Yesterday, Lily Allen unveiled the title track from her upcoming third album, Sheezus. In the chorus, Allen constructs a hook around some of pop's biggest players:
If this were Eminem, it wouldn't be crazy to take the lyrics at face value and interpret them as being a sarcastic takedown of these women. This article from Hollywood Life did exactly that, using a click-bating title to lure in readers only to explain the song completely wrong. They aren't only ones, either; do a quick Google search for 'Lily Allen Sheezus' and you'll see headlines like:
- Lily Allen Takes On Rihanna & More With ‘Sheezus’
- Lily Allen Has A Message On 'Sheezus': 'Give Me That Crown, Bitch'
- Lily Allen Name-Checks Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Lorde On 'Sheezus'
The point of this song is exactly the opposite of what these headlines say. First, let's think back to the time when Katy Perry and Lady Gaga's singles came out within a few days of each other. Immediately, there was a glorified rivalry imagined between the two. Fans and news outlets alike reveled in taking sides, forcing both artists had to publicly dismiss the idea in order to calm their fans who blindly bought into it.
This isn't a new phenomenon by any means; how many times have you been asked to pick between Britney and Christina? Mariah and Whitney? Aretha and Patti?
How many times did you ask why you had to choose?
Beyoncé used a TED talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to illustrate her point that competition between women can be a good thing, but ultimately devalues the contribution women make to society. It allows for men to continue to reap patriarchal benefits while women scramble amongst each other to catch up in terms of equal pay and opportunities.
In the music realm, it equates to less women on festival bills, fewer accolades bestowed upon women, and fuel for attention-grabbing, imagined "catfights."
With "Sheezus," Lily Allen acknowledges the existence of these phenomenons with her trademark cynicism and humor. She is not telling Rihanna to watch out, or trying to diminish Lady Gaga's art. Allen simply points out the pillars that prop up the pop structure as it is today, and the challenges she faces as a woman re-entering the ring. Record labels and the media construct these challenges to glamorize invisible competition between female artists. Not to mention, how many articles have you read on male artists and competition among them?
Someday, hopefully a song like "Sheezus" doesn't need to be written. Unfortunately, this isn't one of those days and in fact, Allen's song comes during a time where it's easier than ever to attack a female artist, especially with the notion is actively promoted. Simply read the Twitter replies to someone like Lana Del Rey.
It needs to stop somewhere. Cheers to Lily Allen for making us singalong while she does her part.
Sheezus is out May 6th.