What do I find so appealing about Lily Allen’s The Fear?
Is it the irony and the self-criticality of a pop song that waxes lyrical about massive consumption, celebrity culture and fad dieting?
Does its appeal come from an exposition of those very deep mechanics that formulate and shape us, culturally – the programming, nestled underneath image and behaviour, that affects and effects us all?
Does it provide a mass cultural commentary on the amorality of capitalism, the unreal hyperreality of the (super)market that seeps into and consumes, necessarily, the world about us, the dogma and demagoguery of the sun and the mirror, all wrapped up in pop lyrics and delivered by a representative of the current pantheon of new deities (dieties?) after whom the yoof model themselves?
Is it just a catchy pop song?
Is that it?
I don’t suppose I’ll find an answer to questions that shouldn’t really be asked here – why do any of us really like anything anyway, and so on. Having said that, I would like to point out a few things that I find appealing, interesting and strange about Miss Allen’s recent contribution to our very own massive consumer culture.
Its market: I assume that the song is targeted primarily at 14-25s, with internet access and/or enough disposable income to consume music. So female, most likely, and then adhering to any of the following – fans of Lily Allen’s previous work, fans of Lily Allen as a celebrity, fans of pop music, fans of celebrity culture, fans of fashion, etc.
If my experience is anything to go by, this target group is known for a particular kind of conspicuous consumption; spending and consumption of goods and services that prioritise appearance, and an obsession with fashion, the activities and personal lives of celebrities, etc. But then to some extent, doesn’t the song shoot itself in the foot? After all, Lily Allen herself is no stranger to the tabloids. Therefore her song ridicules her market! Is the song a kind of intervention then – deep into the territory of the enemy, delivering a cultural wake-up call to those crazed with celebrity fetishism and mass consumption?
Secondly, its timing: we are in the middle of the worst financial crisis experienced by anyone in the history of the universe, or whatever dire forecast is pronounced in the financial news. A song about bad spending, credit card lunacy, and consumption with impunity, seems, at best, well timed.
Here the road splits – take the cynical route, and we have a song targeting a country that faces certain, irreparable financial damage. All in all a clever pitch that feeds off a very real vein of fear/anger (see Lianne’s article on the G20 protests). This is cynicism a la the: “Oooh, she’s a good saleswoman, alright. She knows how to play the crowd! They’ll lap up talk about money as a bad thing, that’s just what they want to hear.” The other route grants Lily Allen a smidgen of credit. Then, the song becomes a genuine expression of frustration with free market capitalism and the superficies of its cultural milieu. How silly we are to worry about our weight and obsess over stars, how soulless we feel, how much like consuming robots we are, how wrong our priorities are – life is all about fast cars and less about mothers.
I’d personally navigate somewhere in-between, despite Lily Allen’s protests that she writes everything herself. Or perhaps I’d sit on both sides of the fence; at the end of the day, we can never determine intention, not really, and so we must sprinkle liberally our sceptical salt if we choose to have our cake and eat it.
Thirdly, its message: a clear attack on Heat readers (as tongue-in-cheek as they might claim to be), tabloid believers, the shoppers who mauled each other during the January sales, weight-obsessed girls whose sense of morality has been burnt out through crash dieting and fixation with much-maligned skinny models, and suchlike. More broadly it is an attack on the unthinking, automatic consumption of product, cultural or otherwise, and on the inculcation of this behaviour by society – their ‘programming’.
It exposes the moral and, even, the psychological effects of individualism, neoliberal market capitalism, hyperreality (from Baudrillard’s understanding of postmodernity), the postmodern union of art and commerce. Perhaps that is a stretch, an over-analysis, and perhaps I’ve read too much into a Lily Allen song – which is perfectly possible. Still, wankiness aside, the core message appeals.
But what I find most intriguing about Lily Allen’s The Fear is that it poses questions about our culture that are highly pertinent for anyone who has to live in it: all of us.
I’m going to stick out a neck into the place where pretension rapidly becomes laughable and suggest, perhaps, that it has some of the qualities of a Beckett play. My main point of reference here is Waiting for Godot, which, as I recall, exposed the alienation inherent in modern 1950s society. In a kind of sad parallel, The Fear uses our culture’s most consumed product after cheap clothes made by Far Eastern children – popular music – to turn a kind of self-aware eye on consumerism.
With the co-option of alienation as a marketable quality, way back when rock died, man, we should all be highly dubious of any real attempt to stick it to the man, man. But in a double move, Lily Allen sells us our own alienation, our own slavery to the machinery of consumption, while simultaneously, knowingly, critiquing it. In a sense, the dual prongs work as Waiting does – to affect a sense of self-awareness at the same time, in this case, as taking our money.
Do I think Lily Allen is the next Samuel Beckett, a representative of a new artistic vanguard that threatens the established cultural order with real, culture shattering change? Of course not. Am I influenced by the fact that I listened to this song on Youtube, for free, with Lily Allen’s blessing? (her record company, Parlophone, released the video for the song on Youtube themselves, months before the release date). Probably. Am I intrigued by the apparent contradictions presented to me something that is, for all intents and purposes, a banal, unimportant pop-song about being rich, middle-class and white? Definitely.
At the end of the day, she’s had a go at the celebrity fetishism, the vapidity of fashion, the amorality of mass consumption in a reasonably witty song that’s probably going to be turned into a dance remix before too long. Big deal. But the fact that a kind of anti-capitalist sentiment has seeped into the saccharine end of pop culture, typically focused on love, sex and romance, has to be a step in the right direction.