Lily Allen - Biography
You’ve got to hand it to Lily Allen. The young singer/songwriter/blogger refuses to be pushed around by her label, the press, or even Elton John (the two got into a so-called “cat-fight” while presenting together at the 2008 GQ Awards). Allen’s meteoric rise is pretty much a direct result of the social networking site MySpace. Without the free exposure, who knows if Allen’s music would ever have found an audience? In any event, she is now a bona fide star at home in the UK as well as in the US. Some listen to Allen for her honey-sweet voice and sugary melodies. Others tune in for her lyrics, which can be scathing, vengeful, or just plain mean at times. Whatever the draw, the girl knows what she’s doing and, judging by the solidity of her first two LP’s, she’ll have no problem keeping an audience long after the bratty image has worn away.
Allen was born in London in 1985 to comedian Keith Allen and his then-wife, film producer Alison Owen. Lily’s younger brother is Atonement actor Alfie Allen. The family moved around quite a bit and by the time she was 15, Lily had been enrolled in a total of 13 schools. She became very attached to music, as her lifestyle left little room for friends. She developed an eclectic range of influences that included Blondie, Happy Mondays, Eminem, and Bjork. The band that had the greatest effect on Allen was T. Rex. On her MySpace list of influences, she cites T. Rex as “possibly the best band ever, ever!” At the age of 14, she snuck out of her house in order to attend the Glastonbury Festival. The next year, she was done with school and ready to pursue a music career of her own. She honed her songwriting style to a mixture of sweet and sour; the melodies were usually sweet while the lyrics were often vindictive, pert, and even smug.
In 2005, Allen was introduced to the power of MySpace by grime scene rapper Lady Sovereign, an internet star on the rise. Allen was motivated to start her own MySpace account, where she uploaded her strongest material. Her songs were posted not only as stand-alone tracks, but as part of limited edition mixtapes that included tracks by other artists including Creedence Clearwater Revival and Ludacris. It didn’t take very long for the MySpace community to take notice. Allen’s number of “friends” on her page skyrocketed into the ten-thousands. Before her first year on MySpace was over, Allen had a contract with Regal/Parlophone and her songs made the jump from internet-only to BBC Radio One.
Once Allen was signed by Regal for £25,000 in late 2005, the label put her on the back-burner. Her debut album wasn’t slated for a UK release until early 2007. Regal’s confidence in her demos wasn’t exactly high and they wanted to get her in with topnotch producers and writers. However, once all the calls started coming in asking about her, their faith in her songwriting increased. Allen, however, was having trouble coming up with anything new. She had about seven songs ready for the album and needed a push. To solve the issue, she relocated to America and hooked up with producers Greg Kurstin (one half of The Bird and the Bee) and Mark Ronson (the mastermind behind the critically acclaimed album Here Comes the Fuzz [2003 Elektra]). From there, the second half of her debut was finished in about two weeks.
Allen debuted with the single “LDN” in spring of 2006. It reached number seven on the UK charts and was followed closely by the breakup tale “Smile,” which shot up to number one. That July, Allen released her debut album, Alright Still (2006 Regal/Parlophone), in the UK It arrived on US shores in January of 2007. The LP was praised by UK and US journalists alike. Comparisons to Mike Skinner of The Streets (and even implications that she might be in a lyrical category all her own) abounded. Allen’s melody-rich songs had that rare ability to charm even the most casual listener while also rewarding those who listened more closely, especially to her words. Every track was hailed except for one. Most critics agreed that “Take What You Take” felt out of place in the mix and sounded like a label-forced bid for mainstream attention. But Allen needed no help in finding attention. Alright, Still remained on the UK album charts for 17 months. The subsequent single “Alfie,” about her brother’s laziness and fondness for marijuana, reached number 15. The US was falling under her spell as well. “Smile” placed in the top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100 and Alright Still peaked at number 20 on the album charts.
Controversy and blog rants are as much a part of Lily Allen’s fame as her music. The catty image she is associated with, whether she likes it or not, is helping to sell her records. Allen continued blogging copiously after the release of Alright, Still. She would often use her blog as a way to defame others, including Luke Pritchard of The Kooks who’s fashion sense Allen ridiculed during a Top of the Pops performance. Artists who have suffered the slings of Allen’s blog (such as Katy Perry) usually fire back at the star, which of course leads to short-lived, media-covered feuds.
2007 was a busy year for Allen. Her debut was released in the US in January, which she followed up with a US tour. She also toured Japan and Australia, and was nominated for a couple of Brit Awards. As her popularity grew, so did her coverage in the tabloids. Her relationship with Ed Simons of The Chemical Brothers was discussed ad nauseam, as was her miscarriage in 2008. From February to April of 2008, Allen was the host of her own BBC Three talk show, Lily Allen and Friends. After it had run its course, two new songs appeared on Allen’s MySpace page. It was soon confirmed that she was working on a new album with producer Kurstin. Allen’s cover of Britney Spears’ “Womanizer” surfaced in December, leading to controversy because she covered it without permission.
Allen released her second LP, It’s Not Me, It’s You (2009 Regal/Parlophone) on February 9, 2009 in the UK and one day later in the US The preceding single, “The Fear,” laid claim to the number one spot on the UK charts for four straight weeks. The LP debuted at number one in the UK and number five in the US. Since then she has married, given birth to a child, been labeled a hypocrite for he anti file sharing initiatives, wrote music for the musical version of Bridget Jones' Diary, started her own record label (In The Name Of, which signed NY Noise pop group Cults), opened a clothing store with her sister, and in late 2012 tweeted that she was back in the studdio working on new music.