The first time I tried to watch your video for “Hard Out Here,” I had to shut it off once I saw the liposuction tube stuck in your body. It was too real. But when I gave it a second shot, I was ready to raise my fist in solidarity. The men in the room criticizing your post-childbirth body ("How does someone let themself get like this?") make it clear that you were about to lampoon the prevailing sexism in pop culture.
I support this effort. The prevailing sexism in pop culture is a bad problem. But, then, even before you could make it off the operating table, you changed the narrative. “I won’t be braggin’ 'bout my cars," you sang, "or talkin’ 'bout my chains.” That's mixing the message, isn't it? What do those overused signifiers in opulence-rap have to do with body image politics, or for that matter, the kind of pioneering alt-pop you make? I believe that your intentions for this video were good, but once you start washing rims in a kitchen sink and showing mostly black, scantily-clad dancers shaking their butts, the conversation you wanted to start about the female body gets pushed aside for a conversation about race. And just as the final ashes from the Miley Cyrus “We Can’t Stop” video and VMA fracas were beginning to clear, you’ve re-opened a discussion about white women using black dancers as props instead of performers.
The video is primarily appropriating from rap culture, from the big-bootied dancers to the Three 6 Mafia-referencing hook, it would be very odd if the entire thing was white-washed. Your dancers, this context, have now become problematic emblems.
I read your lengthy Twitter missive yesterday. There's no doubt that it came from an honest place. When you said, “If anyone thinks for a second that I requested specific ethnicities for the video, they’re wrong” and “If anyone thinks that after asking the girls to audition, I was going to send any of them away because of the colour their skin, they’re wrong,” I believed you. But you’re missing the point. Because the video is primarily appropriating from rap culture, from the big-bootied dancers to the Three 6 Mafia-referencing hook, it would be very odd if the entire thing was white-washed. Your dancers, this context, have now become problematic emblems. Cultural critic Ayesha A. Siddiqi wrote about their inclusion at Noisey, “[i]nstead of using black women as props to further her career, Allen blames them for its stagnation. In full-sleeved dresses Allen mocks her inability to twerk amidst women of color in body suits who launch into exaggerated dance moves, licking their hands and then rubbing their crotch. Her older white male manager tries to get to her to mimic them. Meanwhile she sings, ‘Don’t need to shake my ass for you ‘cuz I’ve got a brain.’ Cut to black women shaking their ass, so much for sisterly solidarity.”
Considering the amount of press attention you've for the clip, as well as the YouTube views (3.5 million at press time), you're getting to have your cake and eat it, too. But race has nothing to do with it. (Unless you're saying it does? I don't think you mean to be saying that.) I suppose the confusion arises in some part due to the way that pop music has become so dominated by the imagery and tone of hip-hop. But even taking that into consideration, there’s still the matter of the unsuccessful execution of your satire. Your brief riffing on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is one of the highlights of the video. (I liked that part!) But you could have taken it one step further and inverted his concept entirely. In your Twitter dispatch, you said, “I do strive to provoke thought and conversation. The video is meant to be a lighthearted satirical video that deals with objectification of women within modern pop culture.” If you want to point out the fierce claws of exploitation that women are subjected to in the music industry, take the people who are exempt and put them on display. When jiggling lady-butts are the status quo, subversion only happens when you do it more literally. Maybe cast a bunch of buff dudes, mostly nude, Magic Mike-alikes, and have them twerking in front of your “Lily Allen Has A Baggy Pussy” balloons? Or focussed more on more on the operating room set-piece, showing the cruelty of the gnarly medical procedures women endure to adhere to societal standards of beauty while you’re singing, “Always trust injustice, 'cuz it’s not going away.”
Because, yeah, it's less likely to as long as you implement its tools our benefit. You may be appalled by jiggling asses, but those jiggling asses have made your video a hit. What lesson will future video directors take?