How interesting that Lily Allen and Katy Perry both play Atlanta on Wednesday, April 15 — considering they seem to hate each other's guts.
In an interview with British radio station Capital FM last year, Perry called herself "a fatter version of Amy Winehouse and a skinnier version of Lily Allen." Allen responded: "You're not English and you don't write your own songs, shut up!"
For the record, Allen is not fat, and Perry does write her own songs. But their verbal catfight illustrates an interesting dichotomy between the women. Arguably the two most hyped female pop stars of the moment, they have each sold more than a million albums and are both known nearly as well for their fashion and personal exploits as for their musical prowess. But there's no doubt which saucy young crooner has won the hearts and minds of the world's indie elite.
In the minds of critics, it is Allen who gives off the edgier, more artistic vibe. Her oft-cheeky, vaguely feminist lyrics combined with her genre-hopping backbeats have had critics foaming at the mouth for years. Her debut, Alright, Still, featured reggae and ska, while her latest, It's Not Me, It's You, leans more toward electro. Critics don't see her as a pop tart along the lines of Britney — or Katy — but as a genuine talent whose development came about organically. A recent Spin magazine cover story summed up the perception of her transatlantic rise to fame in 2006: "[It] seemed to be an act of public will rather than record-company strategy."
Perry, meanwhile, gets no respect. Despite touching on gender issues and pushing the envelope like Allen, and despite winning admirers for her stylish, pin-up girl fashions, she's seen as little more than a corporate toady. A Chicago Tribune review of her recent sold-out concert summed up critical opinion of her: "While few of Perry's songs even push PG-13, her between-song banter frequently slipped into rated-R territory, the singer reveling in off-color humor like a middle schooler who has learned a new dirty word. These salacious tidbits, which some might have found humanizing, came across as overly calculated — a manufactured pop princess' callow attempt at displaying edge."
I'm not going to argue for one woman's music over the other's. I love both of Allen's albums, and believe Perry's brand of infectious, throwback pop — highlighted by her big hits "I Kissed a Girl" and "Hot N Cold" — is seriously underrated.
But to argue that Perry is a corporate cog while Allen isn't doesn't make sense. Yes, Perry was groomed from a young age; she's a former Christian music singer who previously recorded under her given name, Katy Hudson. After bouncing around from record label to record label, her image underwent an overhaul. But Allen is a product of the industry as well. The Clash's Joe Strummer was a close family friend, and her first music deal, with London Records in 2002, came through the connections of her father, an actor who also co-wrote a New Order single. Many of the songs she recorded for that label — songs that never saw release — were, ironically, written by him.
Stories like these are common in the music industry, of course, but what's so bizarre is how nonplussed Allen feels about her success. She says that music isn't her true passion and recently told Spin that she might not make another album. Perry, meanwhile, remains focused on creating memorable pop songs and fashioning an enduring career.
We can debate which artist was more manufactured; one expects that Perry will be more fondly remembered.