Lily Allen returns with more responsibilities, same identity

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Lily Allen was “retiring,” said the English press, ever excited to exaggerate. She was “burnt out on the rock and roll lifestyle.” She was “being domesticated.”

While there was some truth to those stories, fat chance. The English singer-songwriter (performing Wednesday, Oct. 8 at the Fox Theater in Oakland) rose to prominence with the help of a MySpace page, had a hit debut record, became a press darling, had some issues with alcohol, toplessness and the celebrity feud circuit, became a press punching bag and released two more albums, and through it all became the U.K.’s celebrity scene. Then she met the man who would be her husband. He helped herself reign in her behavior – that part is true. Then they had two kids. And she decided to temporarily put her music recording and touring on hold.

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But make one thing clear. Her new loves did not change who Lily Allen is.

“I still get drunk, and I still cuss, and I still wear slutty clothes on stage,” Allen said in a recent interview from Atlanta, where she was preparing for her U.S. tour. “I don’t see why the two have to be mutually exclusive.”

Allen spent two years on the road supporting her previous album, 2009’s “It’s Not Me, It’s You.” She did get burnt out, eventually – “I was partying pretty hard, I was overexcited at the success I was having” – but her soon-to-be husband, builder Sam Cooper, helped her pull herself together. Then she was pregnant three times in three years (the first pregnancy ended in miscarriage). During that time she also started a clothing store, which she gifted to her sister, and her own music label.

“It would have been difficult to do what I’m doing now and be doing that at the same time,” Allen said. “So it was a choice, a fork in the road. I decided to give it a go, and I’m happy I did.”

In many ways, Allen found family life more rewarding to her music career. She takes joy in watching her children grow every day; nothing is more beautiful than that, she said. Yet, at the same time, she began to miss writing and recording, being on stage at the center of attention, and connecting with her fans. So eventually, she began to wind down work at her own label, and start to write again.

The fruit of her musical labor is “Sheezus,” her third album. Like her 2006 debut, “Alright, Still,” and 2009 follow-up, “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” the new album is a completely uncensored, unflinching look inside Allen’s head.

The title, a play on words to Kanye West’s “Yeezus,” was chosen to grab attention, she said. “Yeezus” had just been released when she was picking a name for her album.

“I love Kanye, and I love what he stands for,” she said.

What the title is not is a comparison between the public personas of West and Allen, two celebrities who conjure strong opinions from music fans and the public in general.

“I don’t even know what my ‘public personality’ is,” Allen said. “It’s my personality. There is no public one and a private one.”

The title track name-checks the artists that seized control of female pop while Allen was on a sabbatical and the way they are pitted against each other in the media. The first single, “Hard Out Here,” takes an unflattering look at how women are used by the music industry.

And “L8 CMMR” touts her husband’s sexual prowess, which she says does not make him uncomfortable whatsoever.

I think he takes it with a pinch of salt; he knows it comes from a good place,” she said.  “Essentially, I’m just trying to make music that entertains people, and they want to dance to; that makes them laugh, that they can relate to. He gets it.”

With such an open personality, Allen has attracted more scrutiny than many other pop stars, especially in the United Kingdom. The video for “Hard Out Here,” for example, elicited an avalanche of negative press because of its use of black dancers in stereotypical booty-shaking roles.

“For a start, it’s not true,” Allen said. “There were four black girls; three girls were of Asian descent; there was myself, there were two white girls – I didn’t really buy it, to be honest.”

Her irony largely went misinterpreted, but Allen has always refused to back down from pressure.

“I don’t always go out with the intention of being controversial,” Allen said. “I think just because I am unconventional in this arena of pop music, which can be quite sterile. … I stay true to what I do and what I believe in, and I guess that comes across as being controversial just because nobody else is doing that.”

Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.

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