By 2009 Lily Allen had become a notable force within the music industry. Her debut album Alright, Still had peaked at number 1 in the UK and went to sell over 1.1 million copies. The album peaked at number 20 in the US and went to sell over 600,000 copies. She had scored 4 top 20 singles in the UK including 2 top 10 and a number one (Smile). She had been nominated for 4 BRIT awards and a Grammy. Let’s not forget being robbed of the illustrious 20 Quid Prize by Popjustice.
During it all though, she had become a tabloid star as well. Being attacked by the paps, the gossip rags, and in a sense facing tarnishing of her reputation. She became England’s bad girl for speaking her truth, behaving in manners that were outside of the social norms being forced upon her by the British public. Facing all this scrutiny, it’s almost poetic that in 2009 she released her sophomore album brilliantly aptly titled It’s Not Me, It’s You.
The intentions were clear. Lily herself said she wanted to create bigger sounding, more ethereal songs, real songs. As opposed to the playful and lighter fare served in Alright, Still, It’s Not Me, It’s You was built to show the true depths of Lily Allen.
One could sense that Lily was hyper-aware of the reputation she had within the public eye because the first single, The Fear, was a seemingly direct acknowledgement and response to the persona that had been built. It was also a pointed remark on the culture of the youth and the pressures to be rich and famous.
I was walking down this street, in this village in the middle of the countryside in the U.K., and there was this little girl who must have been eight or nine, walking down the street with her mum in, like, high-waisted hot pants and a little crop top. And I just thought, ‘That’s not really right.’ And I could tell she was the kind of girl that would be trying out for Pop Idol in five years’ time, and wants to be famous when she grows up. And there’s definitely the whole culture of that where I come from, and it’s not necessarily a culture that I think is particularly healthy. But at the same time, I’m very aware that I am a part of that culture – but it’s not something that I feel particularly comfortable with.
The song was a hit. Peaking at number 1 (her second), receiving critical praise, and selling over 600,000 copies in the UK alone. This new era was off to a banging start.
Released on February 9th, 2009 the album went straight to number one on the UK charts, and number 5 in the US. The album received universal praise from critics on both sides of the pond. The Observer stated that it was a brave album, brave enough to define the times. The Daily Telegraph favored the personal songs:
It is when she turns her sharp tongue to her own affairs of the heart that Allen’s growing adventurousness and lyrical confidence really pay off.
Lily had so much to share within the album, and this continued through subsequent single releases. Not Fair followed as the second single. Personally, as a young adult (I was in my early twenties at the time), this song was a great explanation of relationships and the comprehension of sex as an important factor within the relationship. This was the first time I’ve heard sex described in a song in this way. It was quite raunchy; the song still spoke to me in a way very few had previously.
Fuck You, the third single, was a direct aim at then-president, George W. Bush. Sad to say the song is still very relevant today, with Trump in office and all. Aside from Pink and the Dixie Chicks, very few artists had recorded such blatant attestations to such men in power. This song was pointed and refused to play nice. Young adults all over the UK and US rejoiced. Someone was finally speaking their political-outrage into art.
22, the fourth single, is a record that still is dear to my heart. The song is so despondent, yet so eloquent. It was an observation of a narrative sometimes young adults, specifically females, think they should follow. Lily explained it articulately:
It’s more about girls that haven’t figured out what they want to do with themselves. Especially really pretty girls. They can rely on their looks to an extent: people will pay for their dinners and drinks and they don’t really have to think. And then suddenly it hits them that they’re not doing anything with their lives and it’s too late. And, yes, it’s about a specific person. Most of my songs start like that and then become more general…
I still think the song is relevant today – and that is what makes this album so special. It remains extremely relevant – not just to me, but I think to those who fans of this album.
Listening to this album in my 30s, I’m reminded of a time in my life where I was growing as a person. It was a defining time in my life. I Could Sayreminds me of a toxic relationship that 10 years later I am glad I am finally free of. The lyrics still ring true, “And now you’ve gone it feels as if the whole wide world is my stage.”
It’s Not Me, It’s You features tender moments about relationships blossoming (Who’d Have Known and Chinese). What’s more us Lily’s fresh take on relationships and the lyricism she uses to express her thoughts. Who’d Have Known was the fifth and final single off the album. Its cheeky video was the fifth video in a row that brought the song to life in a way many artists struggle to do so.
Following in line with Fuck You, Him is a very contemplative moment about religion. She questions dying for religion, she challenges the social constructs it creates. It’s quite controversial, but still extremely relevant.
After an album campaign that lasted well over a year, Lily’s sophomore era came to end. The album sold around 1.1 million copies in the UK, and over 300,00 copies in the US. The album was also a huge success in Australia, selling over 280,000 copies. Most fans consider this to be her best album. Her tour deforce. I think this album is definitely her strongest, but as an artist, I will always be compelled to follow her output. Ten years later, the album remains in constant rotation on my streaming platforms. It remains inspiring, relevant and enjoyable.
It’s Not Me, It’s You is not just a triumph for Lily, but one for music. It is truly an example of why music is important. Music can be frivolous fun, but music can also be intellectual and thought-provoking, but enjoyable. Lily married all those forms into a cohesive album with a strong narrative. Ten years later – it is still a win.
*This piece is a part of a series, Turning 10. Throughout the coming year certain albums and singles will be discussed in order to celebrate their contribution to music and lives everywhere.