One thing about Lily Allen—you have to take her for who/what she is. If you try to approach her latest release Sheezus from the perspective of—I dunno, artistry—you’re going to find a lot to complain about, and some critics have already done so. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying it isn’t art (I’m not saying it is, either). I’m just saying you have to take it as you find it, and find the enjoyment in it for what it is.
You see, several records in, it’s apparent that Lily Allen isn’t really about being taken seriously as an artist—in fact, it’s apparent that she doesn’t even take herself that seriously. She’s not in it for the art: to hear her tell it, “I’m here to make money, money, money.” (“Insincerely Yours”) But you can’t even take that line seriously, either, because Lily Allen is all about pointing out the absurd.
What am I saying here? Lily Allen isn’t a musician who is focused on making art: she’s about making statements, and the resulting art is what it is. She’s like the Ricky Gervais of pop music, perhaps less funny, but no less biting. She’s the kind of person who gets away with saying the most irreverent, provocative things, and you let her get away with it because the music behind it sounds so sweet that the whole thing comes off as more funny than offensive.
From the moment the opening title track of Sheezus comes on, you’re aware of the album’s biting satire as Allen pokes fun at the competition between pop divas, naming names like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Lorde: “Second best will never cut it for the divas / Give me that crown, b**ch, I wanna be Sheezus.” She also goes after Internet trolls (“URL Badman”), vicarious living (“Life for Me”), gender-based hypocrisy (“Hard Out Here”) and the futility of class differences (“Silver Spoon”)—all performed straight-laced and poker-faced, in a manner that almost convinces you that this might actually be a serious pop song. Allen’s sing-songy irreverence continues into “love” songs like “L8 CMMR” and “Close Your Eyes,” in which she drifts so frequently between the romantic and X-rated that it’s difficult to know which is which—kind of like a glass of sweet lemonade laced with just a hint of gasoline. Even the fact that the album’s musical style echoes the dance-pop/hip-hop trends so prevalent in twenty-teens pop suggests that under the surface, Lily Allen is simply laughing at all of us. It’s a humor so subtle at times that you’ll miss it at first, but when you get the punchline, you marvel at its brilliance.
So for my money, the critics who are decrying this album’s lack of continuity, or Lily Allen’s apparent chip on her shoulder, are missing the point. To compare Sheezus with other current dance-pop albums is kind of like comparing South Park with Tom & Jerry; they may both be cartoons, but they serve entirely different purposes. For what Sheezus is intended to do, it does remarkably well. If nothing else, you have to hand it to a girl who can sing such convincing pop hooks with her tongue lodged so firmly in her cheek.