Ellen Falconer talks to Lily Allen about celebrity, paparazzi, embarrassment and her new album, No Shame.
Recently, having been prompted to share a story of the best time she was kicked out of an event, Lily Allen tweeted that at an awards night she once accidentally took ketamine thinking it was cocaine. Paparazzi evidence shows her passed out, still clutching the award she won, while at least three burly men attempt to pass her over the fence and into a waiting car.
When asked why she would share a story like that publicly, Allen, on the phone from London, is typically unapologetic. “It’s a way for me to control my own narrative, which I never really had the confidence to do or the hindsight in which to do it. When I was most under attack by the tabloids, I was 21, 22 and just trying to figure out who I was in the world. It’s quite hard to do that when you have these quite strong forces telling you you shouldn’t be the way that you are, whether that was the things that I was saying, things that I was singing about, the way that I looked… it felt like I was being told that I was doing everything wrong the whole time, which was definitely quite hard.”
Allen may be able to share these stories now and laugh about it, but just don’t try to use her past behaviour against her. Last month someone tweeted an up-skirt photo of her on stage not wearing any underwear. The twit condescended, “this photo will be on the internet forever Lils”. But Allen, who built her fanbase in the early days of MySpace, knows the internet. Anyone else but her might have reported the image, complained to @jack or sent their fans to sic ‘em. Instead, she turned it into a marketing opportunity.
“LOOK AT MY 2014 NEATLY TRIMMED VAGINA, 3 HUMANS CAME OUT OF THERE. #NoShame June 8th”
It’s this invasive side of fame, with its Twitter trolls and paparazzi and tabloid hyperbole, that Allen seemed to see just around the corner for herself in her 2008 single ‘The Fear’.
“I think the tabloids are not really about attacking the individual, it’s about making an example of the individual they’re talking about so that sets the tone and the narrative for the rest of society. I think what they were saying is that young women should be seen and not heard and they shouldn’t have an opinion and their opinions are worthless and we’re going to prove that by making an example out of Lily Allen,” she says.
“I think with ‘The Fear’, those lines were difficult for me because I didn’t know how much of it was about me and how much of it was about society and the rest of the world. It’s interesting, ‘The Fear’: ‘I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore’. It kind of felt like it was a precursor to this era that we’re living in now, like fake news. No one knows what’s right and what’s real anymore because the lines are so fucking blurred.”
The song also includes the line: “And I’ll take my clothes off and it will be shameless / ‘Cause everyone knows that’s how you get famous”, a curious omen and a ten-year-old link to her new album No Shame, which is out today.
The four years since we last heard from Allen have been tumultuous for her. She dealt with the fallout of releasing the critically panned album Sheezus, got a divorce, had a stalker break into her house, and grappled with her alcoholism. She addresses all of it on No Shame. The album, much like her Twitter account, is an attempt to regain control of her narrative.
The album’s first song, ‘Come On Then’, is about dealing with fame and the public perception of “popstar Lily Allen”.
“I’m a bad mother, I’m a bad wife / You saw it on the socials, you read it online / If you go on record saying that you know me then why am I so lonely / Because nobody fucking phones me,” she sings.
When I tell Allen she has never struck me as somebody who feels shame, she pauses. “I think everybody feels shame. A lot of the time, especially as a woman, it’s because of what society expects of a woman. If I were to wear an outfit on stage and my boob was to fall out accidentally it might be reported in the newspaper as ‘Lily Allen suffers an embarrassing nip slip’. That kind of thing really irritates me because embarrassment is a feeling or an emotion that can only be attributed to me, so for somebody to project that emotion onto me without checking with me if that was the truth, is inaccurate.”
On No Shame, some of the sharpness and bravado of her earlier singles have gone; instead, she turns introspective and allows her vulnerability to show. “There are things that I’m sharing on this album that some people might think is embarrassing or shameful and I’m putting it out there to say that I do not feel shame about these things and I’m just talking about them openly and honestly so as to process them.”
In ‘My One’, she sings about her infidelity, while in ‘Apples’ she sings about unintentionally following in her divorced parents’ footsteps: “Now I’m exactly where I didn’t want to be / I’m just like mummy and daddy / I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
‘Three’ is an ode to her daughters, told from their perspective as they watch their mother leave for tour.
By album closer, ‘Cake’, which Allen says was the easiest song of the record to write, she is shrugging off public scrutiny and picking herself up again, telling herself to “have your cake and eat it”.
Because why should she have just one bit of the cake when she could have two? There’s no shame in that.
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