Lily Allen: Building The (Im)Perfect Pop Star

Bigger Than the Sound looks at how her flaws make her the most interesting pop star ever created.

In 1998, Spin featured Australian ingénue [artist id="100106"]Natalie Imbruglia[/artist] on its June cover, putting her doe-eyed visage beneath the headline “Building the Perfect Pop Star.”

At the time, it didn’t seem like that great of a leap. After all, we were still roughly six months away from [artist id="501686"]Britney Spears[/artist], and Imbruglia — a former child star with a massive hit under her belt (the weepy “Torn”) and an album climbing the charts — seemed like a fairly safe bet to conquer the globe. Of course, in retrospect, Spin made a pretty terrible call, because Imbruglia never became the perfect pop star. In fact, I had to turn to Wikipedia to realize that she even released another album (two of them, in fact!).

The reason I mention this has less to do with Natalie Imbruglia than it does with [artist id="2389411"]Lily Allen[/artist]. I’m not really sure what the two have in common — if anything — aside from the fact that Allen seems to get much of the same hyperbole thrown her way. She is “the perfect pop star for these crumbling times.” The “wordsmith of the MySpace generation,” proclaims one rather breathless press release. Now please allow me to throw another hype-soaked log onto the flame. Sort of.

Because while Allen might not be the perfect pop star, she’s not Natalie Imbruglia, either. She is flawed and chipped and endlessly entertaining. She has a background that rivals your average hash dealer, she gets fabulously drunk in nightclubs, and she smokes cigarettes with reckless abandon. She spends too much money on clothes and gets into petty fights on Twitter and cries during interviews. She seems less like the model of a 21st century pop star and more like the kind of girlfriend you’d have when you’re 22 — the awesome kind you’d go backpacking around Europe with, wear a sarong with. She is perfectly imperfect. Which is why she’s probably also the most interesting pop star ever created.

I’m sure this point can be debated endlessly. Are bad behavior and MySpace meltdowns really that interesting? Well, no. But they’re certainly human. And that’s what separates Lily from her pop contemporaries — she’s human, almost to a fault (and certainly more than Britney and Christina and Katy combined). And that’s what makes her and her music so interesting — and so complex. There is very little about Allen that’s black and white: She’s kind of sexy, but probably not a sex symbol. She’s mega successful, but she doesn’t appear to care too much about the trappings of her success. She’s coy, yet self-aware. Empowered, yet needy to the core. She deals almost exclusively in the grays of life.

And nowhere is she quite so gray as on her new album, It’s Not Me, It’s You. There are songs about how soul-crushing success can be. And about how fantastic it is to be rich and famous. She makes statements about being happy on her own, then sings about wanting nothing more than to be held by a man. She admonishes clingy exes, yet calls them when she’s at her weakest. She makes no apologies, except for when she’s apologizing to her sister and her father. It’s perhaps the most human pop album ever created. It provides no answers to anything, because, well, the stuff Allen’s dealing with usually doesn’t have any answers. It’s a multifaceted look at a world that’s becoming increasingly multifaceted. So maybe she is the wordsmith of the MySpace generation.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that all this might change. When I interviewed Allen last week , she was more guarded, less willing to let fly with the eyebrow-raising statements and the sh– talk (she even had nice things to say about Britney). Perhaps she learned her lesson, and finally understands that shooting her mouth off is more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe she’s grown tired of the rigmarole that comes with being an imperfect 21st century pop star, and realizes that things would be much easier for her if she would just get in line. That would certainly be a shame — not just for me, but for fans like me — but I suppose it’s inevitable.

Because when you’re dealing with someone as wonderfully, endearingly, fascinatingly imperfect as Allen, an identity crisis almost seems like the next logical step. It certainly makes her even more human, when you think about it. Is this a good thing for her and her career? I’m not really sure … I guess you could say I’m torn.

Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.