The case for sampled music is simple: in this plugged-in age, we lead sampled lives. We know a bit of everything and don’t see anything through; our tastes are more diverse than ever, while our attention spans are the worst they’ve been. If music is to be emblematic of the people it caters to, then Lily Allen’s albums are perfection: the product of a magpie-like modern mind, they are made up of cut-and-pasted bits of older records, fashionably retro production values, easily digestible melodies, and scoops of entertaining potty-mouthedness.
The world loves a pretty girl who swears. Give her a saucy song to sing, and you’re sorted. Lily Allen might not offer record buyers anything new, but she sells a perfectly honed sensibility, a winning combination of trashy urban aesthetics and pop discipline: her music is easy enough to whistle, yet too skilful and well-made to dismiss outright; the result, predictably, is a success.
Lily Allen is a true modern star: two albums in six years, the rest of her time spent in opening boutiques, attending awards, and doing interviews, while the cheques keep coming in. For once, though, this swanning about seems appropriate: make a product that throws in enough heritage to charm pop snobs and enough dickhead catchiness to convince lager louts, and it’s as a matter of course that the life follows soon after.
Record-collecting wretches on the internet continue to argue that her music lacks significance or depth. They are wrong; it is hugely significant: there isn’t a better cultural artefact to sum up the 21st century identity crisis, brought on by trying to find a new voice in an already noisy world. What could be more revealing of where things stand than to have an update of thirty year old music doing better on the markets than something blatantly new?
Lily Allen is pop music taken to its logical conclusion: in an artform ever given to mixing and matching with no other aim but to sell, Allen mixes and matches better than many and sells more than most. ‘Twas ever the great pop ideal. Expecting any more is like expecting Coke to be gourmet.