ShortList’s new editor, Lily Allen, lights up a fag in the back of her car and asks for the first question. She’s spent the day being made up and dressed down for the ShortList cover shoot, has finished a staff meeting laying out her vision for this mag, and is now ready for yet another instalment of What She Thinks About Things. It’s only a couple of months into her comeback, but she’s right back in the groove.
It’s been three years since Lily “retired” from music to have babies. You may recall that before then, she had been in danger of getting burnt out. Her partying and outspokenness – the very things that made her such an appealing star – had become part of the tabloid meat-grinder that sucked the fun out of things for all concerned. Now, she is returning a changed woman. Parenthood does that of course, but there’s a new professionalism, too. She is less interested in slagging off other stars, and more into contemplating the music business and how she fits into its world of big-time divas.
She has to consider it, as being a woman in the public eye today makes you an automatic spokesperson for your gender. It’s an unreasonable demand that we at ShortList have made worse by trying to make her into a spokesperson for our gender, too. The theme of Lily’s ShortList is ‘How To Be A Man, By Women’, which is done in the spirit of improving gender relations. However, she is quick to say, “I’m not an archetypal woman. All my best friends are boys.”
You can see why that is – her p*sstakey, tomboyish quality is still much in evidence. She’s funny, unflinchingly honest and knows exactly what she is – and isn’t – all about. As far as the pop scene is concerned, she remains a cactus in the desert. Meet the new boss…
How have things changed since you’ve been away?
Things have got more desperate, on the business side of things. People aren’t buying music any more. It’s difficult to sell people anything, they want it for free. On the famous- person tip, things are maybe easier. Maybe it’s something to do with the phone tapping thing, but it feels different. It doesn’t feel like they’re so physically there.
You mean the paparazzi?
Yeah, people would be following me around before, and it seems like there are now rules being adhered to. When I started it was the days of Amy Winehouse. Everyone knows what that looked like, it was 25 guys with massive cameras following her and me around. It was quite overwhelming.
Your single, Hard Out Here, seemed like a big statement about women in the music industry to come back with…
It just seemed like a good one to start with. I wasn’t trying to write a think-piece, it just evolved. It wasn’t a big attempt to tackle anything.
It appeared to be about the judgement of women, though. Do you think things are changing in that respect?
It’s much the same. But I don’t think men are the enemy, I think women are the enemy. I know that when I’m sitting in a restaurant and a really beautiful woman walks in, who’s skinny, I instinctively think, “Oh she’s really skinny and beautiful and I’m really fat and ugly.” Every man I speak to always says they find that kind of woman gross, and they prefer a bit more meat on their ladies. So it’s more of a competitive thing. It’s weird. It’s just really unhealthy and we’re our own worst enemy. We should stop being so horrible to each other.
Let’s talk about your new tracks. There are a couple about long-term relationships, which is quite unheard of in pop…
I just try to be as real and honest as I can. That maybe sets me aside from most female artists of my age, or even male artists. It’s just about being frank. Your Rita Oras and Leona Lewises aren’t married and don’t have kids, so they can’t write about those things because they’re not in that position. But I am and there are people in my fanbase who are as well. I could do songs where I go, “You drive me crazy/Can I be your lady maybe” or I can write about something else.
In the song L8 CMMR, you invent the best compliment a man could get about his sexual performance: “Maradona under the covers”…
“My lover shoots and scores like he’s Maradona, under cover/Under the covers my man is a bad motherf*cker.”
Was your husband pleased with that?
No, he was completely embarrassed [laughs]. With me, I try to find a balance between gritty reality and being open, but also funny and thought-provoking. No one speaks about this stuff ever and that’s what I do.
The title track Sheezus mentions Katy Perry and Rita Ora and addresses women on the music scene again...
It just dribbled out! It’s not supposed to be provocative and it’s not attacking anyone, although it does namecheck a few people. It’s about how girls are pitted against each other, unlike men. I know you had it in the Nineties with Blur versus Oasis, but it’s not the same thing. It’s like ‘Who looks the best?’, ‘You’re getting too old to do this, you shouldn’t be doing that’. There seems to be a moral undertone when women are concerned that doesn’t happen with men, and that’s what that song is about. Stop this now [laughs]. Feminism. I hate that word because it shouldn’t even be a thing any more. We’re all equal, everyone is equal so why is there even a conversation about feminism? What’s the man version of feminism? There isn’t even a word for it. There’s no reason for it. Menanism. Male-ism. It doesn’t exist.
Fast-forward 100 years: “Yes, I do believe men should be treated equally.”
How did you want to develop musically? Air Balloon is quite a light, poppy song for you.
You know what it was? With Hard Out Here, it has the word bitch in it 72 times, so I knew it wouldn’t be a radio song. And with the opportunity to do the John Lewis [Christmas ad] thing, the reason I took that on was that I knew it’s a nice juxtaposition with Hard Out Here. That sweet grandma-loving song versus this other tough thing. With Air Balloon, it’s a great pop song, but it’s not definitively me. But as I hope it starts going up the playlists on the radio, something else will come along that will do the same job as Hard Out Here did with the John Lewis song. It’s like Beyoncé on a budget [laughs]. Releasing two things fighting each other. But it’s what you have to do these days to succeed. You have to do the saccharine pop stuff that the radio controllers are going to play on their shows, and luckily you have the internet for the other stuff. It’s essentially what a B-side was to an A-side back in the Seventies.
You’ve always been at the forefront of social media…
Well, that’s not true. I was at the forefront, but look at the statistics now. Rita Ora and Harry Styles are way ahead of me.
But you were the first one to really embrace the accessibility and interaction with fans. Is it more of a burden now?
It’s a burden in the sense that there are people that take what I’ve brought as a marketing tool for them. And I don’t think you should use Twitter to sell records. MySpace was great because it had a music player on it, and I was able to change things around the whole time and show people how the album developed. Twitter is saved on my phone – along with Instagram – under ‘waste of time’. I only use it if I’m sat in the car for half an hour just to nose around. But it’s kind of stupid, isn’t it? And fun at the same time. Like crack.
Does your husband get angry at the people you’re having spats with, such as Katie Hopkins or Azealia Banks?
My husband doesn’t do social networking. Of course he gets p*ssed off, but he knows I can handle it, so it’s not something we bring to the dinner table.
Are you good at separating the two lives?
Pretty good. My drive last time I released an album was very different. I wasn’t in a relationship, I didn’t have any responsibilities in terms of children, I was reasonably young, I didn’t have a mortgage. I mainly wanted to go to festivals and see who would be interested in sleeping with me, and how drunk I could get. That was my drive. It’s very different now. I get home now and I’m very thankful if I’ve got an hour and a half with the kids before they go to bed. And no one wants to hear me come in and go, “God, I hate Katie Hopkins.”
Do you worry about losing your edge?
No. A lot of my haters, or whatever you want to call them, say I’m only where I am because of my dad. Which is completely untrue. If anything I’m where I am today because of how hard my mum worked. I am a middle-class kid who grew up in west London. My mum, however, was a working-class girl from Portsmouth who built a life for herself. My dad left her when I was three or four… but what my dad did teach me was to never take things at face value, and not believe the hype, and question everything and everyone. It can be quite tiresome, and untrusting, and I am a bit of a conspiracy theorist. But I’m still curious and want to dig deeper into things and I have a lot of questions to be answered. I don’t really care about bitching about Katy Perry. To me, that was never my edge. That was just sensationalist sh*t. I was young and I didn’t know how the media worked. I haven’t lost my edge. I just know what is f*cking tabloid stupid sensationalist bullsh*t and what isn’t.
You have also said that you’re sick of the party scene…
No, not at all. I’m not sick of it. I know what it’s like to be young and have parents who are part of the party scene. So I’m dedicated to my children, but I’m still looking forward to Glastonbury. It’s just now I don’t go out four nights a week, it’s once a month.
Will this be your first time back at Glastonbury?
No, I was there during my pregnancies. I don’t think I’ve missed a year, but I just didn’t get drunk. So watch out, Glazzers.
What do you want to achieve this year.
I don’t have any goals. Put out my album, knock up a few sales, sell tickets to my tour and stay strong. Survive.
The single Air Balloon is out now, and Lily’s album Sheezus will be released later this year
(Photography: Jay Brooks)