If you’re among the nearly six million people who follow Lily Allen on Twitter, you already know she’s obsessed with the show Love Island, essentially the UK equivalent of America’s favorite primetime guilty pleasure, Bachelor in Paradise.
Sure, anyone with a pulse can understand what she loves about trashy reality TV. “These producers of these shows are really manipulative, and it’s fascinating watching people in a house being filmed the whole time… People’s behavior is interesting.”
The allure seems especially apropos for Allen, a woman whose latest album No Shame reclaims a phrase that inherently implies the circumstances demand a certain degree of it. To her mind, the perfect antidote to shame is openness. “I think I’ve sort of come clean about a lot of stuff on this record,” she explains. “So I guess I’m saying it’s good to talk. Talking about things absolves you of that shame.”
Indeed, there was a lot to talk about on this album: divorce, identity crisis, childhood trauma, substance abuse, a stalker, the collision of motherhood and career. The pop star takes a lot of responsibility for the failure of her marriage to Sam Cooper, whom she’s previously admitted to cheating on during the trying time. “I had a really weird few years, and I kind of got a bit spun out. But it was me that changed, not him.”
Allen attributes that change, in part, to the postnatal depression she experienced after the birth of her second daughter in 2013 — probably her first in 2011 too, though they were born so close together, it’s hard to tell. Her hormones were all over the place and then she went back to work right away. Of the tumult, she concludes simply, “It was a wild time.”
Tee: Juicy Couture Dress: Zac by Zac Posen
She giggles when asked if the making of No Shame, with all of its hyper-personal subject matter, was painful. The answer is painfully obvious. Of course it was, but that seems to have been the point. For better or worse, she says, “With this record, I wanted to make something that felt accurate to me, and honest.”
Unpleasant to live through, yes, but luckily for the rest of us, her unburdening is quite easy on the ears. Pretty much every single song on the June release manages to exist in the overlap of two, often disparate, musical worlds — catchy pop tunes you want to play on repeat and moody numbers that plumb the depths of emotional turmoil and strife.
On a stellar album such as No Shame, it can be hard to pick your favorite song as a listener, much less as the artist. Yet the chanteuse doesn’t hesitate to choose “Apples,” with its sparse melody and intimate storytelling.
One year in you gave me, a set of keys
Two years and you bended down on one knee
Three years and we’re living out in the country
Four years and you’ve given me my beautiful babies
But it was all too much for me
Now I’m exactly where I didn’t want to be
I’m just like my mummy and daddy
I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, she crones over and over at the end of the song.
“It was really easy to write. It just kind of came out in about a half an hour or something,” the singer reveals. “I like it because it sort of goes full circle and talks about the breakdown of my marriage and the parallels between the breakdown of parents’ marriage… It’s a good song.”
During an era defined by constant political positioning and social media sleight of hand, Allen’s honesty and plainspoken lack of hyperbole is refreshing. When asked about self-care — a concept that has so thoroughly permeated the zeitgeist, it’s seemingly been elevated to a basic need — and what advice she’d give to others going through similar difficulties, she replies with a shrug, “I don’t know because I don’t think I was particularly good at dealing with it.”
Still, she appears to have come out the other side of her grief better than ever. So how did she do it? “It was a slow process. I’ve been in therapy pretty much every week for the past four years. I don’t know… It took awhile. You just have to walk through these things, don’t you?”
It’s no surprise her turn inward is being rewarded extrinsically, as well. A few days after our interview, Allen’s record of candid rumination on her private struggles was announced as a nominee for the 2018 Mercury Award, honoring the year’s best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland. This a well-deserved nod — Allen’s first for the distinction — but it would have been hard to predict four years ago after the release of Sheezus, her widely-panned stab at pop culture satire. (Of the LP, she laughs, “I don’t know what was going on.”)
However, thinking back to 2006 when Allen’s first mainstream single “Smile” hit number one on the U.K. charts and then, a few short months later, started picking up steam in the U.S., this accomplishment seems a long time coming.
The trajectory of her discography seems in step with the evolution of the woman behind the songs. “The first two albums [Alright, Still in 2006, followed by It’s Not Me, It’s You in 2009] were very honest, but in a different way.” Lyrically, she was speaking outwardly, making social observations, and airing her frustrations with the world or her partners at the time. “Whereas this [most recent] album is still being honest, but looking inward, rather than outward, which is different for me,” she explains.
If this new, navel-gazing Allen is extremely your shit, don’t worry — her self-excavation isn’t over yet. Many of the same themes from her latest album recur in her upcoming essay collection My Thoughts Exactly, which will be available in the U.K. on September 20, and the U.S. December 20.
Musically, I can’t wait to see where the older, wiser, now exonerated, but still searching Allen goes next. If this album is any indication, the best is yet to come.
Jacket: Rebecca Vallance Tee: Trunk LTD . Skirt: Zac by Zac Posen
Full Look: Dsqaured
photos / Shanna Fisher
styling / Sonia Young @ The Only Agency
makeup / Amy Chance using Kat Von D Beauty @ Celestine Agency
hair / Richard Collins @ Tracey Mattingly
story / Courtney Kocak