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Music by VICE

Lily Allen Shows Us Her Wits

From record execs telling her not to sing "bitch" to having the word "period" edited out of her songs—Lily tells it like it is.

by Kathy Iandoli
May 19 2014, 3:00pm

Spend an evening at a Lily Allen concert, and you’ll totally respect her as an artist. Spend an evening hanging out with Lily Allen, and you’ll totally respect her as a human being. At the close of 2013, I wrote this for Noisey—ostensibly a piece defending Lily’s brazen outspokenness that had everyone and their mama clutching their pearls like they’d never heard the word tits before. I’m glad I defended her, because outside of making great music [i.e. her comeback project Sheezus], Lily Allen is one down ass chick. She’s funny, she curses, and then she turns around and shows you home videos of her adorable kids eating cake. She’s human. Last week she sold out New York’s Highline Ballroom in preparation for a Sheezus Tour, which will boast trapeze artists and all sorts of other wacky shit (rumor has it Es Devlin, the woman behind Kanye’s Yeezus Tour—read our interview with her here—is helping shape that vision). In the middle of her NY set, she let the crowd pass her copies of her CD and she signed them, along with making sure every fan outside of the venue got the pictures and the autographs they wanted. I talked to her for Noisey, and then spent the evening hanging out with her. I’d tell you all what happened… but then I’d have to kill you.

Noisey: When you first arrived, you and–Rest In Peace–Amy Winehouse kind of kicked off that influx of female artists coming from the UK to the States. Coming back out and seeing the environment now and how many artists from where you're from have now hit the charts in America, how does that make you feel?
Lily Allen:
Well you know what? It's funny that you should say that, because when I flew in, I was at immigration and they went, “Oh, so what do you do?” And I was like, “I'm a singer.” And they're like, “Oh, are you going to be the new Ellie Goulding?” And I was like, “Ugh!”

[Laughs] I was like, “Yeah. Yeah, that's exactly what I'm doing.”

The new Ellie Goulding!
So yeah, that was cool. I feel like it was always going to happen. I mean, Amy was Amy and she was an incredible, amazing talent and is sorely missed. I'm just so devastated that she's not here anymore! But I feel like music goes through sort of phases, doesn't it? I think just before me and Amy and Adele and Ellie and whoever else, there was a whole sort of indie scene and before that it was sort of girl band/boy band like N*Sync, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls sort of thing. I think those sort of movements happen, and this one seemed to have lasted a long time, which is great!

I remember on Twitter a few years ago when you basically passed the torch to Ellie. So fuck immigration! I remember that tweet when you were like, “Yo, she's doing it up! I salute you. Here's the baton!” and I was like, “Yeah!”
She was in my Top 8 on MySpace, yo! And Adele! That's so funny.

So this new album is amazing. The thing I thought was pretty interesting was you made a couple of remarks about Jourdan Dunn and Cara Delevingne and Rita Ora in “Insincerely Yours,” and I know that Rita's not necessarily a model, but what is the model culture right now in the UK?
I mean, that song where I name all of those people, it's kind of like… with all my songs, there's never really some sort of a grand idea. I never really know where I'm going when I start the song, and I think that when I started with that verse, the Cara Delevingne, Rita, Jourdan thing was the first bit of the song I wrote. And I can't remember why exactly, but I think maybe I had a copy of like a magazine and saw it on the front or I read it in the Daily Mail online and just every story was about them and I was just kind of thinking, “God, this is so boring! Why are we reading about the same people? And it's not even a story, it's just pictures!” You know? So, I think that's what it was about. It could have been any three girls that I mentioned. I mean Jourdan Dunn—sorry poor Jourdan. I mean literally the only reason I mentioned her was because she rhymed with “one” and I dragged her into something that I probably shouldn't have and I do apologize.

But I don't know! It's more just about the monotony and just boring tabloid culture and also some elements of social media, which we obsess over. And I admit—I'm doing it too. But it's not necessarily a part of the world that I love. I would like my life to have more meaning than Instagram and Twitter and the stupid fucking things we do on there. Anyway, whatever! You know where I'm coming from. The thing is that I write songs about pop culture, and I feel like I kind of have to name-check people to get the point across, although I guess it comes a bit wishy-washy, you know? I don't know how else to make my point unless I say it. But you know what's interesting? Not one outlet has written an article about me name-checking A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, Paul Wall or anything. They all just mention the girls, which speaks to my point that we're all obsessed with making women hate each other and be bitches. So, there you go.

That was totally going to be my next question! Has anyone asked about name-checking the men?
Not one person has asked me, which is funny isn't it?

Convenient is more like it.
But it's so interesting. “Lily mentioned A$AP Rocky in a song” is not as interesting as “Lily slagged off Cara and Jourdan” on the Daily Mail. I can guarantee there's one thing people are going to click on… and it ain't going to be A$AP Rocky.

This is true. But I still say, “I wish I looked like Cheryl Tweedy. I know I never will. I know I never will!” I do love a good Lily Allen name-check.
Then again, even with her, that song wasn't… I'm just not very good at writing songs. [Laughs.]

Yeah right!
I shouldn't do it. I should give it up.

I think you have the unique privilege of being the first artist to be edited for saying the word “period.”
I don't think I am, actually. I think that Janet Jackson said it.

Did she?
Yeah, she said something like, “Permanently heavy like my period,” or something like that. I can't remember what it is but I don't think anyone said it three times. Yeah, I'm gonna get jumpers [sweaters] that say “Period” and sell them at my shows for massive amounts of money.

I'll buy one of those.
I'll send you one, don't worry. You don't have to buy it.

So with a song like “Sheezus,” there's a sort of religious undertone to it, but it speaks very closely to the kind of cult following that you've established over the years, even in your absence. Do you feel like you have that kind of cult following?
I don't know, you know? I see that other people kind of have this thing where they like, name their fans. They've got sort of like…

Like Little Monsters.
Yeah, or the Katy Cats or whatever they're called. That's fine, all of that stuff, and I think it's really, really sweet that people have that kind of relationship with their fans, but I think because of the nature of my music—it's so obvious who I am—I think my fans would feel a little bit patronized maybe if I started calling them my Lilettes or whatever sounds cool. But you know, I love my fans and I am super honored that people like me and appreciate my music. But yeah, I don't really feel the need to do all of that stuff that other people do. I've never heard any complaints about it, you know? I don't get this angry, “Why don't you do this?” wrath. I think all artists are different in how they handle stuff.

Do you have anything that you want to do before you turn 30? It's the last year of your 20s!
Yes! I want to go back in time and not be 30. I don't know. I think that if I wasn't married and I didn't have children, I'd be really scared. But I'm married, I have two beautiful kids, I have a great career and I'm not even 30 yet. This is more than a lot of my friends can say, and I feel very happy and special and lucky. I'm extraordinarily lucky.

People don't realize how you have this OG status when it comes to your artistry because you started so young. A lot of these artists that just hit America now are really only like a year younger than you. Like Ellie is like 27 or something.
I'm the new Ellie Goulding! Believe it! But I'm older. I'm Ellie OLDing. Yeah, I mean I haven't really thought about it that way, but I guess I did start young! I did.

Wale's on the “Sheezus” remix, right?
Yeah, have you heard that?

No, but I just heard the rumor. Did that come out yet? Am I missing that?
Um, I don't know if it is yet, actually.

That's the other thing that's really cool over these past couple of years— hip-hop's fascination with a having a strong female artist on the track or vice versa, like female artists getting a hip-hop artist on their songs.
Yeah, I mean Dahi worked with Wale so it was kind of like a natural evolution. But actually, oddly enough what's kind of sad about it was I really wanted “Sheezus” to be a single, to be on the radio, and I'm not going to tell you who said it, but someone said, “You know, a song with this kind of lyrical content, the only way we could get it played on the radio is if we have a big name male rapper.” I was like, “Cool. That's great.”

Are you serious?

So they're like, “You can't have your period, and then you have to have a rapper on your song.”
[Laughs.]Yep. “I don't think it will get played unless you have a big name rapper.” I was like, “Cool. That's nice.”

You're like, “Can I keep the ‘period’ then?”
Yeah, exactly! It was funny. There was actually another really funny story about how I had to take some “bitches” out of “Hard Out Here.” There was this email thread between like five men within the record company telling me which “bitches” they thought should stay and which “bitches” they thought should go. They were like, “You can't say, 'I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking,' but you can say, 'When boys be talking about their bitches.'” I was like, “Yeah, that makes sense. That makes total sense.” They're like, “It loses its effect if you use that one,” and I'm like, “Thank you for telling me which bitches inmy song that I wrote will make it lose its effect.”

So you can't call yourself a bitch, but they can refer to a guy's girlfriend as a bitch.

Oh God!
I know! Isn't that amazing?

That's depressing. That scares me.
Welcome to the music industry! They just made my point stronger like, yeah, it is hard out here for a bitch.

Did they allow you to keep the “tits” in?
Um, I can't remember. [Turns to publicist] Luke, does the radio version have “tits” in? No, I don't think it does. I can't remember. Were we allowed “balls”? I think maybe we weren't allowed “balls” but we were allowed “tits.” Yeah. My mind is boggled so I have no idea.

I want to write a dictionary of all the words you weren't allowed to say on your album.
[Laughs] I can write that one for you because I think I have it as a note in my iPhone.

That's actually like the greatest thing.
Oh dear, I think I might write a musical about being in the music industry because some of the stuff you hear is hilarious! I mean, a female radio jock actually told me “Sheezus” wouldn't work on the radio because of the word “period.” I was like, “Why is that such a bad word?” She was like, “No, it just really grosses people out.” And I was like, “Yeah. So gross.”

Kathy’s keeping tightlipped about her time with Allen post-interview. We plan to ply her with tequila and get the real story. In the meantime, follow her on Twitter - @Kath3000.


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