Okay, so a friend hipped me to Lily Allen’s new single “Hard Out Here.” I watched the video because my buddy gushed over Allen’s supposed statement for the piece, one of empowerment and a kind of middle finger to the music industry for trying to force women into skinny, cookie cutter molds.
I get that, in theory. Allen said the video was intended as a light-hearted commentary on the objectification of women in modern pop culture. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she meant well. But the trick is, to understand someone actually has to listen to, and think about, her lyrics. If you don’t, and you just look at the video – which I’m afraid is what usually happens with a lot of pop music videos – you don’t get the point.
Without those lyrics – and really, who’s going to be listening when those glorious brown bums are defying gravity and having liquids poured over them – essentially she’s doing the same thing as other music artists who feature a preponderance of scantily clad, overly sexualized women – she’s using them to get attention.
My first thought was, okay, if you’re trying to make this point about women in pop culture, why not put yourself in exactly the same outfit? Pop it, however badly, right alongside the dancers. Then, even without verbal cues, the viewer will understand there is something more going on than meets the eye. Allen said she thought of that as well, but her personal insecurities prompted her to cover up.
My next solution to help her make her point better was to give the dancers more story. Show them leaving the dance studio, shedding their skimpy togs and going to read to children in a school or library. Show the most raunchy dancer shedding that “skin” and donning her glasses and book bag before heading off to school.
This isn’t the whole strippers with a heart of gold thing cliché I want to convey. That’s not always true. But fleshing things out – pun intended – would help to provide the context necessary to elevate her dancers from skin props to ideas. As is, at the end of the day, Allen’s simply offered us yet another video full of nearly naked female dancers shaking their money makers for her, instead of for a man.
The video also forced Allen to address allegations of racism. She said she in no way chose specific skin colors while auditioning dancers because the video isn’t about race. That one I’m not even going to touch; not because I disbelieve her or because I didn’t note the prevalence of black female dancers in her crew, but because these days people seem awful quick to pull the race card. Sometimes it’s just not about that. Many of the dancers were Black, or whatever, but in this scenario what is that except a simple descriptor? It says nothing about the dancers’ treatment, for instance, or their work conditions.
As for Allen’s use of the word bitch, well, there she has my full support. Too often women who show an ounce of spine get that moniker when a man displaying similar behavior gets a hearty laugh and a slap on the back. Her repetition does just what she intends: desensitizes us and saps much of the word’s power.
It’s kind of like what Black folks did when we took back the n word and turned it into something positive. Only we prefer to keep that nugget for our personal use; everybody else, find your own empowerment tool.
This piece also appeared in Diversity Executive magazine online.