Lily Allen interview: Rebuilding the Lily

THE Joan of Arc of MySpace could have allowed the tabloids to burn her at the celebrity stake. But Lily Allen's musical flame is burning brighter than the mere oxygen of publicity affords. She releases her second album in February and then embarks on a rigorous UK tour, after an exacting year in which she experienced a failed pregnancy and relationship, with Ed Simons of The Chemical Brothers.

Her bedroom is adorned by original works of art by her comic actor father Keith's friend Damien Hirst and iconic Clash bassist Paul Simenon. Her past is more colourful than 'troubled' star Britney Spears, but 23-year-old Lily is much more in control of her present, and the new record, It's Not Me, It's You, which she unveiled last week, emphatically proves the point.

Lyrically sharp and sociologically surefooted, it could wipe the Smile off people's happy poptastic faces. The song 'Everyone's At It' is an acute piece of social observation about the laissez-faire attitude to drugs with which she freely admits she grew up: "The song is about, you know, the kind of hypocrisy attached to drug culture," she says. "But from my point of view in the UK, the right-wing press tend to bundle drug culture in with people from working-class society. People that haven't got any money, you know, people that are criminals, prostitution, a very dark picture of drugs.

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"And yes, drugs are not a good thing, I'm not encouraging drug-taking. But I do know a lot of people that take drugs three or four nights a week, and they are perfectly capable to get up the next morning and go to work. Those people being lawyers and people that work in record companies and doctors. You know what I mean? Journalists…" she laughs.

"So that's kind of what the song is about: that people like to sensationalise drug-taking and make it out to be sensationalised and have negative connotations attached to drugs, but people don't really talk about the other side of it that much."

Lily went to the United States to record the album, maybe to distance herself from the Mockney sniggers directed at her debut effort Alright, Still. Her second album is startlingly more mature. "I think it's pretty obvious that I'm four years older than I was when I wrote the first record, so naturally I'm gonna sound a bit more mature. I haven't taken a more mature approach to it, I just am four years older than when I wrote the first one."

Allen does appear much better equipped to deal with the package that comes with fame than first time around. One song, 'The Fear', articulates the wonder and horror better than many of her elders have ever managed.

"It isn't about me, it's more about celebrity and tabloid culture on its own. Actually the verses are not about me at all, they are about young girls that aspire to be a part of that culture. And saying how sad it is, because there's no talent or artistry or intelligence attached to celebrity."

Growing up in public becomes her, and while infamous for speaking her mind, she does appear to learn her lessons well and learn from others' mistakes.

"I know Amy Winehouse very well. And she is very different to what people portray her as being. Yes, she does get out of her mind on drugs sometimes, but she is also a very clever, intelligent, witty, funny person who can hold it together. You just don't see that side. She gets a really hard time," she says with no little sympathy.

"I mean, there aren't that many people with whom the press concentrate on their personality so much. I think in the UK, as far as females go, it's mainly me and her that get that treatment. She gets it more than I do. But I don't see it that much with other people."

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So off to Los Angeles Lily jolly well went, booking in to the infamous Chateau Marmont hotel where hardcore hellraiser John Belushi infamously checked out. She joked on her blog that he was proving inspirational during the writing and recording of the new record.

The new song 'Him' courts controversy, suggesting that God is a Creedence Clearwater Revival fan who packed in his job after 9/11, a notion that will not win her many fans in the Midwest. But much of the sentiment expressed comes from her own surprisingly strict upbringing.

"I grew up in a Catholic school, and I was educated in religious studies and the Bible. And it seemed to me very strange when I was a kid, because I just thought: 'Well, wait a second. If this is the message that this God is sending out to people, then why are we all killing each other and ruining the world?' It's just pure confusion as a child, not really understanding the two." She laughs but this is a glimpse of the depth of Allen's maturity since her debut.

"So if you're taught one thing and yet you're seeing adults act in a completely opposite way, it's confusing. And I guess that's where the song comes from, it's just like: 'Well, yeah, we talk about God and him being this great power, but he is obviously not that powerful if everyone's going around killing each other.'"

So as we enter the season of peace and love and goodwill to all men – the positive spin of all this God business – what yuletide memories warm the cockles of Lily's heart? Partying hard with all her showbiz chums? Unsurprisingly, absolutely not.

"Ooohh! My best Christmas was probably when I was young, when it was snowing and the kind of a romantic idea of Christmas, with all my family around the tree and opening presents.

"My worst Christmas: I spent one Christmas on my own in Thailand once, which was quite sad," she giggles."But, you know, it was only one day and then it was over."

Surely she must be a wild Hogmanay kind of gal at heart, first-footing like there is no tomorrow with black bun in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other?

Er, no, not a bit of it.

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"I hate New Year, I never celebrate it. I always find it really overrated. I never go… I don't think I even go out… don't think I even went out for New Year last year. I like to stay in and watch TV."v

• It's Not Me, It's You is released on February 9. Lily Allen plays the Glasgow Academy on March 14