Original Photo: Instagram
2006 was a very different time for pop. When foul-mouthed, straight-shooting Brit Lily Allen arrived on the scene with her debut album Alright, Still it was shocking. Nelly Furtado, Rihanna and Fergie were some of the biggest popstars of the time and while their songs could’ve been considered raunchy at best, they were well-oiled media personalities who rarely put a foot wrong. Allen occupied the charts with them but she was a different kind of popstar. Her debut single Smile uses the word “fucking” within the first three lines and when she played Big Day Out in Australia for the first time in 2007, she showed off her multi-tasking skills by clutching a beer and a cigarette while singing.
2019, is of course, a different beast. Our biggest popstar Ariana Grande is candid and honest, holding nothing back while Rihanna is celebrated for doing whatever the fuck she wants. More than 10 years has passed since Allen’s debut. She’s loved, lost, broke down, smoked, drunk, taken drunks, had kids, seen a marriage come and go (yep, I’ve read her book) and yet, on-stage in Sydney on her first tour here in X years, it’s clear she’s the same popstar she’s always been. And yet oddly, her frank honesty has never been more trendy. Not that she cares.
Given all she’s been through, Allen is obviously not the same popstar she was in 2006 but that stark and sometimes wickedly humorous honesty has remained through every project. No Shame, the album she’s touring here, is her best yet though. Her experience has given her a perspective and maturity that has made her honesty less obnoxious and more inward. A development that’s clear when she stepped onto stage for the second of two sold-out shows in Sydney.
Gone were the giant baby pacifiers and dancing dogs that paraded around her Sheezus tour. Instead she presented us with a minimal stage, just Lily and two musicians. The playfulness hadn’t been completely stripped though. She still donned a Dolly Parton-esque wig and a denim jumpsuit that she admitted to being uncomfortable in while giggling.
“I’m a bad mother, I’m a bad wife,” Allen sung during the night’s first song Come On Then, an immediate reminder of just how open she was on No Shame. The beat shuddered towards a strangely triumphant chorus that had the crowd immediately on Allen’s side. Majority of the set was rightfully taken up by songs from the recent album but she dropped off Smile and LDN earlier in the set. The ciggie and beer was no longer there, but she still giggled at her own quick-wit. Both songs sounded like they hadn’t aged a day despite the vintage horns and Future Cut production.
No Shame is sad, really sad, but it’s uplifted by beats that translate to delirious euphoria in the live arena. Waste‘s dancehall-flavoured beat woozed around the room and My One sounded light and playful. Allen wandered from one side of the stage to the other using little trickery but her thin but expert voice which scaled giddy heights on songs like Higher.
— LILY ALLEN (@lilyallen) February 6, 2019
When the beat dropped out that’s when we got to see how far she’d really come as a writer. She introduced raw ballad Family Man by telling the crowd it was about her failed marriage, made all the more depressing by the fact her divorce had been finalised. She nervously laughed throughout the intro but was clearly still very affected by the song as she understandably struggled to make eye contact. Even the most honest of popstars in 2019 would drop that kind of song from the setlist because of the emotional impact but Allen in generous in letting people in. The slower moments are sad but not uncomfortable moments. Even in the bareness of Apples, there’s a warmness to her delivery.
As much as she’s generous with her emotions, Allen can party better than most and she was always going to bring the set home in that manner. Perky ballad Who’d Have Known raised the room’s singing voices before she rolled straight into barnyard stomper Not Fair. As people linked hands for the Enmore Theatre’s best hoedown yet, it’s easy to see Allen was ahead of her time. Miley, Gaga and even Young Thug have all adopted country now but Allen was first (maybe).
She gave us the obligatory encore and returned for Trigger Bang, the most criminally underrated pop song of last year. The song had a Paper Planes-sized effect on the crowd with every single person relishing in the action-heavy chorus. One part of Allen’s personality had been missing from the set, her politics, but she wielded it out for the final song Fuck You. Instead of dedicating it to Trump as she usually does, she directed it at Liam Neeson, labelling him as a racist to rapturous cheers. If you’re not sure why, click here.
Whether it be her politics or personal business, Allen has never shied away from anything. It may have seen her lose fans or lose her own way but her show in Sydney proved she’s just as relevant as ever. She’s an imperfect person, like the rest of us, but she’s a perfect popstar. Maybe with the changing climate of pop she’ll finally be given the props she deserves as one of the best doing it. Not that she’ll be bothered either way.