When Britain is depicted in the arts, it’s almost always beautified. Clipped accents, rolling meadows and huge townhouses are staples of nearly any film or TV show set in the UK, with directors keen to play up to British stereotypes for the sake of an international audience. Of course, anyone living in the UK today will tell you the reality is very different. Our cultural identity (currently up for discussion in this era of Brexit), relies so heavily on outdated traditions and a whitewashed history that it’s at risk of becoming a parody of itself, completely divorced from any sense of reality.
So thank goodness we have Lily Allen to bring us back down to earth. Allen’s sense of Britishness is found less in traditional stereotypes of cups of tea, mushy peas and Coronation Street, and more in the concepts that run through the Britain of today. Her Britain is one of vibrant multiculturalism and piss-ups in parks, in council estates, knife crime and binge drinking. Allen’s exploration of British culture isn’t always pretty, but it is always real.
With the release of her latest video for comeback single ‘Trigger Bang’, Allen examines the topic of drug culture under a very British microscope.
As we wrote here, ‘Trigger Bang’ is Allen’s rumination on her previous party lifestyle that resulted in a hefty drug addiction. In the track’s video, Allen charts her own descent into addiction with an actress taking on the role of her younger (and more impressionable) self. Her signature dress-and-trainers combo makes a return, as the teenage Allen gets lost amidst a cycle of excessive drinking and casual drug taking. When we catch up with the older Allen, we find her sober and struggling in the company of drinkers and drug-takers, her demons at bay but still lurking nearby.
What’s striking about ‘Trigger Bang’ – and indeed most of Allen’s videos – is its spot on portrayal of modern Britishness. From its South London setting (complete with a garish Lycamobile shop front) to its nostalgic depiction of teenagers in trackies and trainers getting high in a field, it’s another warts and all look at our fallible little island. Even the bougie bar is a nod to London’s increasingly soulless and gentrified nightlife, juxtaposed with the more homely charm of the greasy spoon at the track’s end.
There are references galore for Allen’s diehard fans to look out for, such as the club toilets (almost identical to the ones from the ’22’ video) and a pair of earrings that hark back to Allen’s debut video for ‘Smile’. These videos are themselves embedded in notions of Britishness, making ‘Trigger Bang’ like a Russian doll of identity politics. But what’s clear is that in the years she’s been away, Allen has retained her uncanny knack for bringing realistic depictions of Britain to the screen. Though often cynical, her videos are nonetheless rooted in an unmistakable love for British culture, from its fashion to its music, Allen never sneering or snobbish, but keen to explore and accurately depict the UK’s quirky idiosyncrasies. At a time when notions of Britishness are being embellished and distorted for the sake of lazy art and political gain, thank God we can always rely on Lily Allen to tell it exactly how it is.