[5 April 2007]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
Everyone wants a piece of Lily Allen. Fans, show promoters, journalists.
“People try to read too much into (my songs)—all the journalists really,” says Allen by phone, relaxing on her tour bus as it travels down an east Texas highway recently.
“There are so many of them having to talk to me every day, and all of them want to write something different than the last person.”
|More Brit pop divas Lily Allen may be music’s current It Girl, but she’s not the only young British songbird attracting attention. Here’s a primer on a few others: Amy Winehouse Who: Pop-soul singer with an ear for the classic—but very grown-up—sound of `60s girl groups. Think Ronettes—if fronted by Billie Holiday. Why you may know her: Her tune, “Rehab”—said to be cribbed from Winehouse’s own experiences with substance abuse—was featured on a recent episode of “Men in Trees.” Also: “Back to Black,” released March 13, entered the Billboard album charts at No. 7, making Winehouse the highest-debuting British female artist in U.S. album history—well, at least for a few days. (See Joss Stone below.) The buzz: The 23-year-old Winehouse is earning critical raves for her sophomore CD “Back to Black,” with its sophisticated vocals and brutally honest lyrics about sex, drugs and booze. Joss Stone Who: Bluesy 19-year-old singer-songwriter with a flair for roots-pop. Think Janis Joplin with a twist of Donna Summer. Why you may know her: Stone grabbed a Grammy earlier this year for her collaboration on “Family Affair” with John Legend and Van Hunt. Also: The singer appeared in a 2005 ad campaign for the Gap. The buzz: Stone just beat out Winehouse, big time, when her third album, “Introducing Joss Stone” (released on March 20), entered the U.S. album charts at No. 2. Corinne Bailey Rae Who: Soulful 28-year-old vocalist with a sound that leans toward jazz and folk. Think Norah Jones with a touch of Joni Mitchell. Why you may know her: Rae’s music has been featured on such hit TV shows as “Medium” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Also: Starbucks helped push the singer into the mainstream by selling her self-titled debut CD in its stores upon its February 2006 release. The buzz: The CD, which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard album chart, earned the singer three 2007 Grammy nominations, including one for best new artist.|
But, can you blame them? The 21-year-old singer is music’s latest It Girl, heralded as much for her sassy viewpoint as for her disarmingly cheerful Brithop beats.
The London native’s debut CD Alright, Still landed at No. 20 on the Billboard album charts in January, but the buzz started growing months before that.
Flash back to November 2005, when Allen, bored and “messing around on the Internet,” decided to set up a MySpace account.
“I’d signed a record deal in September (2005) and was suffering from a bit of writer’s block,” Allen recalls. “So I signed on and it just seemed like an all right place to be.”
By “all right,” Allen means she found a place to upload and test out new songs and post thoughts in a blog.
And the fans found her.
In the year and a half since, she’s nabbed nearly a quarter-million “friends” (who, in turn, have downloaded her tunes from the site more than 5 million times), leading the media to dub Allen the “Queen of MySpace.”
The singer, who still signs into her account twice daily to read comments and post the occasional blog entry, says she’s OK with that.
“Everyone’s got to be known for something,” she says. “When people think of Britney Spears, they think of her going out to clubs without her knickers, so it’s fine for people to think of me as `That girl from MySpace.’”
And, why not? Because, while they may log on out of curiosity, it’s ultimately Allen’s music that keep fans coming back.
“Alright, Still,” which reached No. 2 on the British charts last summer, is a frothy pop record with touches of reggae and garage (the latter a dance-worthy British mutation of hip-hop), plus cheeky lyrics that give the songs considerable bite and depth.
“I can see it in your face as you break it to me gently ...Let’s see how you feel in a couple of weeks when I work my way through your mates.”
Pretty heavy sentiments enveloped by light pop sounds.
“I’m not a very happy-go-lucky person, so `hiding’ my real self behind an upbeat melody lets me get through to people,” Allen explains.
And if people care to listen carefully, they’ll get a glimpse into her life, she adds.
“Most of the (lyrics) are lifted completely from my life—it’s very much like a diary,” she says.
Fans of the tabloids take note, however: Alright, Still‘s journal-like tone stops short of covering Allen’s much-publicized stint in rehab for depression.
“It’s not that I don’t want to talk about that,” Allen says, “but the topic just seems too vague for my songs.”
Indeed, on an album that covers everything from a London street mugging to creepy guys and her thrifty grandmother, Allen says she only regrets one song.
“I wish I hadn’t written `Alfie,’” Allen says of the song that details her younger brother’s drug habit with lyrics such as “I tell him he should get up cos it’s nearly half past 3/He can’t be bothered cos he’s high on THC.”
“My brother got really (mad) and it just caused a lot of awfulness between us,” Allen says. “We’re past it now, but I’ll definitely think twice about writing about family members again.”
In her defense, Allen says she never dreamed that “Alright, Still” would be such a hit.
“When I wrote the majority of the songs, I didn’t know how this would turn out and that people all over the world would hear (the album),” she says. “I thought no one would find me or give me a record deal—I was just writing for the sake of writing.”
But now that she’s such a hot property, will success affect her songwriting?
Maybe, maybe not. But Allen’s not particularly worried.
“I guess if I were a really negative person I’d be worrying about that,” she says. “I’ll just cross that bridge when I come to it.”
It’d be more shocking, actually, if Allen let anyone silence her tongue. This is, after all, an upstart not afraid to publicly diss everyone from Madonna (“She might have meant something once, but I don’t know many people my age who care”) to the Pussycat Dolls (“They look like lap dancers—it’s a really bad message to be sending young women.”)
Still, Allen says, she is a nice girl. Really.
“They think I’m always fighting,” Allen says. “I guess publicly I am.”
You can thank the entertainment industry and the media for that, she says. Which brings us right back to where we started.
Her mother, Allen notes, is a film producer in Britain who had to be tough to get ahead.
“She came up in a mostly male-dominated world,” Allen says.
“But, I think, maybe, I’ve made it past that point now—I don’t have to fight anymore,” Allen says. “I can relax.”