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