Walking to work the other morning with the iPod in, I heard Back to the Start and listened to the lyrics properly for the first time, and I actually got almost a little teary. The song really captures the jealously and slightly irrational casual cruelty which girls indulge in, the way they hurt each other as a manner of exercising power and control, an later grow up and realise how stupid that all was. Having once been a girl, this resonated with me in a way which was enough to provoke a visceral emotional reaction (of course, nowadays, all sorts of things make me cry, whereas I used to laugh at my sister and mother when they got teary in Lassie and Disney movies, but anyway…).
I am a big Lily Allen fan, and while I love the catchiness of the music, it has actually generally been the lyrics which appeal. I think it is a massive pity to see her compared to the likes of Katy Perry, when she is much more like the original I Kissed a Girl (an infinitely cleverer song than the current one) singer, Jill Sobule. Jill, while more folksy than Lily, combined catchy tunes with cleverly observed lyrics about identifiable situations and ideas. Margaret (about the downfall of the prettiest girl in the school) and Karen By Night (about the secret life of a shoe saleswoman), in particular, demonstrated Jill Sobule’s ability to tell an engaging story in a short time to a catchy singable tune. Lily Allen demonstrates the same witty approach to her music. Anyone who has had a younger brother can identify immediately with the frustrations of Alfie and the notion of “how do you expect to get laid when all you do is play and play on your computer game.”
The other comparison which would do Lily Allen’s music far more justice is with the Brit-pop tradition which she clearly follows – Blur and Pulp in particular. LDN for example has a lot in common with a song like Park Life in the manner in which it captures the a side of British life. Again the juxtaposition of the catchy music and the clever lyrics which contributed to the enduring popularity of these bands and their songs are present in Lily Allen’s songs.
So let’s not dismiss her as a pop princess and ensure she gets considered in the more enduring tradition of music, because I think her lyrics deserve it.