We Spoke To the Director Of The Controversial New Lily Allen Video
Chris Sweeney explains why he had Lily wash car rims and why his cleaner thinks he's a porn director now.
The Noisey office is pretty divided on the new Lily Allen video. I think it's a courageous, hilarious and timely critique of women in the music industry that could only come from someone who has both been through it all and had some time to distance themselves from it. Some of my colleagues think it's clickbait dressed as satire, claiming to pastiche the ignorance of racist tropes by performers like Miley Cyrus while repeating those same tropes unapologetically.
One intern is very concerned about how you stack rims in a standard shop-bought drying rack.
So we spoke to the director of the video, Chris Sweeney, to find out what the hell he was thinking.
Noisey: Hi Chris. Bet you're having a busy 24 hours.
Chris: Yeah, but in a good way
How did this video come about. Did Lily just come to you with the song?
They sent the song to loads of people and I wrote back with an idea, and it was all based on the lyrics really. She wanted to do something subversive and I said let’s do something based on a hip-hop video but amp it up.
Were you nervous about doing a video that sent out quite an explicit message about your own industry?
No, it all needs talking about. I just thought it would be hypocritical to claim that this is what everyone else does but we don’t do it. That's why she joins in, and does all the things that everybody does. I think we’re all complicit, you have to be, that's what's required these days.
So you're not slagging of stars like Miley or Rihanna?
Exactly, it's more "isn’t it funny that this is where we’ve got to?"
Were there any other videos you had in mind apart from Robin Thicke?
We deliberately didn’t want to reference anyone specific. It was more, "what would be the most hip hop thing you could ever do?" I wanted it to be watchable again in a couple of years and people still get what we’re on about rather than taking on specific things that are relevant this week.
What did you use for the lipo fat in the opening scene, it looks like Muller Lite?
It’s a special mixture, we actually had a specialist who made it for us, he does all the hospital shows and he’s got a recipe for it. I hadn’t really thought about it so I thought maybe we’d use wallpaper paste, or rice pudding. Muller Lite would have been a good shout actually.
What's been your thoughts about the huge amounts of comment and abuse since it went up?
Everyone seems to really like it, and it is a comeback, so I’m really pleased for her. It’s interesting that even though she's been away for a while, people still look to her for as someone to be subversive and comment. There’s so much love for her, so I couldn’t be happier.
One concern people have levelled is that the video uses mostly black dancers, dancing in sexually explicit positions around a white singer. Obviously you're doing that ironically, but does that make it any better?
We just chose the best dancers. Suzette who choreographed it is an amazing dancer herself, she does the Major Lazer tour and things, and we said we want twerking dancers and so we got the six best. Four of the girls are black, two of them weren't and I felt that was a good balance in the sense that I didn’t want to comment on race, but it was just who was good.
More generally though, does making a satirical video about misogyny then make it ok to have skinny twerking girls pouring champagne in each others butts? You can still exploit women's bodies, even for the purpose of satire. Do you get a free pass because you're being ironic?
I think you do, because now people are talking about it. There are hundreds of girls who are in those [type of] videos and they come to the castings without getting told what they’re doing beforehand, they just have to walk in on the day and shake their arse. With this video we spoke to the girls in the casting, we talked about what we were doing and they all thought it was really funny.
I think if you’re gonna do it with pop music you’ve got to do it in a playful way, you can’t take yourself too seriously. With Lily’s songs you just want people to think a bit and say "hold on a sec." That’s all it's about, it's not a campaign, its just meant to make people think.
So you encourage people to keep arguing about it?
Of course. The best thing you can ever have from anything you make is people arguing about it, someone thinks it’s brilliant, someone thinks it’s terrible.
I saw one of the black dancers defending the video on Twitter, saying how much she enjoyed being in it.
Good. They all stuck around after we’d finished and hung out and became really good mates with Lily and stuff. The whole thing from the beginning was that it was sisterly. If you notice the manager in the video is never talking only to Lily, he’s always addressing the girls and Lily as one. It's not her standing at the front saying "look what these girls have to do." It’s her saying "look what WE all have to do" and I think that was really important.
It’s such a stark contrast to the John Lewis ad, it’s quite funny that they came out in the same week.
When is someone going to do a twerking bear for John Lewis is what I want to know.
What kind of changes would you like to see in music videos in general? Do you think there are deep seated problems within that world?
I think it’s all about the people making the videos, the singers, and whether they’re happy with it. What I don’t want to see is people feeling that they have to act in a certain way in order to get into the charts. Some people like Rihanna own it, and some people don’t. No one should stop Rihanna from doing what she’s doing because she’s clearly fine with it. And you find as a director it’s different for everyone.
What was the psychological aftermath of hours of editing bums quivering in such slow motion?
Well you know what we were editing it at my house, and my cleaning lady was there and she doesn’t speak English, and we were just chopping up the bit with the champagne and the bums and she was watching and she had no idea it was for Lily Allen, she doesn’t even know what I do as a job, and it was me and the editor sitting in my kitchen editing, and she was looking at it, thinking "fuck I think he’s a porn director." That was quite awkward.
This final question comes from our intern, Josie. How practical is it to wash rims in a sink?
You know what it was surprisingly easy.