A chat with Lily Allen makes us ''Smile''
U.K. pop star Allen, now making more and more stateside fans ''Smile,'' tells us how it feels starting over in America, why she still worries she's ''naff,'' and wondering if 50 Cent would like her song
The vengeful Lily. The mouthy Lily. The sweet Lily. Which persona, reflected in the British pop star’s various singles and videos, represents the real Lily Allen?
Though she isn’t one to blush, or even get easily embarrassed, this is a line of questioning that suddenly makes the 21-year-old London native self-conscious. ”I feel like I’m starting to talk about myself in the third person now,” she explains, looking uncharacteristically bashful. Then she adds: ”Which I LOVE.”
Those contradictions are part of why we love her: On her widely hailed debut album, Alright, Still, she’s not afraid to be both cocky (in the post-breakup putdown song, ”Smile”) and vulnerable (in ”Littlest Things,” where we learn that romantic calamities don’t always leave her smiling). In person, we also found both sides: She’s not so self-assured that she doesn’t call herself ”naff” — British slang for uncool or lame — even as she’s sharing candid assessments of fellow British hitmakers like Natasha Bedingfield, the Streets, and Amy Winehouse.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: At the end of your second number on Saturday Night Live, you had a big grin on your face. I’d heard you’d been sick right before that. So were you grinning out of relief you’d made it through the show intact?
LILY ALLEN: No. That was because after the first number, management and everyone came up and went, ”F—ing smile!” Yeah, I’d been vomiting the day before, and had fevers. But I think it went all right. It’s really stressful, doing that show. Everyone that works on it is pretty intense. You’d think it was something really, really, really important. I guess it is.
What’s it like being a big star overseas and then coming here as a relative unknown?
It’s funny, because you kind of forget that you’re not on the same level here that you are in other places. I did this thing called the Big Day Out in Australia, and Muse were on the top of the bill there, and My Chemical Romance were on at like four in the afternoon, yet Muse are gonna support My Chemical Romance on tour here in America. You can see everyone’s egos being a little bit confused in different parts of the world. It’s amusing. I don’t really know [how popular] I am here, yet. We’ll see. It doesn’t really matter — it’s all fantastic.
At one point on your MySpace page, you apologized for the logjam as far as approving friends. But I assume you now must have somebody running your MySpace board instead of approving all the messages yourself.
Actually, someone set up a robot that now approves things, because there’s so many friend requests, and it would take up all my MySpace time to do that myself. But no one writes my blog or does any of the other stuff — that’s me. There’s like a constant backload of 20,000 people to get through. It takes up 2,000 pages or something. It’s too much. But then MySpace does a sweep for the robots sometimes, so they’ll cancel your robot that approves friends, so then you have to do it manually again and secretly start up another robot. [Laughs] I wonder if that’s illegal — illegal in the MySpace world.
What do you think MySpace represents in the music world now?
Everything. I mean, Capitol Records [merging with Virgin] seems to prove that the Internet has just taken over, and that’s something [the record labels] have to get a grasp on, quick. Otherwise there’s not gonna be any bands left, you know, because people aren’t gonna be in bands full time if they’re not gonna make any money. But I think it’s a great thing, MySpace, and never mind that it benefits bands — we know that already. It opens up a lot of doors for people that want to listen to music again. I think it’s been such a long time since we’ve had a big movement in music. I mean, yes, there was the indie thing, but if you go back to the Clash and punk rock, and the hippie movement, and the Happy Mondays, that was a movement — I mean, there hasn’t been something for everyone to latch onto and call it their own. I think that’s what MySpace will do, creating an online community where people feel like they own something again, rather than being told what to listen to by radio controllers and TV controllers, who actually know s— all about music.
I think that back in the real rock ‘n’ roll days, it was a surprise, almost, at how much money you could make out of it. I think that’s when record company executives got a big ”Whoa — wait a second, this is a real industry.” And of course, all industries get bloated. And I think it’s at the point now where there’s not enough jobs for people and there’s not as much money being made, and it’s not as sexy as it used to be. But that almost makes it more sexy, you know, because now money’s not attached to it so much, and people can’t really go into music thinking ”I want to be a millionaire — oh, I’ll be a pop star.” You’re not gonna be! [Laughs] I can tell you that much.
People get very evangelistic about your album, because it’s been so long since we’ve had something to rave about that way.
I kind of get really embarrassed when people say that. I had someone in a bar yesterday in New York come up to me and say, ”I bought your album on vinyl five months ago on an import, and it’s one of the best albums, if not the best album, I’ve bought in five years.” And I just kind of think, you must not be listening to very much music, then! [Laughs] I just always think of myself as being really naff. I guess that all comes to what I think of myself as a person. I kind of feel like I’ve fooled everyone. [Laughs] And done a very good job.
You weren’t the kind of kid who always dreamed of being a pop star from a young age?
I really like music, but I’m not an obsessive, and I never got into release dates of albums and being the first person to go and get it. If I hear something in a club and like it and don’t know it, I’ll ask the DJ what it is and go order it off eBay. I’m not like a fanatic. Sorry! [Laughs] I did try really, really hard for this, but I definitely haven’t worked as hard as a lot of people do. You know, my first-ever gig that I played, a thousand people came to it. It’s amazing, and it made me feel quite guilty. There are people that go out there on the road for five years before 100 people come and see their band play. [Laughs] I’m sorry!
NEXT PAGE: Allen on the influence of Squeeze, not falling into the media’s body-image trap, and letting Amy Winehouse be the U.K.’s pop-star ”bad girl.”