Lorde was barely out of diapers.
Since it quickly became obvious that Allen was about ten years too late with her cultural criticisms, I just kept watching the video waiting for the moment when one dancer would slide a credit card down another dancer’s asscrack. The moment never came. Worse yet, Lily Allen wasn’t critiquing hip-hop culture; she was taking on a stereotype of hip-hop culture. Basically, Lily Allen is my West Indian father who used knock on my door when I was a teenager and I’d open it to find him crossing his arms like Run-D.M.C. to mock the Jay-Z album I was listening to…. in the late 90’s. He also almost always brought up NWA and “Cop Killer” and he still does to this day. It took me years to get him to understand that Eazy-E is definitely dead and definitely won’t be coming back. Tupac on the other hand…
In addition to being dated, Allen’s critique of hip-hop culture is a pretty one-sided dialogue. Her response to criticisms of the video’s race and gender dynamics on a visual level was a tone-deaf one. Apparently if you have a problem with video, you just don’t “get” irony or satire. Any semblance that “Hard Out Here…” might have to “business-as-usual” when it comes to way black women’s bodies are used and portrayed in popular culture is deliberate, therefore ironic and completely above criticism. In order to critique the way that black bodies are being used by the likes of Miley Cyrus, Allen has given herself “usage rights” to black tits and ass. Miley took black bodies out for a joyride; Lily commandeered the tasty brown T&A for the “greater good”. To Lily Allen and her defenders, the message is way more important than the medium, and the only way to fight sexism is with more sexism.
And while she espouses the agency of the three black female dancers who in the video are clearly in on the joke with their exaggerated moves and sly smiles, the only supposed agency these women are exercising is in regards to their bodies. They are, otherwise, voiceless, anonymous, and in the background, just like always. Allen responded, via Twitter, to this particular aspect of the video, telling her detractors to “ask them” and included links to the dancers’ Twitter accounts. If Lily Allen really wanted to go for irony, during the video the music would have cut off abruptly and one of the dancing black ladies would have told us about her hopes, her dreams, her fears and her feelings on gender and sex in hip-hop. Maybe she’d even be fully-clothed and standing still while she spoke. The thing about satire and parody, is that these devices aren’t bound to a strict script to get the message across. Allen’s critique had endless possibilities and she took the laziest, most obvious, and most wilfully ignorant, way out.
Her claim that her critique is one born of intellectual outrage rather than moral outrage is a way to escape the criticisms leveled at early hip-hop detractors. You see, Lilly Allen is no Tipper Gore, she just genuinely cares so much about women of color. She’s totally hip and “with it”. She’s a ‘Cool Mom’. She definitely doesn’t need to brush up on the concept of intersectionality. She’s not saying that hip-hop culture and those that participate in it are morally depraved. She’s just saying that the women being exploited in hip-hop culture aren’t intelligent enough to defend themselves or even intelligent enough to know that they need defending. So obviously she can’t share the microphone with them; they wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway. They’d probably just try to rap into it.
Though hip-hop culture isn’t above criticism, and it definitely has its gender problems, Lily Allen and her fellow faux-minists are essentially drowning in a pool of intersectionality. But, as the saying goes, “Fish don’t know they’re in water”. Hip-hop is a complex entity with a longstanding, complicated, history. Its issues can’t be unpacked in a three minute video, especially by someone that lacks even a basic understanding of hip-hop as a genre of music and an art form. How can you thoughtfully critique something you don’t even understand or respect?