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Feminspire | April 23, 2014

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Dear Lily Allen: You Can’t Fight Twerking With Twerking

Dear Lily Allen: You Can’t Fight Twerking With Twerking

| On 14, Nov 2013

I remember being a senior in high school like it was yesterday, loving Lily Allen’s LDN video because she strutted down the street in a long red dress and sneakers. Apparently it was seven years ago, and Allen has been on hiatus from her music career since 2009 until the release of her comeback song Hard Out Here.

I was intrigued by descriptions of the song as a challenge to the objectification of women in recent music videos, including Robin Thicke’s and Miley Cyrus’ summer hits. When I started listening, it took me a second to recover from hearing the term “glass ceiling” in a pop song. But by the time the chorus ended, I was disappointed at Allen’s choice to incorporate scenes of black women twerkng around her in the video.

The video has already been called out for perpetuating the objectification of black women in the music industry. Fans of the song have defended it against these charges by commenting that the video is meant to be a parody. Too often, I see the word parody brandished as a shield against criticism. A parody is simply an ironic imitation. The act of parodying does not inherently challenge the source material, it merely makes it humorous. For a parody to also be a thoughtful critique, it must somehow make us realize that the source material it is imitating is problematic. I do not think the twerking scenes in the video made viewers realize that there is a problem with this sort of scene. In fact, the video’s director reveals in an interview that there is no real ideology behind these scenes.

When I think about a recent parody that challenges the source material, I think of Mod Carousel’s parody of Blurred Lines. The video not only reverses the genders of the performers, but shows the men performing a gender identity that we are not used to seeing in mainstream music videos. The group writes in the description that the main purpose of creating the video was to present a broader spectrum of sexuality, and I believe this challenges the average viewer’s worldview. A viewer who felt perfectly at ease watching Thicke’s original video, but who may feel uncomfortable with this video, is tasked with wondering why, and perhaps reevaluating why we pigeonhole men and women into distinct roles in the media we consume.

Watching the twerking scenes in Allen’s video, viewers will realize that Allen is imitating other pop stars who the public may deem as acting overly sexual. However, simply mocking this behavior does not make viewers question why similar scenes are problematic. As Syreeta at Feministing wrote in the aftermath of Cyrus’ VMA performance, black women twerking around a white celebrity is a caricature that contributes to the treatment of black women as sexual objects rather than complex human beings.

Allen defends the casting choices by saying that she chose the best dancers, and that if she could twerk as well as the performers in the video, she would have done it herself. This misses the point entirely. We are not questioning whether she found the best dancers for the scene. We are questioning why the scene had to play out this way in the first place. If the video was meant to challenge certain aspects of pop culture – and Allen’s response indicates that it was – then the scene should have reimagined the typical twerking sequence, not reproduced it wholesale. For example, Nolan Feeney and Ashley Fetters at The Atlantic suggest letting the dancers fall out of character to indicate that, like Allen, they are putting on the narrow character that the music industry lets them inhabit.

In an ideal world with no racism or sexism, we may all be able to enjoy any dance style with no repercussion. But as Trudy from Gradient Lair points out, we live in a world that does not allow black women to twerk on their own terms, for their own profit. While Allen may like for her video to have nothing to do with race, as she said in her response, we cannot simply ignore the racial stereotypes her video perpetuates because black women do not have the luxury of shedding their race when they face the world and all its judgment.

What do you think of Allen’s video? Let us know in the comments!

Written by Sully Moreno

  • Opinimize

    Lily Allen would never do something that you call RACIST!
    Most people agree on this…

  • Lauren Slavin

    I love this. I think the only part of the video that worked as a parody was the old white agent showing the black women and Allen that he wanted them to twerk in the video. It looked like him saying, “This is what’s making money! I don’t care what it means or how disrespectful it is, it’s making me rich!”

    If the black women had started beating him up and then danced they way they wanted to wearing what they wanted to, it would have made more of a social statement then Lily Allen standing there while black women danced around her.

    • Sully

      Yes, that would have been so much better!

  • Kat

    I agree with this article but Lily did indeed do somethings right. Love the song, not the video.

    • Sully

      Yeah, I did think the song was good, which is what makes me even sadder that the video would have such a problematic scene.

  • Karyna Romo Galindo

    The lyrics are brilliant. Yet, I feel like the video misses the opportunity entirely to show what she is saying in her song. Using twerking as a parody is already so overplayed, that it isn’t even ironic/funny anymore (not that I ever found it amusing to begin with). Sad really, lyrically the song is pretty amazing but Lilly could of created a powerful video that sends out the same messages her lyrics do. Smh.

    • Aly

      The lyrics aren’t brilliant. Lily sings “I don’t need to shake my ass for you cause I’ve got a brain”. She’s implying that women who do “shake their ass” don’t have a brain, and who are the women dancing in the video? Black women. She repeatedly calles women bitches, which is working with feminism how? The song had so much potential to be an anthem for feminists, but by objectifying black women and their culture, she’s accomplishing the opposite.

  • Inlustris

    This is so frustrating! I love this song. Its wonderful. But Lily Allen? Why the Twerking, I agree some of the comments down below. That if the woman had rejected these roles that they were given and beat up the white male producer, it would have been great. But they didn’t.

    One of my favorite singers who writes feminist songs is Marina and the Diamonds. Her first album is a bit sexist, but her second one it’s like she realizes what she did and its brilliant. Everyone should listen to it. =]

  • Stacey Melia

    Whether you agree with the video or not, I don’t think there is any reason to bring the race of the women in the video into it. There are 4 black women, and 3 white women in the video – why is it only perpetuating the objectification of black women?

    • Sully

      It’s true that all women are affected by objectification, and we should fight the objectification of all women. But when it comes to twerking there is a racial component attached to it (and while the white women were also sexualized, the focus was not on their twerking). It would have been great if all the characters in the video, black and white, had broken out of the mold at some point.

    • Aly

      Most of the dancers in the video are black, and being hyper-sexualized. Feminism is all about intersectionality, and you have to realize that black women have been treated as sexual objects and demeaned not only because they’re women, but because they’re black, since the beginning of time. Again and again, black women are put into videos and given the instructions to perform a particularly sexual dance. And with twerking, people have been exploiting the culture of black women over and over again, so now it’s about this dance that’s been in the culture, and now they’re making fun of it.

  • Osmahane

    If she wanted to make a parody she should have asked some men to twerk instead!

  • Not Sure

    I think that this video did exactly what it was inteded to, albiet with shock rather than a more subtle approach. Lily Allen was never one for subtlety–have you ever listened to the song, Fuck You?