November 15, 2013
Until this week, I was only peripherally aware of Lily Allen. Sure, I’d downloaded “Fuck You” and “Smile,” her funny pop confections with a bracing dash of intelligence. But I never qualified as a Lily Allen fan, and in fact had kind of forgotten she was a thing until the Internet blew up with a heated debated about the video for her new song “Hard Out Here.”
The song itself is a pretty straightforward send-up of sexism in the music industry. The problem lies in the video, also a parody, but one that adds the visual element of race. Allen, fully clothed, is flanked by mostly black backup dancers clad in bathing suits who are twerking, fondling themselves, pouring champagne down their chests—a cornucopia of clichéd sexist imagery offered up with a sly smirk. The difficult element is Allen’s whiteness. As a member of the dominant culture can she manage parody here, or is she actually reinscribing racist tropes, serving up more exploitative power dynamics for her audience to unthinkingly consume?
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