Lily Allen Flips the Bird at the Fox

The British pop star bared her soul with a refreshingly candid performance.

(Danielle Hobart)

On Saturday evening, Lily Allen’s message to recently confirmed Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh was fittingly succinct: Fuck you.

Acknowledging the devastating blow rendered earlier in the day by the U.S. Senate, Allen dedicated the evening’s final song to a man who has come to epitomize the systematic assault and oppression of women in this country. With middle fingers raised proudly, she led the crowd in a blistering rendition of her 2009 single, “Fuck You.” Originally written as a tribute to George W. Bush, it’s astonishingly depressing how accurately the lyrics reflect whichever powerful white man is making headlines at a given moment.

While the crowd at Oakland’s Fox Theater seemed more familiar with Allen’s earlier material, the reason for her performance was in support of her most recent album. Released in June, No Shame is unquestionably Allen’s most personal record to date. Many critics who derided the pop singer’s last effort — 2014’s Sheezus — have celebrated No Shame for its unflinching look at the cost of celebrity and Allen’s willingness to probe personal trauma, which in recent years has included a miscarriage, a divorce, and a stalker who broke into her home and tried to kill her.

The true beauty of No Shame is not simply Allen’s bravery in openly addressing wounds both fresh and old, but the fact that she manages to explore this subject matter without abandoning her trademark sound of bubbly dancehall beats and take-no-bullshit snark. Although her barebones stage set-up — just Allen, two musicians, and four slender light towers — lent the performance a confessional, intimate air, Allen quickly discouraged any worries that the evening would be a solemn affair.

Relying mainly on tracks from her newest record, it become noticeable halfway through her show that one album was at risk of being omitted entirely. Indeed, of the 21 tracks Allen performed on Saturday night, exactly zero came from the oft-maligned Sheezus. Anyone who has read Allen’s interviews with the press knows that she has little love for the record that served as a comeback following a five-year hiatus from music, citing record label pressures for forcing her to create a batch of songs that differed from her true vision.

As one of the few who actually quite enjoyed Sheezus, I was struck by Allen’s choice to banish it from her setlist. At first, it seemed a shame to let outside opinions dictate what music she should play, but by the end of Allen’s show, I realized that her decision wasn’t an effort to kowtow to critics, but instead one inspired by a personal reclamation.

(Danielle Hobart)

Midway through the show, Allen took things down a notch with back-to-back renditions of No Shame’s most bittersweet tracks. Written from the perspective of a child, “Three” is a heartbreaking examination of the cost of fame as the young narrator  begs her mother not to head out on tour again but to instead stay home and play. Allen followed this ballad with “Family Man,” which focuses on her divorce and cleverly casts her as the unfaithful patriarch who is simply doing the best that she can. Seeing her fully embody these songs in the flesh, it’s clear that the reason Allen has opted to omit her Sheezus work is because those tracks will never fulfill her.

If early hits like “The Fear” and “LDN” connote who Allen once was, No Shame is a declaration of who she is now. Sheezus, it seems, was merely an ill-fitting masquerade—a record that speaks to who Allen’s label perhaps thought she should be. Allen has never been one to embrace the industry’s desires to define her, which makes her decision to reclaim the narrative of her career by eschewing any trace of Sheezus a fitting choice for an artist that has continually fought for recognition on her own terms.

Paying lip-service to the day’s political tragedies is a tried and true facet of the modern concert experience, but it means infinitely more when you believe the artist in question truly stands for what they’re saying. It’s easy to namecheck our current president, but far harder to do so with a conviction that runs deeper than the spite of a hastily composed tweet.

When Lily Allen mentioned Brett Kavanaugh at the conclusion of her show, it wasn’t simply because he was the newest white man to fall backwards into a position of immense power. She spoke his name as a survivor of sexual assault. She spoke his name as an artist who has continually been maligned by a vicious tabloid press eager to dismantle her. She spoke his name in righteous anger and then she did what has made her one of our time’s most intriguing and important pop performers: She told him to go fuck himself with a smile on her face.

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