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Who’s Got the Power?

Recently, acclaimed British singer Lily Allen released a new pop song that condemns Americanized pop music.The Brit claims that the music industry over sexualizes and objectifies women as a whole.

The fact that Lily Allen is expressing her views about the music industry so publicly is no surprise to her fans. The singer has never once shied away from discussing weight, politics, and gender in her music. This time, however, she has taken her lighthearted beats and combined them with an mildly playful appropriation of male-dominated hip hop culture. Namely, her single “Hard Out Here (For a Bitch)” is obviously a nod to the Three 6 Mafia Song “Hard Out Here for a Pimp”.

The song itself is a clever and forward critique of a woman’s place in the music industry. Allen chose to emulate her sarcastic sentiments in a “blinged-out” stereotypical music video, fully equipped with kitschy product placement from “Beats” and overtly sexualized acts. Her supposed adversary in the video is her manager. This American male teaches her, throughout the video, how to perform token feminized tasks that have been sexualized by the American and British music industries.

While the song and the video have received widespread approval, it seems that certain groups of feminists condemn Allen for creating a gaggle of backup dancers that are comprised of mostly women of color twerking (with the exception of a few Asian and Caucasian women). Ayesha A. Siddiqi’s article reviewing Allen’s video denounces the singers message and methods almost entirely, claiming that the singer blames her perceived problem on black women. The writer states:

“It is not feminist to mock talented dancers of color for exercising skills Allen doesn’t possess. It is not feminist to claim that women who cook and dance provocatively are as damaging as a manager barking at her to lose weight. It is not feminist to remain blissfully colorblind in a world that functions along race.”

While I largely agree with Siddiqi’s eye for widespread sensitivity towards race, I question her critique of the video. I think that Allen’s choice to surround herself with dancers that are mostly women of color is intentional–but not for the reasons that Siddiqi states.

Allen claims that it is difficult to be a woman in the music industry — this encompasses the women that dance alongside her. She does not condemn the women that surround her; rather, she shows how trendy it has become to have women of color are being used as sexualized objects for men to ogle at. For example, Miley Cyrus notably has been criticized for her use of African-American women as crude props in both her music videos and onstage performances. This trend comes from the widespread popularization of hip hop and twerking. These trends largely derive from African-American communities and have since been appropriated by Caucasian songstresses. Perhaps this is why there are fewer Asian and White women in the video–though there presence is still accounted for.

I’d like to think that the decision to zero in on women of color twerking is more of an attack on the master than than the servant: it focuses on those that appropriate these acts without cultural cause.

Lily Allen is conscious enough to include women of different races and body types in her video. She highlights the struggles of women in several positions. Perhaps this video and this music is not as accusatory towards other women as some have made it out to be. On the other hand, maybe it is. Perhaps the greatest side effect of Siddiqi’s article is that it cultivates major discussions about slut shaming, racial biases, and cultural appropriation that are imperative for the progression of our society.

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