- Words Ryan Cahill
A decade since it's release, we take a look back at Lily Allen's best album, It's Not Me, It's You.
The year is 2009. Ulrika Johnson has won Celebrity Big Brother, Alexandra Burke and Beyonce are bezzie mates and Swine Flu is all anyone can talk about. It’s also the year that Britain’s best popstar Lily Allen releases her second album, It’s Not Me, It’s You. Produced by Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia, Gwen Stefani) and widely considered to be her magnum opus (at least by me), it’s an indiscreet middle finger to the establishment, to men and to all the naysayers that she’s encountered along the way. At the time, it charts number 1 in the UK, is certified 3x platinum (as of February 2019) and earns her a Brit Award for Best British Female Artist – and today it celebrates its 10th birthday. Yes, a whole decade has passed since we all learnt the lyrics to “The Fear” [alhtough my favourite was “Everyone’s At It”] and finally fell under the spell of Britain’s most controversial pop-star. Forget the Grammy nominated Alright, Still, it was It’s Not Me, It’s You that cemented Lily Allen as one of British musics most memorable and prolific pop-stars.
"22" by Lily Allen
Throwback to the time of the album’s release, and Allen is still easy prey for “the papz”. She’s the kind of public figure that white middle-aged men turn their nose up at, while their daughters are exercising exactly the same kind of behaviour, just without the media’s glare to document each and every boozy cab ride. Her wild nights and boorish behaviour mean that, in spite of her impressive musical output, she’s splashed across the front pages for all the “wrong” reasons. It’s all a load of bullshit really! Come on, it’s part and parcel of British culture to get absolutely shit-faced, especially at the age of 22…RIGHT? I mean, my Instagram story highlights are, to my friends, the contemporary equivalent to an unfavourable tabloid front page. Anyway, totally valid party animal antics aside, what people didn’t, and probably still don’t, really realise, is that Allen’s music was way more intellectual than it appears at surface level. It’s subtly politically driven, successfully combines elements of comedy and tragedy and tackles issues that you’d never expect the lairy lass from West London to even consider. And yet, the countless times that I’ve told people that I’m a Lily Allen fan, the reoccurring response is always, “she’s so problematic”. By this point my well-oiled response is to point out that this is the perception painted by the media and the people who want to manipulate her lyrics into something they’re not, all in an attempt to demonise her and make her less likeable. (“Hard Out Here” is a feminist anthem, whether you like it or not, OKAY?!)
"Not Fair" by Lily Allen
As for It’s Not Me, It’s You, where do we start? From track to track, it’s undeniably a masterpiece, laden with topical themes and political undertones. Let’s start by unpacking “Everyone’s At It”. I didn’t personally realise the accuracy of this particular jam until I moved to London. It hits the nail on the head! You can’t walk in a pub in West London without some suited and booted corporate type taking a little too long in the toilet cubicle. It’s well and truly a commentary about the functioning coke addicts that live and work amongst us. While most musicians tend to shy away from saying it how it is, “Everyone’s At It” was pretty on the nose with it’s subject matter. Evidence to Allen’s no-fucks-given behaviour and a true coke fiend anthem.
Then there’s “The Fear”, which Allen said was inspired by a trip that she took a small English countryside town, and saw a girl in high-waisted hot pants and a crop top. “The kind of girl that would try out for Pop Idol and wants to be famous when she grows up”. It was a low-key social commentary about the hysteria surrounding the world of celebrity. It also acted as an opportunity for Allen to call out the tabloids who regularly take aim at her; “I’ll look at The Sun and I’ll look in The Mirror, yeah I’m on the right track, I’m on to a winner”. It became the first single from the album and was met with critical acclaim, eventually fetching a Brit Award nomination for Best British Single. Google tells me that commercially, it’s her most successful single to date, spending 16 weeks in the Top 40 and selling over half a million units.
Not far behind with regards to commercial success was “It’s Not Fair”, the anti-sex jam for selfish lovers, told from the perspective of a dissatisfied girlfriend berating her inadequate lover (let’s face it, we’ve all been there!) With a country kick and a grainy, deep South-style video to match, it was a bit of a curveball for Allen, but it paid-off, becoming her third most successful single to date.
OK, so let’s just take a second to pause and ponder. Over the course of the albums first three tracks, we’ve delved deep into the woes of mass cocaine addiction, theorised over the dangers of fame obsessives and made a moment of lacklustre sex. OK, so I’m currently eye-rolling at the lack of Grammy TBH…
And it doesn’t stop there. The album also includes the truly epic “22” which was about generically pretty girls facing the harsh reality of everyday life, and of course, the ultimate classic, “Fuck You”. With lyrics that appeared in everyone’s MSN name at some point, it was a not-so-friendly lyrical letter to then-American president George W. Bush, with Allen taking aim at his outspoken views. It became somewhat of a queer anthem (seriously!) thanks to it’s gay-supporting lyrics. It’s fair to say, it’s an absolute whirlwind. 43 minutes and 28 seconds of ultra-opinionated excellence. Lily Allen at her very best.
"Everyone's At It" by Lily Allen
Things peaked in the June of 2009 with her faultless Glastonbury performance. Donning a plush purple wig and jumpsuit to match, she belted out the album with a fag in hand and a pint at her feet. For many, it was optimum envy levels; she was literally living the dream. But then that was it. She decided to bow out of the limelight, and music, for an indefinite amount of time. “A career break”, it was called at the time. Her off-beat decision to shy away from the recording booth only made the fans’ dedication to her sophomore release even stronger and It’s Not Me, It’s You was engrained in the pop canon forever.
Fast forward to now and it’s fair to say that plenty has changed. Big Brother is cancelled, Alexandra Burke and Beyonce no longer know one another, Swine Flu is nothing more than a bad memory and the cast of Love Island now claim The Sun’s front-page. But Lily Allen is alright, still – and pretty much better than ever. Her 2018 album No Shame was nominated for a Mercury and her debut book My Thoughts Exactly topped the bestsellers’ list – evidence to the fact that she’s still a much-loved British icon. Long live our Lil!