ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
For some, pop music is serious business. And for others, well, it's pop music, just fun stuff to dance and sing along with. For the signer Lilly Allen, it's a way to vent. Her songs are much like a girl's diary gone very public.
(Soundbite of song, "Alfie")
Ms. LILY ALLEN (Singer): (Singing) Ooh deary me, my little brother's in his bedroom smoking weed, I tell him he should get up because it's nearly half past three. He can't be bothered because he's high on THC. I ask him very nicely if he'd like a cup of tea, I can't even see him because the room is so smoky. Don't understand how one can watch so much TV. My baby brother Alfie, how I wish that you could see.
NORRIS: Lilly Allen sold a lot of music this past summer back home in the U.K. Her page on Myspace has more than four million clicks just on a small handful of songs. Her CD, "Allright, Still," has been just released here in the U.S. And Lilly Allen is sitting in our brand-new New York bureau, and she joins us now. So glad you're with us.
Ms. ALLEN: Hello.
NORRIS: You write songs that are so upbeat, almost cheaper, and yet the lyrics cut like a knife.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ALLEN: Yeah, I think that is kind of part of the whole, sort of charm of it really is that when you listen to it at first, they kind of, it seems like a kind of really happy upbeat songs, no need to go back and listen to it a second or a third time. You kind of listening to the lyrics more in-depth, and realize that it's not just a kind of mindless, boring pop music.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: How much of this is you?
Ms. ALLEN: Oh, it's only, and you know, it took me two and a half years to launch this album. And you know, it's very much a diary of my life. And I think that every song is kind of a snapshot of a moment within my teenage years.
NORRIS: There are more than a few songs on the album, when you put out there, and it almost sounds like sweet revenge.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ALLEN: Yeah. I mean it's not really like revenge in a nasty way. I think of it as just kind of saying what all girls, you know, would say, had said, when their boyfriends have broken up with them.
NORRIS: Like you're going to work your way through all of this mate.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ALLEN: Yeah. All songs that kind of, you know, tongue and cheek.
(Soundbite of song, "Not Big")
Ms. ALLEN: (Singing) Now listen I think you and me have come to the end of our time, What d'you want some kind of reaction? Well, OK, that's fine, All those times that I said I was sober, Well I'm afraid I lied, I'd be lying next to you, you next to me, All the while I was high as a kite. I could see it in your face when you give it to me gently, Yeah, you really must think you're great, let's see how you feel in a couple of weeks, When I work my way through your mates. I never wanted it to end up this way.
NORRIS: You're songs are cutting, but sometimes they're also constructive, the song "Alfie."
Ms. ALLEN: Hm-mmm.
NORRIS: About your little brother.
Ms. ALLEN: Yeah.
NORRIS: It seems like you're trying to hold a mirror up to his life, and hope that he sees something, and does something about it.
Ms. ALLEN: Alfie actually hates that song. When I wrote that song, he - you know, I think he was a bit offended, because he thought that I was just kind of attacking all of his bad points. But, actually, you know, of course, just trying to kind of being encouraging, and you know, write something that, well, he could appreciate, you know. There's no point of writing a song for somebody if it doesn't say anything. So -
NORRIS: Did you actually share the song with him before you recorded it?
Ms. ALLEN: No, I didn't, because I already have, you know, write songs in the studio situation. So I'm writing one, I'm recording, really.
NORRIS: You say, you write songs in the studio. Write them as you go along. Tell me about it.
Ms. ALLEN: Yeah. Well, I was trained in jazz improvisation when I was young. So that's how I write, really, is you know, I'll write my lyrics like kind of poetry with no, you know, melody attached to it. And I always do that in the studio while I'm writing the music. And then once I have that kind sort in the flow of the lyrics, I'll just stand in front of the microphone and add label. Yeah, improvise it.
NORRIS: Are you writing all the time?
Ms. ALLEN: No, not at all. And I never write when I'm - I have times being in the studio, and I'm probably worn out until August this year.
NORRIS: So you don't carry around, literally, diaries, notebooks, where you jot down inspirations or epiphanies as they happen?
Ms. ALLEN: No. It's usually, you know, about something that I'm feeling that morning, or that day. And I think that's why are the songs kind of jump out, and you can really visualize everything, because it's so fresh.
(Soundbite of song, "Knock 'Em Out")
Ms. ALLEN: (Singing) Alright so this is a song about anyone, it could be anyone. You're just doing your own thing and some one comes out the blue, They're like, "Alright" He's saying, "Yeah can I take your digits?" And you're like, "no not in a million years, you're nasty please leave me alone." Cut to the pub on a lads night out, Man at the bar cos it was his shout, Clocks this bird and she looks ok, Caught him looking and she walks his way, "alright arlin, you gonna buy us a drink then?" "err no, but I was thinking of buying one for your friend..." She's got no taste hand on his waste, tries to pull away but her lips on his face, "if you insist I'll have a white wine spritzer"
"Sorry love, but you ain't a pretty picture." Can't knock em out, can't walk away, Try desperately to think of the politest way to say, Just get out my face, just leave me alone, And no you cant have me number, "why?" Because I've lost my phone. Oh yeah, actually yeah I'm pregnant, having a baby in like 6 months so no, and yeah, yeah... "I recognise -
NORRIS: That, you know, you have so many influences in your music. You can hear a Scott; you can hear once Professor long hair there. Is that you, sort of calling out for this, or is there an expert of musical co-conspirators, who are in the studio with you, and bringing those influences into the music.
Ms. ALLEN: Mm-hmm, you know, I worked very closely with the people that produce my records, and you know, it's very much, I agree about that. But, you know, (unintelligible), you know. The influences come from me, you know it, that's what I do, because I have a huge record collection, you know, will sit there, and you know, half of it is sitting down and listening to music. And not fault writing, like the music is about, and listen to other people's music and being inspired.
(Soundbite of song, "LDN")
Ms. ALLEN: (Singing) Riding through the city on my bike all day cause the filth took away my licence. It doesn't get me down and I feel ok cause the sights that I'm seeing are priceless. Everything seems to look as it should But I wonder what goes on behind doors. A fella looking dapper, but he's sittin with a slapper. Then I see it's a pimp and his crack whore. You might laugh you might frown, Walkin' round London town. Sun is in the sky oh why oh why? Would I wanna be anywhere else. Sun is in the sky oh why oh why? Would I wanna be anywhere else.
NORRIS: I want to ask you about something, in what it's like for you, because I understand that in a few of your concerts, large concerts with 10,000 people, they sang along with every single word. What is that like for you when you're standing on stage, and basically, your lyrics, and this sense your life is coming back to you?
Ms. ALLEN: Hm-mmm, it's the most incredible feeling in the world. But you know what? It's not really about 10,000 people. When that thing of people singing my lyrics got to me, struck me the most with my first ever concert, you know. I had sold this Myspace page on the Internet, and you know, it's a 200-capacity club, and 1,500 people turned up and looking around the block. And everyone knew the words to my songs, and that is insane.
(I guess when people sing your lyrics back to you, you know, that doesn't you taken them on board, you know, it's not just background music. So then, they're kind of getting something out of it. They've taken the song to memorize the words of - must be doing something like.
NORRIS: Lilly, it's been great talking to you. Thanks so much for coming in into the studio.
Ms. ALLEN: Thank you for having me. Bye.
NORRIS: Lilly Allen. Her CD is called, "Alright, Still."
(Soundbite of song "Take What You Take")
Ms. ALLEN: (Singing) Say what you say, Do what you do, Feel what you feel, As long as it's real.
NORRIS: And you can hear songs from the CD, "All Right, Still," at our Web site, NPR.org.
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