“My music is always a reflection of whatever it is that I’m going through at any given time whenever it is that I’m sitting down to write music,” pop star Lily Allen said backstage after her Austin City Limits Music Festival set on Saturday. “This record (“No Shame”) took me just over two years to write and I was going through divorce, in part because of my relationship with drugs and alcohol, and struggling with finding a balance between being the mother of two young girls and working and being the main breadwinner. ... I was just really (expletive) depressed.”
While those topics came up in songs like set opener “Come On Then,” the overall feel of her set was anything but depressing. Allen delivered a sunny show that mixed early tracks like her reggae-laced, first hit “Smile” with a fair amount material from the new album.
She covered a Merle Haggard track, “I’m Always On a Mountain When I Fall,” a song she says she was inspired to play after seeing the country legend perform it on “Austin City Limits,” and dedicated her 2009 hit “(Expletive) You” to the president of the United States.
“This one’s for you, Donald,” she said.
On stage she rocked a stylish powder pink pantsuit with stunning silver platform sandals. We caught up with her after to talk about her bold fashion choices, her struggles with the British tabloids and how motherhood has affected her approach to fashion.
DSS: How would you describe your personal style?
Lily Allen: I don’t know really, I just sort of wear whatever I feel comfortable in. I tend to like bright clothes for stage, but when I’m in my down time I’m quite neutral, lots of browns and like camouflage-y type colors. I literally like to blend in. I think I just dress for the occasion, I don’t think I have a particular style.
You started performing when you were really young. Has your approach to crafting your stage wear evolved over the years?
I’ve got quite a good technique now actually. We usually consult with like five to six different designers and we get like a look from each designer. We give them quite a specific color palette to work with so basically every item they give us can be mixed and matched. It just means that I can drag out eight looks and make 36 of them.
Do you give them any other guidelines than colors?
We approach the designers because we’ve liked something that we’ve seen. So it will be like, "Can you do something a bit like this, a bit like that." This guy Ashish does a lot of work with us and he’s really known for sequins. In L.A. I put together these bottoms (that she wore at ACL Fest) with a green sequin body suit and these heels (points to the silver platform sandals she wore during her Austin performance).
Those heels are amazing.
Do you know, I had to put them together with cable ties because they broke. They’re about 6 pounds. I bought them in Byfleet in market. They’re really bad quality.
How did having kids change your approach to fashion/style?
Actually in a lot of ways. Mainly, I used to spend all my money on clothes. … What was important to me was going out and being with people and so it was a real way to express my personality. A lot of that time would be nighttime, a lot of evening wear.
Then when I had kids, I just stopped going out. Kids are really economical in that sense. Because you stop spending all your money on shoes and handbags.
I know you make a lot of really bold choices; was there one where you were like, 'I nailed that, that was amazing'?
I did a performance quite recently for the Mercury Awards and I wore a Dior Couture dress that was pretty amazing. You can’t really go wrong with couture.
What about the opposite, is there something you look back and wonder, 'What was I thinking?'
Oh yeah, so many. There’s a particular look that I did opening Brit Awards, I think it must have been in 2010. It was like a really bad leotardy type thing and I had this sort of weird wig on. I don’t know, I just looked a mess. I don’t understand what I was thinking.
But I’m a people pleaser and if I’m working with somebody and I can tell that somebody else is into a look, I’ll probably wear it because I want them to be happy. So much so, actually that like my wedding day, I had a dress that was designed by Karl Lagerfeld, but the dress didn’t come until the day before the wedding and I knew that it was going to be like tight so I had this backup dress and it was this woman called Delphine Manivet. The Karl dress turned up and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, but because I’d built this relationship with this woman, I ended up wearing the dress that I didn’t like as much to my own wedding. That’s how stupid I am. My bad outfit choices haven’t always been mine.
I know that you’ve clashed sometimes with the tabloids back at home. Have they raked you over about your appearance?
Oh, god, yeah, all the time. That’s what they do.
How do you cope with that?
You try and say publicly that you don’t care, but it’s very difficult. It’s not very nice when people are constantly attacking you.
Has it gotten easier over the years?
I think it has, mainly because the paparazzi culture doesn’t really exist that much any more. People post so much content on their Instagram and that’s free for the tabloids. It doesn’t cost them any money to lift it and put it on their websites. Whereas in my day, people would follow you around with cameras and get pictures of you in embarrassing situations.
It seems like the British tabloids were particularly vicious.
Yeah, much worse. Whenever I talk about the tabloids to people in America, it’s like you guys think a tabloid is like the National Enquirer, where it’s sort of a joke that you pick up at the store. In England it’s the main news. Most people read the Sun and the Mirror every day. That’s their thing, celebrities, and it was at its worst when I started my career. It was the same time Amy Winehouse was around. It was very intense.
Are there any specific moments when somebody attacked you that stand out?
There was an incident that I had where a guy was following me, where I was walking out of a nightclub and he was in front of me and he was trying to take pictures up my skirt. And so I kicked him in the camera and his camera went in his face and broke his nose, but I got arrested. He pressed charges.
Were the charges dropped?
Yeah. Eventually. But it took a good six months and it meant it was harder for me to get my visa here because he pressed charges.
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