“Retirement” is one of the least believable words in the entertainment industry, in which 20 minutes can seem like an eternity and five years is almost forever. Granted, UK pop star Lily Allen did take a lengthy hiatus from music, escaping to England’s sleepy Cotswolds region to start a family, but now she’s back.
Last night, Allen arrived onstage at New York’s Highline Ballroom, where she performed the title track to her polarizing new album, Sheezus, in front of a great big banner adorned with a giant baby bottle. It was a transparent move on her part, but is that surprising? Since her 2006 breakout single, “Smile”, Allen has always specialized in serving up personal ideas in a veneer of almost bubble gum sounds. This hasn’t changed. Both “Sheezus” and “Hard Out Here” bring to the front an inherent sexism within the music industry, while “URL Badman” skewers the bottom-feeders of the internet world.
Recent additions to her personal life, including husband Sam Cooper, are fair game for lyrical topics in her eyes. For example, “L8 CMMR” leaves little to the imagination about his sexual skills. The track joins the ranks of “Not Fair”, off 2009’s It’s Not Me, It’s You, in discussing her past affairs and pairs up with another new offering, “As Long I Got You”, which suggests the joys of marriage have replaced some of the chemically-induced happiness of yesteryears.
New album aside, one important question remained unanswered prior to her New York appearance: How is she live after so many years? Spoiler alert: She doesn’t seem to have missed a beat. Following “Sheezus”, the venue’s energy never waned, as diehard fans sang along to every word, even getting a chance to sing alongside Allen as she turned the microphone to her pals throughout the evening. Back-up dancers flavored songs like “Hard Out Here”, while an early appearance of “Smile” proved Allen has the chutzpah to keep the party going further.
Really, Allen didn’t have to rely on any flashy staging or choreography to win the crowd over. Or any crowd, really. She works off this easy, cheesy, quirky style that no carefully crafted PR machine could manufacture. She appeared comfortable, and fans fed off that, well, accessibility for lack of a better word. She held hands with them and signed copies of her new CD as they were shuffled towards the stage. (Though she did hunt for a Sharpie, which she called a “great advertisement” for them). Basically, what doesn’t work on record turns alive on stage.
Half a decade later, she also hasn’t lost touch with technology. Towards the end, she took a photo and posted an Instagram selfie with the audience as her background. That image and Allen herself are refreshingly #NOFILTER.
Hard Out Here
Everyone’s At It
As Long as I Got You
Who’d Have Known
I Could Say
Close Your Eyes
The Life for Me
The Fear Not Fair