Lily Allen’s Escape to New York

Photo: Cass Bird

This should have been Lily Allen’s summer to conquer America. The adorable, wildly outspoken 22-year-old singer-songwriter hit the big time in the U.K. last year with a pop album made for sweaty rooftop parties—full of ska beats and unapologetic girl talk on such topics as her weed-smoking younger brother Alfie and a regrettably endowed ex. So she thought she’d pop across the pond to give it a go.

And then everything started to go wrong: The album wasn’t selling here. She began getting homesick—and drunk. Often. Plus there were perpetual reminders of how much less success she was having in the U.S. compared with Britain’s other singer-songwriter of the moment, the very skinny, also sobriety-challenged Amy Winehouse (who said “No, no, no” to rehab in her hit, “Rehab”). Then one lonely night, Allen broke down, writing a now-infamous MySpace entry entitled “fat, ugly and shittier than Winehouse.” “I write to you in a sea of tears from my hotel bed in Seattle,” she lamented. “I have spent the past hour researching gastric bypass surgery and laser liposuction.”

In a dramatic move, she canceled her U.S. tour, citing boredom with herself. But instead of fleeing for home, she sought refuge in New York—after convincing her record company to put her up for a few weeks in a $10,000-a-month apartment filled with recording equipment overlooking the Hudson. The goal was to bang out her second album in peace. Though, she admits, “We’ve done nothing! All we’ve done is make YouTube videos for other peoples’ songs.”

That’s okay—this is a working holiday, with the city a kind of refuge. Over in London, Allen can’t go anywhere without being tabloid-bait. She doesn’t help her cause, of course. She’s punched a paparazzo (“They say that I’m going to be arrested as soon as I get back. I could be Paris Hilton soon enough”) and called Madonna “the most overrated person in the history of pop music.” (Amy Winehouse, by the way, she swears she’s perfectly fine with: “I think she has a cool voice. I don’t think it’s her real voice, though. I’d like to hear her real voice.”) Here, however, during a full day of shopping and subway riding, she was approached by people a whopping three times, including a crazy man who asked for a date and a jewelry designer who was literally shaking as she begged Allen to wear her goods.

Yet come nightfall, she still gets to take full advantage of the celebrity lifestyle. She met her hero Jay-Z at Kanye West’s birthday party. She performed at Tinsley Mortimer’s party in the Hamptons. “They were like, ‘We’ll pay you and give you a house.’ So we were like, ‘Alright.’ I was so drunk I kept calling Tinsley ‘Ashley Winksdale.’” She made an obligatory stop at the Waverly Inn. “It was nice food, but I’d never seen so many famous people in my life! Kate Hudson, Russell Simmons, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Bettany and his wife—can’t remember her name.” Did she feel like one of them? “No! I was like, ‘Ehhhhhh!!!’ And then I was like, ‘Oh my God, Elvis Costello knows who I am!’ It was weird. He said ‘Hi’ to me.”

Ah, it’s hard not to let fame go to your head, even in a country that won’t yet decree you famous. But Allen’s mom has forbidden her from Googling herself anymore. And Lily, bless her, doesn’t seem like the sort of star to develop long-lasting complexes. “Don’t worry,” she says, cheerily chomping on chicken saté at Cafe Gitane, a few hours before double-fisting pizza slices at Joe’s. “I’m still eating like a fucking pig.”

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