Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t heard, Lily Allen is raising hell with her latest song Hard Out Here. (See below) Lyrics include, “It’s hard out here for a bitch.” Although I am a language girl at heart, you can’t talk about the lyrics without talking about the video. And while many a gender studies scholar, at least on social media, are either losing their minds or giving standing ovations; the multicultural communications aspect of my field and perspective, was put to work. And I believe any whole analysis of the text – the video and the song – cannot be authentically done without looking at different aspects of it.
I will try to suppress the academic speak and “live in the real world.” (Although I resent and dismiss the often-touted societal notion that academics don’t live in the real world. But that is a rant for another day.) Because what do you see when you when you watch the Lily Allen video? A response to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines? Feminism? Anti-feminism? Racism? Intersectional prejudice and oversexualization of Black female bodies? Power? Or even perhaps a resistance to power? Because I see all of these things.
One of the most profound things I have learned in grad school is that multiple lenses can be used to analyze anything. And this can lead to different consequences for stakeholders. And in music, in popular culture – if you live on the planet – chances are you have a stake. And you can either actively or passively articulate your response to that stake. In this case, I choose to be active because there is so much going on in this video that my academic ovaries are bursting with excitement as I write this. (Sorry family – if you are reading this, as you well know, sometimes vulgarity is the best way to express authentic emotions.)
While I try to see things through multiple lenses, one thing that is negated from my academic perspective is the intention. When we analyze things in terms of institutions and community responses, the intention of the actor and anything pertaining to the actor – Lily Allen and her intentions in this video and song – is not something we consider in terms of its real communicative consequences. Because in “real life,” just as in the academy, your intentions do not matter – we are not mind readers. It is your consequences that matter the most. And for me the three most important consequences which work together simultaneously in this video, in no particular order, are 1. The representation of Black femaleness 2. Feminism or Anti-Feminism 3. Power and resistance.
Now while there will be entire theses that will use this video as their site for study, I will break it down the best way I can. Black femaleness – as is the norm in many music videos – is shown to be overtly sexual. Problematic? Yes. The objectification of the Black female body is nothing new to Western constructs. The fact that women are doing it too is nothing new. The fact that it is done so unashamedly is nothing new. But one thing that I have learned in my current experience as a TA and mentee to a professor, whose expertise includes race studies and Black diaspora, is that all “pop culture” exists as a performance of Blackness. Mind-blowing, I know. But now is not the time for this history lesson.
Feminism versus anti-feminism. Feminist theories are complex enough where Lily Allen can be seen as empowering women through her satirical depictions of how women are objectified in the music industry, and in society as a whole. But it can also be perceived as anti-feminist for many reasons including the male gaze that is being actively performed and arguably embraced in the video. The fact that a woman is the main actor that we see in the video is not negating the male gaze. It never does. Black feminism, no doubt, will also have much to say about this intersectional complexity of empowerment and/or prejudice in this video. I’ll leave it to my gender studies peeps to battle this one out.
My personal favorite consequence of this video is the power dynamics aspect. In his History of Sexuality 1: An Introduction, Foucault asserts, “Where there is power, there is resistance.” And for me, this video is also an act of resistance by Lily Allen to both the industry that she works in, as well as to the society that she lives in. People perform acts of resistance every day, knowingly and unknowingly. Have you ever texted in class, for example? Well, that would be an act of resistance to show you just how micro-level these can be. And it does not matter what Lily Allen’s intentions are. In her video, in her lyrics, she is resisting the powers that be, not only as a woman, but also as a woman in her industry.
I could go on and on and this is just a primary reaction. But let’s not forget that ultimately too, and this is where the other aspect of my field comes in – organizational communication – there is a bottom line to this: $$$. And you and I are going to fall for it because when it’s all said and done, that song is catchy as hell. So maybe we’ll buy it or listen to it on a “free” radio service or play it on YouTube – but we will be participating in an economic way as well, if we already haven’t.
And like it or not, and maybe I can only speak for myself here, but when this song comes on at a social establishment, these academic theories are going to be pushed to the back of my mind. Because for me, it is not problematic to the point where I can’t enjoy it. I am going to get up and dance to it. I had it on repeat and was bobbing my head to it as I wrote this piece. And not just because I love the beat; but because when it’s all said and done, Lily Allen ain’t lying – it (the world) is hard out here for a bitch (a woman who isn’t what you want her to be at any moment in time).