Beards, Blazers & Glasses Or Lily Allen: The British Pink
The case of Lily Allen wouldn't be nearly as interesting if not for the response that she's elicited throughout the Internet. Think about it. Sure, she's relatively cute, has a nice voice and is blessed with the abilility to write funny slice-of-life songs about growing up wealthy, privileged and attractive in London. But her music isn't exactly the stuff to soundtrack the revolution. It's more music to listen to when you're in the mood for something light, frothy and relatively painless. I.E. the ideal summer music.But somehow at some point, like many of the recent Internet sensations, Lily Allen became a cause. You were either with her or against her. Blogs covered each one of her moves with the laser-eyed focus of a talented paparazzi. Each mixtape or B-side that Lily dropped was treated by bloggers like heavily sampled manna from heaven
Naturally, a backlash developed, with people claiming that Allen was "untalented and overrated" to personal attacks calling her a "stupid cunt." This schism wasn't relegated to the blogosphere as Pitchfork and Stylus perfectly illustrated the Lilly Allen Paradox, as Pitchfork called Allen's debut Alright Still, "fantastic" and gave her a very solid 8.3 rating. Meanwhile, Stylus took out the hatchet and started hacking away at Allen, trashing her mercilessly with a D rating and calling her "hurtful" "contemptuous" and the worst insult of all, comparing her lyrics to that of Incubus.
What both sides failed to remember is that Lily Allen isn't any kind of savior. She's a 21-year old POP STAR. From England. If anything, she's the British Pink: smarter and edgier than your average pop star but not nearly as cute. And by virtue of her being from England, Allen seems rather intelligent whereas the American Pink remains brighter than Britney yet still somehow dumber than dirt. Ultimately, I suspect that Allen is so galvanizing to the mostly male blogosphere for two things: either she reminds bloggers of a bitchy and spoiled ex-girlfriend that they once had who they now hate OR she makes bloggers wish that she was their girlfriend. Pretty simple really.
Lily Allen: A 40 Oz. To Freedom is the Only Chance She Has to Feel Good When She Feels BadThat being said, with her debut, Alright Still, Allen has established herself as the most interesting pop star to debut in this millenium. I should probably qualify that statement with the caveat that I find her the only remotely interesting pop star to debut in the last six years, other than Rihanna, who I find interesting for different ways that shouldn't be discussed on a family friendly website such as this.
It was this curiousity that brought me out to the Troubadour last Saturday night to see Allen's third United States performance, following one in San Francisco and a New York show that brought mixed reviews. As Idolator wrote of the NYC bloggers reaction, the word "expectations couldn't help but come up." But to be completely honest, I'm not sure why it would. After all, Allen is a pop star, she's not My Morning Jacket, nor is she trying to be.
In that vein, Liily Allen live was exactly what I expected to see from her album: a precocious, charismatic and obviously entitled pop star from England. A pop star with enough talent to get the crowd moving for 45 minutes (myself excluded: I don't move, I sulk) and keep the mood buoyant. Yet it was also this sense of entitlement that makes Allen a less than fully dynamic performer, one content to let her god-given talent take her as far as it will take her. She's like the Ken Griffey Jr. of pop music. She's not going to slide headfirst into second base, but she has enough ability to better her peers. And like Griffey, I'm skeptical about her prospects for the duration of an entire career.
Backed by a DJ, a keyboardist, a bassist and a horn section, Allen's show started with a true-to-the album rendition of her hit single "LDN." Two things immediately struck me: 1) she was prettier than I'd expected and 2) her voice was much better than I'd imagined. We're not talking Whitney Houston territory or anything, but she isn't an auto-tune wonder either. Furthermore, Allen possesses an unteachable sense of rhythm. When her lyrics veered into hip-hop territory, she had a basic command of the mic and some rudimentary form of skills. Again, she's not Lauryn Hill, but she's better than most.
Lily Allen at the Troubadour: Dressed For a Brent Bolthouse Club (Oh Yeah and That Whole Music Thing Too)
From there, the set went into "Nan, You're a Window Shopper," her very funny re-working of 50 Cent's "Window Shopper." Then the energy declined a bit with the mediocre"Shame for You," after which Allen engaged in stage banter with the crowd about how amazed she was that even though Capitol refused to release her album until next year, the crowd knew all of her lyrics.
Perhaps, this was the quintessential Lily Allen moment of the evening. Rather than thank the crowd for their dedication and support, she treated it as if their support was a given. Like all rich girls that grow up in the city, there is little wonder left for Lily Allen, and it shows. This is why many people resent Allen: her veering on smug-sense of entitlement, the vague sense that everything will always be fabulous for her. After all, she's Lily Allen, she's the daughter of a famous person. Of course, it will.
Lily Allen: Better Than Lily Tomlin, Tiger Lilly, and Lily Pads
Maybe its the fact that I grew up around a thousand less-talented girls just like Lily Allen and I'm used to the sense of entitlement that the children of the rich have, but for some reason it doesn't bother me. Love her or hate her, Allen really doesn't care all that much and in a way it's refreshing in a world of pop stars desperate to please everyone around them.
The short was set, just 40 minutes. She even acknowledged the fact that she'd got in trouble in NY and San Francisco for playing such a short setlist. After "Shame For You," Allen ran through the Professor Longhair sampling of "Knock Em Out," the treacly "Littlest Things," the up-tempo and pleasant "Friday Night" and the brainlessly blissful "Smile." For an encore, Allen performed "Everything's Just Wonderful" and "Alfie" her song for her pothead brother.
All in all, Allen displayed why she's neither a savior nor worthy of being scorned. She's just a good singer who's a bit smarter than your average pop star and actually writing pretty good but not great lyrics. It's the kind of music that you'd be happy to hear coming out of your little sister's room, rather than Fall Out Boy, Christina Aguilera or Justin Timberlake (the horror).
Ultimately, the concert was like Allen's album, fiercely strong in parts, not-so-strong in others. Neither will probably make any top 20 list that I compile for the year, but both are pleasant experiences. In Stylus' Alright Still review, the writer calls Lily Allen "pop music for people who don't like pop music." If that's the case than so be it. Lilly Allen isn't about to surpass Spoon, Wilco or My Morning Jacket as my favorite musician anytime soon. But if every pop star could have the intelligence and talent of Lily Allen, I can't say that I'd complain either.
Lily Allen: "Nan, You're A Window Shopper" (right-click, save as)
Lily Allen: "Oh My God" (right-click, save-as)