Lily Allen is a different type of pop star. She’s had a pretty public tabloid life in the UK that’s occasionally trickled over to the US, even before a time when the internet was streaming constant information as steadily into our pockets. Because of this, or perhaps despite it, she remains brutally honest and unabashedly herself. Upon taking the stage for an incredibly intimate performance at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, Allen set a pretty candid tone from the start.
Opening for Allen was British hip hop artist and producer S-X, making his Los Angeles debut with only a microphone and Mac laptop. Almost immediately, the theatre was awash in trippy beats, strong bass, and unexpectedly emotional lyrics. S-X sang along to deep tracks that sound like they belong in a dance club, but actually might fit better blasting in someone’s bedroom after they’ve gone through a breakup. Much like the night’s headliner, he brought vulnerability to the forefront without sacrificing anyone’s desire to dance.
Then it was time for Lily Allen. Dressed in a sparkling green gown that reached the floor and a jacket colored a soft, millennial pink, Allen instantly reminded the audience how and why she was able to catapult to pop star success just over 12 years ago. From the beginning, Allen has been unapologetic, brash, and fun – and it’s clear little has changed since then. After performing her megahit “LDN,” she thanks the crowd for coming out to hear her “new record, which was released this June and dreadfully undersold.” She’s talking about No Shame, of course – a record that she modestly forgets to mention got her a Mercury Prize nomination this year and is probably her most honest work to date.
If the adoring crowd’s frequent cheers from both the packed floor and the back balcony stand for anything, Allen has followers willing to do just about anything for her. After finishing the final note of “Smile” – the 2006 hit that cemented her success and inspired romantic revenge plots everywhere – Allen reflects on how the track was the first song she ever wrote just before getting pelted with a large purple bra from the audience. She giggles, picks up the bra, and says, “This is the first time this has ever happened to me!” You instantly believe her. You want to be her friend. She’s vulnerable and sweet-sounding, but never lets go of that slight edge dancing its way through her biting lyrics and sincere delivery.
So much of the evening can be summed up in the chorus of No Shame’s opening track, “Come On Then,” which makes an appearance early on in the set. Underneath technicolor lighting that’s making her bright green eyeliner pop in the darkness, Allen sings, “Yeah, I’m a bad mother / I’m a bad wife / You saw it on the socials / You read it online / If you go on record saying that you know me / Then why am I so lonely? / ‘Cos nobody fuckin’ phones me.” The pop singer is laying it all out on the table in the intimate space, and she’s never seemed more relatable than that moment. Later in the set, she admits that she missed a cue in the previous song because “having a kid changes your brain,” and “no one can get mad at her.” From the crowd, her seeming mistakes are imperceptible and I begin to realize how refreshing her candor has become to everyone. Hundreds of faces in the crowd glow in her stage lights, only looking thrilled and taking note of every time her green sparkly dress catches the light just so.
Despite the self-deprecating comments, it’s clear that Allen’s future in music is hardly in dire straights. At one point, she introduces a brand new track called “Party Line,” and notes that she wrote it only three weeks ago. Before it ends, half the crowd is somehow already singing along and raising their arms in celebration of its danceable bass and piano-heavy chorus. Even from the back of the theatre, I can see Lily smiling from ear to ear in response to their reaction.
By the time Allen walks out for her well deserved encore, you’re reminded that — sure, after a decade of pop songs, four albums, and endless tabloid drama, things haven’t always worked out exactly as the pop star probably envisioned for herself. But she has true, loving fans here. Lily’s on the verge of something these days, and it’s definitely not a breakdown. ‘Cause she’s doing it her way. And we’re just along for the ride.
Words and photos by Kat Manos (Instagram)