Won't You Be My Friend?

MySpace sensation Lily Allen banks on cuteness, upbeat charisma, and a voice that won't quit.

"Friday night last orders at the pub/ Get in the car and drive to the club/There's a massive crowd outside so we get in to the queue/It's quarter past 11 now we won't get in till quarter to."

Lily Allen's "Friday Night" played out in my head over and over as we walked toward the Crocodile Cafe at around 7:30 p.m. on a cool Saturday evening in early December. A line had already formed along the side of the Croc on Blanchard, and stretched to the alleyway, where we claimed our spots. By 8, when the doors were supposed to open, the line extended an entire block to Third Avenue. The Crocodile security staff walked up and down the sidewalk, putting yellow wristbands on all who had arrived early enough to ensure entry to the free, but extremely limited capacity, show. A photographer was snapping shots of people in the line.

Directly in front of us were three girls in their late teens to early 20s, all underdressed for the weather, gossiping about MySpace and God knows what else. Behind us was a female college student, who boasted rather loudly that she lived in London for three months (she really wouldn't shut up about it), along with a couple of friends and her little underage brother, who was in town visiting. She and her brother drank a beer as they waited, and the girl's voice got louder and more irritating every minute that passed. My date and I looked at one another, and our facial expressions showed utter annoyance. We were sitting ducks, forced to listen to these people around us as we waited for the doors to open.

We overheard more MySpace-related conversations, which made perfect sense—the only reason that anybody was at the Crocodile on this evening was because of MySpace. It was Seattle's turn to have a MySpace Secret Show, a show whose bill is announced and posted in a bulletin on MySpace to "friends" of the MySpace Secret Show page only one day before the actual event. We wouldn't have known about it if my girlfriend's sister hadn't called us to ask if we were going—we weren't friends with MySpace Secret Shows. Lucky for us and Seattle, the Secret Show headliner was Lily Allen, the 21-year-old British pop singer who became a pop star almost entirely through MySpace.

Allen had already signed a deal in the U.K. with Regal Records, a subsidiary of Parlophone-EMI, but what the record label wanted—throwing Allen to someone who'd make the album nothing but hit after hit—Allen did not. Positively and defiantly annoyed, Allen went against her label's wishes, signed up for an account on MySpace on Nov. 7, 2005 (according to her profile), and uploaded her demos. That's when people really started listening. She posted very personal blogs about her life and details about her record. She was also extremely cute, so that didn't hurt things, either.

It's hard to say how Lily Allen was found on MySpace in the first place. She was a very small needle in a very large haystack. The Web site's top three genres boast well over a million bands. As of March 13, there were a staggering 425,660 bands classified as rock, followed by hip-hop and rap, with 400,268 and 328,862, respectively. But just like all things that explode and become overnight sensations on the Internet, people were talking about Allen—e-mailing friends, sending MySpace messages, and posting bulletins about this brutally honest, absolutely darling British pop singer. New Music Express and music bloggers listened up and reviewed a few of her tracks; BBC radio played a demo of "LDN," Allen's first self-produced single; and within months of signing up for a MySpace account, she was conquering her homeland. The subsequent buzz pushed the label to release the "LDN" single, as is, and by July, Allen's debut full-length, Alright, Still, was in stores in England. It took another six months before Alright, Still was released in America.

Alright, Still is a perfect summer banger, something you could imagine blaring from a convertible on a bright sunny day. The music is undeniably upbeat, a hybridization of keyboard-fueled pop and latter-day ska, horns and all. But in Allen's lyrics, there are no false pretenses. She's blunt, charismatic, and tongue-in-cheek, speaking her mind about real things that happen. On her biggest hit to date, "Smile," Allen isn't ashamed to show happiness to an ex-boyfriend, who's taking the breakup rather hard. On "Alfie," she tells her little stoner brother to do something besides smoke weed. And she can be downright spiteful when "boasting" about the size of her ex's dick in "Not Big."

Onstage, Allen is a dynamic performer and an effortless singer. At her Crocodile show, there was no strain in her voice; she hit every note, every time. People all around me were singing along with her and were nearly moved to tears by "Littlest Thing," the album's only sad song. It was an intimate performance and will be hard to forget for the few hundred who were there.

Allen's musical formula is one that people can relate to—personal observations and experiences that can happen to anyone, anywhere. And MySpace, the very personal community network where people reveal their character with simple words, name-drops, and comments, has allowed Allen to open herself up to not just her 207,000 "friends" but the entire world.

music@seattleweekly.com

 
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