The Trouble With Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here”

Lily Allen Hard Out Here Robin Thicke

I think by now everyone has seen Lily Allen’s new video “Hard Out Here.” In it, Allen is her typical badass, socially progressive self, with empowering lyrics like:

“If you’re not a size 6, then you’re not good looking/Well you better be rich or be real good at cooking/You should probably lose some weight ’cause we can’t see your bones/You should probably fix your face or you’ll end up on your own/Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?/Have you thought about your butt, who’s gonna tear it in two?/We’ve never had it so good, uh huh, we’re out of the woods/And if you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’ve misunderstood.”

I love that she takes the pop industry to task for their unreasonable standards and blatant objectification of women. While I LOVE the song, the video is problematic, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong. There are some downright hilarious parts, and plenty of the call-outs are not only funny but absolutely on point. But along with the good, there is a whole heap of bad.

Seriously. Take a long, hard look at the video. There are two white dancers with Allen, but the majority of dancers are black and the black women are wearing significantly less clothing than Allen and her non-black backup crew. The video is purposely sexually explicit, and we’re shown images of scantily clad black women shooting champagne at each other’s asses and shaking their tail feathers, while Allen sings, “Don’t need to shake my ass for you, cause I’ve got a brain.” How are we, the viewers, supposed to see these black women?

I get that Allen was trying to make a statement about the cultural appropriation and sexual appropriation of black women in pop culture, specifically making a dig at Miley Cyrus’ twerk-gate with Robin Thicke. But here’s an interesting concept! You can make these statements without objectifying black women yourself! According to blogger Cate from BattyMamzelle:

“To me, this is the equivalent of putting a television character in blackface in order to “show that blackface is bad.” It’s great that that’s the message you want to send, but you don’t combat the racist act by participating in it. First of all, talk about mixed messages. And secondly, how can you presume to call out someone on their racist behaviour while engaging in the same behaviour? Satire must be done well in order to be of any consequence.”

As expected, Allen released a statement today about the controversy. I would call it an apology, but she specifically says she’s not going to apologize, so it’s more of an “I’m sorry/not sorry,” kind of deal.  In it she offers gems like:

“If anyone thinks for a second that I requested specific ethnicities for the video, they’re wrong.”


“If anyone thinks that after asking the girls to audition, I was going to send any of them away because of the colour of their skin, they’re wrong”.

YES! Because women of color have always had a fair shot in these auditions and are ALWAYS chosen based on merit and not skin color. RIGHT.

She then goes on to say:

“If I could dance like the ladies can, it would have been my arse on your screens; I actually rehearsed for two weeks trying to perfect my twerk, but failed miserably. If I was a little braver, I would have been wearing a bikini too, but I do not and I have chronic cellulite, which nobody wants to see.”

Then why not have all the dancers cover up a bit more. Don’t you think that having fully clothed dancers acting the video vixen part would have had more impact? Or perhaps some dudes up there twerking it up a ’la this spoof of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines?

Before leaving us with an invitation to ask the dancers themselves how they felt (because I’m sure they would all be TOTES comfortable calling their last employer racist…it’s not like women of color have trouble finding work in the entertainment industry or anything), she gave us the coup de grace of non-apologies:

“I’m not going to apologise because I think that would imply that I’m guilty of something, but I promise you this, in no way do I feel superior to anyone, except paedophiles, rapists murderers etc., and I would not only be surprised but deeply saddened if I thought anyone came away from that video feeling taken advantage of, or compromised in any way.”

Now, I love me some satire. I truly do. Especially when it’s well done, which I don’t think this is. I know there are some people who think that you can do no wrong as long as whatever you’re saying is put under the guise of satire, but I say bullshit to that. If The Onion can be raked over the coals for taking satire too far, then anyone can. I think it’s time that feminists and especially white feminists (I’m looking at you, Jezebel) start taking Lily Allen to task for what she has done here.

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    • Samantha

      The song is good, and parts of the video really enhance what she’s trying to do with the song. You’re totally right – even if she’d simply dressed her back-up dancers like she was dressed, it would have been more effective. Twerking looks totally weird when you’re wearing everyday clothes. Objectification is much harder when the people you’re trying to objectify look and are dressed like everyone else.

      • Frances Locke

        I personally would’ve LOVED to have seen her do this with dudes instead of women. I think it would have been hilarious and made a much deeper impact.

      • fireinside

        That should be the remix video.

    • HillyCSP

      I knew that is what you were going to say when I saw the title of the article and I was thinking the same thing, in fact it was hard for me to get anything out of the song since the video was the first time I heard it. I think her twerking badly would have made a bigger impact than the video does now. All I could think of was that I wanted to agree with her song but the video was making it hard for me to put my finger on exactly what she was trying to say. Had she objectified men in her video the way women are usually treated, it would have made sense.

    • Romylove

      6 dancers appear with Lily throughout the majority of the video. Toward the end they add a 7th (pink hair- kind of looks like Rebel Wilson). I wonder if this would have been an issue if Miss Pink Hair was in the whole thing, seeing as that would have set the ratio of Caucasians and African Americans equal.

    • Anna

      I have sympathy for her being self conscious but wouldn’t the satire be that much more apparent if the twerking was terrible?

      And I hate the argument “Well this one person that is a member of that racial/social group didn’t find it offensive so clearly it is not offensive.” It sounds so much like the “I’m not racist. I have a [insert minority] friend!”

      Overall loved the song. Loved most of the video. Love Lily Allen but wish she would own the problems instead of responding defensively.

    • Anon.

      “How are we, the viewers, supposed to see these black women?” How about professional dancers and adult women who are capable of making their own decisions whether or not to participate in this kind of work? And as people who are well able to participate in “mak[ing] a statement about the cultural appropriation and sexual appropriation of black women in pop culture” themselves.

    • Jenny

      Seriously? Isn’t that the point of the video?

      In the first scene she’s watching (what is presumably) a rap video while getting liposuction. Then she’s in the video. With the stereotypical “old white guy” showing her and all the dancers how to twerk better.

      I think the point would have been lost if she didn’t do it exactly the way she did – with those dancers.

      Why is it ok to portray all the other stereotypes, e.g. the old white guy in the suit as the manager, telling her to oversex herself – or the woman standing in the kitchen washing dishes “sexily” – or blatant pandering with product placement – or dancing around a car, like in a rap video? So all those are ok, but she can’t portray the stereotype of black women, underdressed, twerking ridiculously?

      Why is that suddenly where the line is drawn? Since when is it ok to satire some things, but not all things?

      The point wasn’t to show how “weird” it is to twerk when fully clothed – it was to show how ridiculous it is for women to twerk while half naked being doused in champagne. Just because a group have people are often the victim of exploitation doesn’t mean they are always being exploited.

      • fireinside

        Sorry. Everyone from Japan back to America is doing the same thing. I think her even using the term at the end of the refrain was part of her commentary on what is actually happening.

    • fireinside

      I wonder if blacks need to be mad seeing other people do what they have no problem doing to themselves. I’m black and I approve this message. If what you sell if weave and backsides then other cultures will see us all as weave and backsides. And like she said I don’t have to have that look because I have a brain. Black women be known for your brain and not your bum.

    • Sorrellli

      Actually I think one of those ‘white’ dancers isn’t white (or fully white). Perhaps some kind of mixed asian and different ethnicities? It’d just be nice if people could actually look at someone’s face instead of just their skin tone before categorizing someone into just one race.

      • Frances Locke

        Honestly, I am working on a shit-tasticly old laptop, so it was hard for me to see, but I was going off of info from numerous blogs and music sites that said that two of the dancers were caucasian. Sorry for the confusion though.

    • Muggle

      The twerking scenes with the black women could have been much funnier and on point if they were thought out more clearly. I could tell that she knew she wanted to depict women twerking and pouring champagne on themselves as ridiculous, but the problem is everyone else does that 100% seriously. The point of those scenes is totally lost.

      Her non-apology really doesn’t help, either.

    • lila

      this is insane that was the whole point of the video to show how woman are portrayed