Lily Allen Exclusive: ‘If You Want To Be Remembered You Have To Stand For Something’
The Debrief: Chatting feminism, twitter trolls & how her all-night drinking days are over with the popstar who’s never far from controversy…
Lily Allen cuts such a diminutive figure that I barely notice her when a waitress leads me to ‘Mrs Cooper’s table’ in the corner of Claridge's breakfast room. Fresh-faced in a peacock-detailed headband, delicate rings on her fingers and a beige jumper, she leaps up to greet me – a kiss on each cheek and a scold for me being late: ‘Verrry professional!’ (To be fair, we only set up this interview the night before – on Twitter.)
It’s one day since Lily released the third video from her new album, Sheezus, four since a Twitter storm brewed about her so-called ‘anti-feminist comments’ in a men’s magazine and seven since she went to a Beyonce gig and got so ‘damn drunk’ that she might have given herself an upper respiratory infection. Given all of this – and her recent expressions of disdain on social media for the ‘irresponsible and annoying’ behaviour of journalists who spin her words – I’m surprised she wants to do an interview. But she does – and she’s in the mood to talk.
‘Of course I’m a feminist,’ she says in a direct response to the online slating she’s received over the last interview she gave, where she said, ‘I hate that word because it shouldn’t even be a thing any more.’ Lily has said that she was misquoted and meant she was disappointed that feminism still needed to be discussed; equality should have been reached by 2014. But that hasn’t stopped days of criticism from people who think Lily ‘doesn’t know what feminism is’. So, does she regret ever getting involved? Is she tempted to bow out of the debate? ‘No, I’m not. Without wanting to sound self-important in any way, what’s the point if you don’t speak your mind?’ she says resolutely. ‘You can’t on the one hand put somebody like me up on a pedestal and say, “You’re a role model for my children,” and then expect me not to talk about things like that.’
I get talked to in label meetings and by executives like a woman. It’s demoralising and sneering and we apparently don’t have an opinion
Some people might say, that for Lily – and Beyonce et al – feminism is a money-spinning exercise, rather than a real call for change, going against the Suffragettes' ‘deeds, not words’ adage. But Lily insists she’s experienced more than enough sexism in her 11 years in the music industry to know why feminism is important. ‘I know that I get talked to in label meetings and by executives like a woman. It’s demoralising and sneering, and we apparently don’t have an opinion. It’s done in a way to make you feel ashamed, whether they know they’re doing it or not. There are women in the room, in those meetings, and no-one says, “Don’t talk to her like that.” That’s the only way I feel like it’s going to change, when people start saying, “You can’t fucking do that!”’
Besides imploring the few women in boardrooms to swear across glass tables at each other, how else can change happen? Lily says she’s interested in the idea of quotas. ‘There are women who do have executive roles within record labels, but it tends to be, you know, the back room executive roles, like the heads of marketing and the heads of radio. It’s not the head of A&R or Chairwoman, [or] whatever.’
But, she admits she’s not as political as she once was – famously dissing David Cameron when she dedicated her song, Fuck You, to him at a gig in 2010. ‘I mean, generally, I’m pretty straight-down-the-line Labour. My mum and dad are both socialists. Although, I think my husband’s a Tory, so I don’t know,’ she says. Wait, you don’t know? I ask her. ‘Well, he says that I’m Tory and I’m like, “Well I don’t know enough about politics, but my mum says I’m Labour,” so…’
Political campaigning and wrangling might not be her thing any more, but she still wants the issues to be talked about. ‘I would definitely encourage the Ella Eyres and the Chloe Howls that are coming up to try and be vocal and not to be scared of the beat downs that they’ll get afterwards,’ she says. ‘The people in the past that I remember are Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry. There are a lot of people who fade into oblivion, but those people all stood up for and were vocal about what they believed in. If you want to be remembered, you have to say something or stand for something.’
You get addicted to the negative side of stuff. So then you go looking at the sites where you know people are going to be horrible
Nonetheless, she admits that the criticism sometimes gets the best of her. ‘I couldn’t get to sleep because I was up until three o’clock in the morning just, like, looking at YouTube comments on my new video. You get addicted to the negative side of stuff. So then you go looking at the sites where you know people are going to be horrible. And then you become convinced that the entire world hates you. You’re sat there at three o’clock in the morning like, “Oh God, what am I doing, why am I doing this to myself?”’ She laughs and rubs her face.
So, how does she console herself through these situations? ‘I just take some sleeping pills. No, that was a joke… I wish I could!’ she laughs again, as I assure her that sleeping pills are fine, so long as she’s not snorting them. Unconvinced, I ask her what properly consoles her, and she says that she follows her mum’s advice instead. ‘My mum said something to me a few years ago, before the whole digital media thing came into play. I called her up really upset because I’d read something horrible and she said, “How did you feel before you read that thing?” And I said, “Absolutely fine,” And she said, “Has anything actually, really, in the world, changed since you read that thing?”’
One way she’s transformed online hatred into something positive is the album track URL Badman, a catchy, synth-drenched R&B song tearing apart the ‘keyboard warriors’ who get a kick from hassling her online – hence the ‘URL’. Sending it to me ahead of the interview, she calls me to discuss it, telling me she wrote it in a couple of hours. Even the tricky rap at the end, where she name-checks this imaginary troll’s adoration for A$AP Rocky, Kanye West and The xx. Is she going to manage this tongue-twist live? ‘I know it well enough now,’ she tells me. ‘It’s like learning an Eminem song, I’ve got the first verse down!’ Funny, that. Her pokes at pop culture, coy satire and appropriation of personas really does place her on a par with the bleach-blond loudmouth at his Just Lose It peak. ‘Thank you, that’s quite a compliment,’ she says.
But is it? He was very tortured, after all. ‘On the surface of it I am happy…’ she counters. ‘I’m quite grounded, and I’ve got a really lovely husband who looks after me, who I can speak to five times a day and who reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’ve got two beautiful children and I have to check myself sometimes and think, “This is weird.” It could consume you and make you go quite strange, but I try to not let it.’
A hangover cure? ‘Berocca is a classic? Ibuprofen… sleep… childcare!’
It’s all sounding rather different from the old Lily Allen – the one portrayed in her latest video for Our Time, where she goes out with a bunch of mates and gets so wasted she voms in the back of a cab. So, does that still happen? ‘No, not going out until the morning,’ she insists. ‘But, yeah, I was thinking about my group of friends – and how there are different types of mates within one group: a mouthy one, a quiet one and a square one. I’m the one in the fur and maybe my friend Miquita [Oliver] is one of them [too].’ Despite her years of partying, she claims she still hasn’t found a perfect hangover cure (‘Berocca is a classic? Ibuprofen… sleep… childcare!’), but she has got a solution for dealing with drunken friends – giving them free cabs and heading home. ‘I wouldn’t leave them in a compromising situation, but I would generally just go home. I’ve given quite a few people my Uber login details because I’ve got a full-time driver.’
Featuring a scrap outside a kebab shop which results in a police call-out, the Our Time video nods towards those Booze Britain headlines in the tabloids – the kind of drunk-shaming Lily’s got no time for. ‘There is a moral undertone where women are concerned that doesn’t exist where men are concerned. And that pisses me off, you know? If you show pictures of men it’s like lads on tour, it’s glorified like a cool thing. If it’s a girl, it’s like, “You’re meant to be at home looking after your children, how dare you!”’
As the waiter finally interrupts to pour Lily her second cup of coffee, it’s time for her to head to a photo shoot and then back to the hotel for a private charity gig. She later Instagrams a video of a friend riding an ornamental zebra. But before she does, we talk about another big night she’s got planned – Miley Cyrus’s London gig. I ask what Lily, who snogs her own doppelganger in Our Time, would do if Miley tried to snog her, as she did Katy Perry in New York. She laughs. ‘I’d probably reciprocate.’
PS: Look what Lily gave us as a parting gift? A hair extension she’d worn on Michael McIntyre’s show. ‘I just found it in my handbag and I don’t really know what to do with it. You can auction that off.’
Sheezus is available to preorder on iTunes
Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson
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