MySpace celebrity

Lily Allen’s Web-tastic career
By NICK SYLVESTER  |  July 31, 2006

TALKING THE TALK: Lily’s blunt jabs at old beaux don’t justify the mean spirit.
Pop charts lie, except when our friends get on them. For months, fans of 21-year-old Brit Lily Allen’s breezy ska pop have waited for their demo-leaking, born-of-MySpace sorta-star to blow up and out — for the populace at large to notarize her popness, for the grassroots buzz to materialize into something more than a blog post. It finally happened earlier this month. “Smile,” Allen’s upbeat reggae-tinged single and all-around exercise in “boy-dumps-girl-but-wants-her-back” schadenfreude, shot from #13 on the UK charts straight to #1 and stayed there. It was only the second single this year to hit #1 with no time in the Top 10, and it was also one of the last songs ever to be performed on the Top of the Pops TV show, which UK programmers cancelled over poor ratings. That night, Allen performed something of a mic-hugging, shit-in-pants rendition of “Smile” — not excruciating, but not as confident as the song itself. When she got to the song’s braggy chorus — “When I see you cry, it makes me smile” — she demurred and could barely crack a smirk. No matter. Her debut, Alright, Still (EMI), hit the UK July 17, and if Capitol execs realize that imports are worthless placeholders when there’s digital distribution (legal and ill), they’ll release Allen’s album stateside with minimal lag.

So Allen’s got her charm. She’s young and no frills, ostensibly shy on camera, ostensibly in love with making music and sharing it and even curating it in the form of two eclectic download-only mixtapes that play at once like her favorite tracks and like cheatsheets to her influences: the Specials, Lee Dorsey, Vanessa Paradis, 50 Cent. She might even credit her sing-song lullaby delivery to 50, whose “Window Shopper” she turns into a diss track on her own grandmother.

We’re told she doesn’t take herself too seriously, something that perhaps runs in the blood (her father is British comedian Keith Allen), and that puts her closer to the playful bitchiness of Norway’s Annie than to the Angry Woman Rock bitchcore of Meredith Brooks’s “Bitch.” Even the album title comes from an awkward pick-up line featured in the prettied-up dancehall track “Knock ’Em Out.” “You look alright, still,” says the suitor. “What’s your name?” Meanwhile, she tries “desperately to think of the politest way to say just get out of my face just leave me alone.” One option: “I’ve got syphilis.”

Maybe not, but she’s no prude. Actually, Allen can be pretty vicious. The inoffensive nanny-nanny-poo-poo melody on “Not Big” delivers a Missy Elliott–sized groin kick when you unpack the words — “I’m gonna tell the world you’re rubbish in bed now/And that you’re small in the game.” And her verses come smart but smarting: “I can see it in your face as you break it to me gently/oh you really must think you’re great.” These aren’t vulgar lyrics, but she’s mean-spirited, often needlessly. And you have to wonder why. “In the year and a half that we spent together yeah/I never really had much fun,” she sings in the same sissyfight. So why did she stick with him for so long?

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